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My Experiments with Windows Phone 8.1

 

Disclaimer: I am a Microsoft and a Windows Phone enthusiast.

I started my journey with Windows Mobile back in the days when a phones named LG KS 20 used to exist. Then on November 8, 2010 Microsoft made an unexpected move and launched a new smartphone OS which in the near future would become the number 3 mobile OS called “Windows Phone”. Now to cut the long story short…they came up with a new OS and named it “Windows Phone”.. I am sure you already know what it is…most of you will be #WinPhan s who are reading this article anyway…so why am I saying all this ? Lets just get straight to the point…


So then came Windows Phone 7..which we all know wasn’t really feature rich. The “Mango” update was of course a really needed update, but still wasn’t enough for the growing needs and the competing market. Then came Windows Phone 8.0 ! A really really needed update which brought some really cool and much needed changes which I am sure most of us already know….and finally after a waiting period of almost 18 months comes Windows Phone 8.1 !! Tada…the big update which critics expected would bring Windows Phone on par to Android and iOS. Has that happened ? Well we chose not to go there at this point but we will come back to it some other time may be. Right now lets take a step back and see how somethings in Windows Phone 8.1 has really changed the core principles and values on which Windows Phone was built.

PS: Images on left are Windows Phone 8.0 and on the right being 8.1

“Putting people first…..” 
 
1. Facebook integration built into Windows Phone
Facebook integration in 8.0 was a big yes for a lot of folks
Believe it or not a lot of people I know chose Windows Phone simply because of the reason it was the only OS in the market which offered Facebook features built seamlessly into the OS. Be it checking out the new updates, reading comments, checking into places or even better using the Facebook messenger which was built natively inside the Messaging app.
Facebook chat built in 8.0

Of course there were limitations like not being able to send emoticons or able to attach files but then again it was a useful feature for quick access. Sure there is now the dedicated Facebook Messenger app, but having an extra app still doesn’t compare to the experience we had in 8.0.

2. The Me Tile
 The Me tile in Windows Phone 8 provided one of the most basic and used features we all used when it came to connecting with people by “posting updates” to our favorite social networks. Of course the two of the most famous being Facebook and Twitter.
With Windows Phone 8 you could easily share a status update directly from the OS to both Facebook and Twitter at the same time (should you chose it) and separately as well. Things with Windows Phone 8.1 have changed. No longer can you post to both the networks at the same time. Even worse, with the Facebook integration being gone tapping on “Facebook” actually opens up the Facebook app which takes about a second to load and comes up with the post update screen.
Thankfully “Twitter” updates are still inline and you don’t need the Twitter app. Hopefully this stays and doesn’t get stripped out in the coming versions of Windows Phone 8.? !
 Notifications and the Me tile
Notifications then and now
This brings me to my next point which the “Me Tile” was awesome in performing and it was Notifications. The Me tile would bring you all your Twitter mentions and Facebook comments at one place. Whats even best was that you could tap into them and jump into the conversation inline within the OS. With Windows Phone 8.1 the “notifications” page is forever gone and is replaced by the “Action Center”. No longer does my Me Tile flip and tell me how many notifications I have and even worse is that Action Center doesn’t show me my Twitter updates. I liked it the way it was in 8.0. Wish it comes back again.
3. The People Hub
People Hub bringing us all the feeds combined together got an overhaul in real estate and now shows us more content with some of the text elements getting smaller in size. But then again with Facebook integration gone, no longer can you ‘like’ something with a simple button tap. Instead tapping on the article now takes you to the Facebook app again.
Windows Phone 8 allowing us direct replies and likes built in
4. The Pictures Hub
 :o ? Was there really a need to change the nice panoramic/parallax style background image that greeted you every time you opened the Pictures Hub ? Things like these are what made Windows Phone unique and people friendly which now in Windows Phone 8.1 looks no different than the Image Gallery on other counterparts like iOS and Android.

No longer do we have the “what’s new” section which was a very convenient way for users to simply see the new picture posts, restricting general posts from Facebook or Twitter. This was something I would regularly use on 8.0 and can’t anymore :(

Another nice feature Windows Phone 8.0 had was looking at pictures of your contacts from sources like Facebook and Twitter from their contact page swiping to the right natively. And as you would have probably guessed NO we cannot do this with Windows Phone 8.1. Instead we now have the “connect” page which takes you to their Facebook page of course loading the app. sigh…..since when did Windows Phone become so “app centric”….

