Sunday, September 23, 2012

Why have I stuck with Windows Phone?

A lot of people ask me what it is that I like about Windows Phone, or worse, they ask me "if its good". I have a hard time answering, as I know they don't have the patience for me to tell them all my reasons why I like it or why I've stuck with it since early 2012. I feel my blog is a more fitting forum for my explanation, so here it is. Enjoy!

Look and feel

In the very beginning it was the fascination of a new thing, but the fluidity and classiness of the whole user experience and the differentiated look intrigued me from day one. My first WP7 device was the HTC Trophy 7, as I imagine it was for a lot of people too. I wasn't too impressed by the operating system at its version then, but HTC's hardware design downright turned me off. Windows Phone seemed to suffer from a number of problems that I've never encountered since then.  Problems included stupefyingly low battery life, and the chance that the entire device might freeze during a phone call. I suspect these were problems with the hardware, though. Battery life is still a worry with the Lumia 800 that I'm using, but at least I get the standard ~6 hrs I need before absolutely having to charge the device. My Lumia 800 has never completely jammed, none of the core apps have ever crashed on me and there's just been no show-stopping problems ever.

As mentioned, the thing that has really pulled me in is the look, sound and feel of the platform. Somehow I felt right at home with WP7 after the N9. Using a WP7 device is an audal and visual pleasure, although no device has managed to top the haptic feedback you get from typing with the N9. Microsoft's approach was to insert a cute tapping sound to the keyboard which is really nice, but obtainable by anyone really. It takes a company with experience to pay attention to such details, as to what your vibramotor on the circuit board of your device feels like to the user when it goes off. Typing on the N9 almost feels like typing on a semi-physical keyboard. I hope to see this in Nokia's future WP devices.

Apps, or the lack of thereof

As a lover of the N900, I always felt sort of envious over the mapping support on Symbian. Maps on Maemo5 were like an early alpha build of Maps compared to what was on Symbian. This applied to a lot of apps available on the big brother platform. Everything Nokia supported on the N900 felt like it was under development, until it (very quickly) became abandoned. You had lots of enthusiastic coders and hackers, but nothing was ever consumer ready, and you couldn't really rely on any app to work when you really needed it. Switching to a Symbian phone wasn't an option either, because, well, Symbian. Let's not have that discussion here. You can read about my thoughts on S^3 here. The same feeling of apps being incomplete or not intended for serious use crept in every now and then on the N9 as well, although I must applaud companies that had full-heartedly placed their trust in the MeeGo-Harmattan platform and created fully functional, premium feeling apps for it. My biggest problem was always Nokia's own lack of effort towards the core social media apps and the simply lackluster browser. In Windows Phone (Mango) the browser is top class, it even gets around the Flash issue no problem by great media player integration as soon as a HTML5 website is spotted. Some people complain that the social media aspect of the built-in apps is lackluster, and that they end up installing a Twitter and Facebook client anyway. For me, Twitter works just fine and I'm not a big fan of Facebook. Thanks to Windows Phone's integrated Facebook features, though, I've never before been so up to date with my friends new pictures. For me pictures are the most fun part about Facebook! I've also noticed I spend more time looking at people's profiles when I want to re-establish contact with them. Feels suitable to do that when I'm on my phone.

Adopting a new mobile OS paradigm

Like mentioned, people complain that core apps are lacking in WP, but they're also the reason why it felt like a breath of fresh air after clutter-madness Android. Sure in the beginning I missed having all the apps I wanted on the device and sure I missed having alternatives for the Calendar app, for example. Windows Phone first appeared to me as incomplete. However, once I was forced out of this mindset, it felt quite pleasing that I was forced into working with only a few tools. This way calendar entries or settings were never lost when installing another app, and setting up the phone only takes 1 hour after a reflash. I can concentrate on things more important to me than adjusting my default e-mail, browser, and photo application “to be used when performing this action”. I always detested the “there’s an app for that” mentality that came with the iPhone. I want everything built-in, running smooth, always there. My #1 used feature on my Windows Phone device is the in-built instant messaging services. When I use the IM service, I feel like I’m back on my N900 again as SMS and IM are all integrated in the same app. I mean really, why should they be differentiated into separate apps?


