Admittedly, when you take a broad look at the Windows Phone landscape there isn’t a lot to admire these days. Another platform reset has forced device makers to hold off on releasing new iPhone rivals until Microsoft can get the software right.
Gone is the Windows Phone that was dominated by black backgrounds and contrasting text.
In its place we have Windows 10 Mobile. There aren’t nearly as many devices running Windows 10 Mobile. Further more, Windows 10 Mobile isn’t as bug free and cleverly designed as its direct predecessor. The operating system carefully mimics a lot of the features found on the iPhone.
There’s a but, as there always is with these things. Windows 10 Mobile also offers up some clever innovation of its, like Continuum and an integrated Store across devices.
What we’re left with is a mobile operating system that’s just as good as the iOS operating system that the iPhone runs. Really, it’s even better in some ways.
App Badges vs. Windows 10 Mobile Live Tiles
The first smartphone that I ever owned was a HTC HD7 running Windows Phone 7, but the first smart device I ever used regularly was the original iPod Touch. Naturally, I should have upgraded from that iPod Touch to an iPhone when the time was right. I decided to go Windows Phone instead. Live Tiles were the main reason.
Today, Live Tiles are available on notebooks desktops and tablets, but the general idea around them hasn’t changed. The ever-morphing, ever-flipping tiles let you get a general look at what’s going on within your apps. Groove Music shows you what artist you’re listening to. Outlook Calendar and Outlook Mail provide a look at your new emails and your next appointment. You’re peaking into each app, without diving in and without staring at the absolutely hideous and nerve-wracking red badges that exist on the iPhone.
More than acting as better alerts, Live Tiles let you set priorities. iOS is filled with similar app icons that can stretch for pages. If you’re smart, you move the apps most relevant to your life closer to the front page. Windows 10 Mobile lets you resize apps so that the more important ones dominate the interface and are easier to spot. Most apps let you pin individual items directly to the Start Screen too. No diving into the package tracker, the current status is available the moment you start your phone.
The last time Apple rethought the home screen was when it added backgrounds.
The Power Button vs Windows 10 Mobile Tap to Wake & Tap to Sleep
Until it decided to supersize its line-up with the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, Apple placed all power buttons in the top-left corner. With newer devices it’s on the upper-right edge. The switch is better for one-handed use.
I’m fond of Microsoft’s Tap to Wake and Tap to Sleep options. Lumia Windows 10 Mobile phones allow you to double tap the screen when they’re off, no button press required. The operating system lets users double tap on the navigation bar at the bottom of their screen to turn their device off too. This is perfect for one-handed use, and easily beats having to feel around for a power button on iPhone, no matter how satisfying the button mechanism is.
Windows 10 Mobile Navigation Bar vs Home Button
That brings me to a major pain point for iPhone. Trying to keep things as simple as possible, Apple has married the future of the iPhone to the Home button. In doing so, it made interacting with iOS easy. That is, until it started layering things on top of it. First came Siri, which requires a long press. Then came Apple Pay, which requires two button presses. Press three times and you get the multitasking menu. As apps became more complicated, Apple added a small link to let users go back to their previous screen in the top-left corner of iOS.
There have always been three ways to navigate Windows Phone besides touching an in-app element. Back, Start and Search. These days, they are software buttons instead of hardware buttons, but not much else about them has changed.
Windows 10 Mobile People vs Contacts
The People app in Windows 10 Mobile isn’t as integrated directly into social networks as it once was. Microsoft has offloaded most of that functionality to individual apps. It’s still miles better than the stagnant list of contacts you get with iOS though.
The first area in People in Windows 10 Mobile is a list of all your contacts. The What’s New and Groups area provide the sizzle. The app reaches out to Facebook and other social networks, letting you see what’s going on without diving into the individual app if you want. Groups let you create a selection of friends to email or text directly at once. They also integrate directly with GroupMe.
Individual contacts can be pinned directly to the Windows 10 Mobile Start Screen, where you can see the latest messages from that contact and status updates. You can link local contacts and Facebook accounts too, which keep picture and contact information in sync always.
Windows 10 Mobile Messaging & Skype vs iMessage & Facetime
I can’t take anything away from Apple when it comes to Facetime. The idea to give folks a free and easy way to place video calls, audio calls and messaging was smart. Facetime works very well if you have an iPhone, iPad and MacBook.
Anything outside of that and you need to keep your phone by you. Windows 10 Mobile and Windows 10 have Skype built-in. You get messaging, plus you’re able to place calls to any device with a Skype app. If you miss a phone call and have Windows 10 installed on your PC, you get an alert there. You can reply via text message, even if your phone is halfway across the room.
Xbox vs Game Center
I feel like Game Center is almost the ultimate example of an app on the iPhone that you should be allowed to uninstall. No one cares about how many challenges you’ve earned in Game Center. A lot of people don’t even have Friends in GameCenter.
By comparison, Xbox on Windows Phones running Windows 10 Mobile is pretty great. You can earn Achievements through the games you download for the store, or treat the app as a companion for your living room experience. You can send messages, look at your Achievements, browse the Xbox Store or check the status updates of your friends. The iPhone offers no legitimate contest to this besides Microsoft’s own SmartGlass, and SmartGlass feels woefully outdated.
One Device vs Two Devices
Truly, I think it’s a difference in vision that separates Windows 10 Mobile and iPhone. Apple is counting on you buying devices. It’s also counting on device convergence not being a thing. Truthfully, I think that failure to acknowledge device convergence will be Apple’s undoing.
The smartphone and tablet are today’s must-have gadgets. That’s great but they’re not meant for everything. No one except writers and iPad Pro owners are doing work at their desk with anything but a notebook or desktop.
Windows 10 Mobile marries the smartphone with the notebook and desktop in lots of ways that’ll become important overtime. Continuum allows some Windows phones to connect to a monitor and other USB devices. The phone becomes a touchpad and forms the heart of a desktop PC.
In some specific scenarios Continuum can already replace a basic PC. The latest apps in the Windows Store can be installed on traditional Windows PCs or a Windows Phone. Information syncs between these apps automatically. There is some missing pieces to this functionality, mainly that desktop apps can’t be installed. It’s more than what Apple is doing in the space.
Look, I’m not exactly saying that you should buy a Windows Phone running Windows 10 Mobile. The Windows device market doesn’t much in the way of devices. Officially, only T-Mobile and AT&T offer devices in the United States. We need to see some more devices before anyone considers making blanket declarations like, “You should buy a Windows phone.” There are also many reasons to buy an iPhone, the biggest of those being Apple Pay and the iTunes App Store.
That being said, the notion that Windows 10 Mobile is somehow bad or lacks unique features is a bit absurd. It could definitely stand to improve, you’ll get no arguments from me there. The people who are still using the operating system do so because Windows phones do offer some compelling features. The amount of compelling features to switch for should go up as Microsoft continues to unify Windows 10 Mobile and Windows for notebooks, desktops and tablets.
Buy the iPhone, but don’t count Windows phones out just yet.