5. The Music Hub

Music + Videos hub from Windows Phone 8 now replace with separate Xbox Music and Xbox Video apps. The experience is not as fluid and unified as it was with 8.0. A few bugs include the Music tile not showing the artist picture on the Tile and the lock screen not showing the Artist Image.

Why are such things being ignored and why is MS downgrading the experience which we have been used to since Windows Phone 7 ?Sure a lot of you might think this is something not so major and no big deal…after all who looks at their lock screen while playing music anyways right ?

 

 

Artist Info doesn’t seem to work with Windows Phone 8.1
6. The Sharing Experience
Sharing images on Twitter used to be very simple, easy and fast

Inline sharing of pictures to Twitter is gone and just like Facebook, it is replaced by launching the Twitter app. Again Microsoft, sharing things in such an easy and simpler manner is what we really liked in Windows Phone 8, please don’t take it away from us !

What’s going on with OneDrive ?

More importantly I was shocked when I tried to share the above taken screenshots with myself and thought of uploading them to OneDrive earlier Skydrive…there isn’t any option to upload it on OneDrive. Are you being serious right now ??? I at first thought may be I am doing something wrong…I double checked and had the OneDrive ‘app’ installed but yet no luck. I tried a quick search and then realized I wasn’t the only one who was facing this problem. This forum post on WPCentral gave it away.

Even worse is the fact that using the OneDrive app I cannot select multiple photos at the same time and upload them. As soon as you check one of the pictures it takes you back to the upload page. This is really a shame considering OneDrive being Microsoft’s own product and “Mobile and Cloud” being their prime focus.

 
This is what it looks like when you try to upload an image using the OneDrive app. It won’t let you select multiple files and you are prety much stuck by uploading it manually one after the other. Also notice how OneDrive is no where listed on the Share page. :o There seems to be a workaround which was suggested in the forums to create a Room…….. details here.
7. A few things here and there….

It now takes two taps to silence the phone completely. One tap brings the volume down toast and expanding it again then gives you the icon to tap on to put your phone on silence. Why the extra step ? With Windows Phone 8 it was much simpler.

If you are using Cortana our new Digital Assistant and use BingVision a lot then I am afraid you would need to launch the Camera app everytime click on lenses and then click on Bing Vision !! Music search however is right on the Cortana screen. Why was Bing Vision not a shortcut there??     Well you can try asking Cortana….

Background Audio streaming from streaming sites like Grooveshark only work if you have Internet Explorer running ! Yes that means the moments you hit the Start button and are on the home screen, its gonna stop playing, plain and simple. That’s not all…being in Internet Explorer and switching tabs would do the same thing. Common Microsoft how can things this trivial be missed ? It now feels just like the Safari experience on iOS.

Here’s a video of it in action on how it used to be in Windows Phone 8.

The games hub is still present in Windows Phone 8.1, the only catch is that if you have a ton of games on your phone, they will now show up even in your app list. No harm but it makes your app list tray more cluttered. I liked it the way it was in 8.0.

Why is Local Scout missing ? One of the best features which was used multiple times during the “Smoked by Windows Phone” ad campaign.

Does Windows Phone 8.1 still stand and adhere to all the fundamentals it started with ?
Here’s a “Smoked by Windows Phone” video, notice how things like “Sharing Pictures on Facebook” the use of the Me Tile to post updates have been shown off. Today you would have to wait for the Facebook App to load and then post it on FB. So no more “pocket to picture to postsadly !
Directions to a restaurant were brought up using Local Scout.

So would Windows Phone  8.1 still stand up to what’s shown above ?

In the end I would like to conclude by simply stating that yes Windows Phone 8.1 is a much much needed and a huge update. With the addition of Action Center, Cortana, Universal Apps, New IE 11, Better Multitasking, Word Flow keyboard and so much more…yes its a huge improvement and I am sure more good things lie ahead. But then I am also a little upset on things Windows Phone 8.1 has taken a step back with. I hope Microsoft realizes these small small things which matter and bring it back (hopefully) just as how the Start Button/Menu was brought back with public pressure.

Thanks for your time.