So here are my thoughts on Windows Phone 7 as we currently know it. Windows Phone 8 will certainly be a huge improvement, although personally I won’t be too sad to be stuck with WP7.8 on my Lumia 800. There’s really nothing I really need from Windows Phone 8, but of course I will be looking into getting the Lumia 920 or the HTC 8X. Another thing going for Windows Phone is how it seems to be forcing manufacturers to come up with colourful and different designs. This could be just Nokia’s influence on the mobile space, but in the end it means that we’ve broken past trying to out iPhone the iPhone. Wonderful times ahead!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

"Three-star Samsung", discussion over article in Helsingin Sanomat 2.9.12.

Helsingin Sanomat wrote a story titled "Kolmen tähden Samsung" or "Three-star Samsung" (my freestyle translation), where the new mobile industry giant is probed and dissected, providing a lot of surprising and interesting information from a former insider, Sami Paihonen.

This is my freeform translation of that article, as this post will also attempt to discuss the contents of the article. Therefore it won't be a 1:1 translation, and I will be cherry-picking topics of interest out of it. Hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed writing it. Full credits of the article can be found at the end of the story.

UPDATE: James Song from Samsung admits to Samsung looking like "copycat". LINK

In Finland much of the media covering the mobile space is dominated by Nokia news. To date I must've read a hundred stories on Nokia's fall, the latest one just this week. As informative and accurate as these stories are, they don't convey the full picture of what's going on in the battle between the giants over dominance over the smartphones game. There is much more to the situation than simply winning or losing, as no company is perfect. Also, I think that to most Finns, Nokia's greatest rival is still Apple and iOS, where as in reality the more formidable opponent, the one Nokia has to beat to rise to its former glory, has for very long been Samsung.

Helsingin Sanomat is the first magazine to write an in-depth article on Samsung, and leave Nokia only to the margins. Naturally this new interest in Samsung was flared after news of Apple gained a significant win over Samsung in US court. Its surprising how unknown Samsung is in Finland given the realities of the situation. The article is aware of this and is quick to point out, that we might know Steve Jobs, but do we know who Lee Kun-Hee is?

The article starts off by delving into the lawsuit, and Sami Paihonen is quick to point out, that the verdict of the jury wasn't a big surprise to him. Imitation is deep in the Korean corporate culture, where the strategy seems to be to imitate the competition, grow like this until you're as big as them, and then top them in their own game. Samsung is a prime example of following this principle according to the article. If imitation is a prime modus operandi, what happens to innovation?

Paihonen says, that during his employment in Samsung's designcentre 2008-2010, he tried to bring innovation to the table, but found his efforts constantly turned down "upstairs". As an example he mentions a project where his team developed a way to zoom into content, such as pictures and webpages, using only one finger. To me, this sounds like a better way to do it, as many appreciate it if they can use their mobiles using only one hand. The team's idea was, however turned down and Samsung decided to go with "pinch to zoom" which we all know originates from Apple products.

Nokia's strengths have previously been, that they could efficiently produce phones on their own plants under tight control and little dependency. Samsung shares this strength, as the Korean giant manufactures a lot of home appliances to cruise ships and skyscrapers. Even Apple is totally dependent on Samsung's deliveries, despite of the feuds in court. This combined with Samsung's work culture, ie. the longest days and hardest execs to whip the most out of their employees makes Samsung an object of adoration in its homeland. Samsung doesn't have a workers union, which speaks volumes of the company's inner workings if you ask me.

To wrap it all together, Helsingin Sanomat quotes Finnish consultant Christian Lindholm saying, that Samsung's a great soap salesman. The product gets the job done and sells in volumes, but lacks the attractability of premium perfumes that have the consumer going gaga over, and paying top dollar for. Although Samsung's Galaxy S lineup has been immensely successful, they still don't have a succulent premium product that everyone wants a piece of, such as Apple has its iPhone. I came to this conclusion as well in my Galaxy S2 review.

To contrast what the article is saying into recent news from the mobile space, the Ativ S from Samsung has gathered a decent amount of attention, but shone a somewhat negative light on its elder brother, the Samsung Galaxy S3. Bloggers have deemed the Galaxy S3 as a rather plain looking phone compared to the Ativ S, the giant's first smartphone running Windows Phone 8. People criticizing the way Samsung's top-end phones look was largely unheard of until this time. With Nokia's announcements in their Lumia line-up might place even more pressure on Samsung to deliver good looking devices, as Nokia's WP7 phones are renowned for their physical appeal. So in this sense, I think we've very recently been served many a good example of Samsung's devices lack physical attractiveness and uniqueness.

Original article by Helsingin Sanomat
Written by Anssi Miettinen
Published 2.9.2012.
Those with access to HS Verkkolehti, direct link to article here.