In computing, even the most amazing products usually have minor defects. Yet, when the product is mobile, each defect somehow becomes even more troubling.
One small snafu can mean the difference between arriving on time to a meeting and sending that one hurried text to a colleague, or getting lost on a vacant thoroughfare because the GPS is glitchy and not user-friendly.
The recent release of Windows Phone 7 has caused a stir in the smartphone industry, partly because it is highly usable and well-designed, partly because there’s still debate about whether it can actually make any headway against Google Android and Apple iOS, and partly because we have learned to take notice when Microsoft does anything new. Yet, there are still some gaping holes.
Here are 20 features we like to see in the next Windows Phone release.
1. Copy and paste
How is this even possible? No modern smartphone OS is complete without copy and paste. Knowing how the OS works (the interface consists mainly of large squares you click and slide around on screen) and that there are no options for long press (other than being able to delete that square) helps you understand why copy and paste was left out. You can almost picture a Redmond designer saying copy and paste defies interface aesthetics. It also makes it hard to copy an email address.
2. Flash support
We’ve all learned to live without Adobe Flash support on smartphones. Sure, there are workarounds – if you can buy the Skyfire browser for iPhone, good luck. Yet, rich content on sites like GamesRadar.com really benefit greatly from Flash. As we reported recently, the reason Microsoft did not include Flash support is due to the fast 18 month development cycle.
3. Better multitasking
Like most smartphones today, Windows Phone 7 has limited multitasking. For example, apps can send a push notification while you are browsing, and they tend to save their state when you switch out of them. (For example, if you log into Gmail using the IE browser, close and start a new app, then go back to IE, you will still be logged in.)
However, this limited multi-tasking is not the same as true background processing. For Windows Phone 8, we really want to have the ability to start a massive back-up to the cloud and have that run while we check email.
4. Easier app control
Speaking of apps that shut down entirely when you quit them, another peculiarity is that the WP7 interface, while fluid enough for flipping through pictures and browsing the web, is not exactly app-centric.
In fact, the only way to view apps currently is in a long list when you swipe to the right. (You can also pin apps to the home screen by long-pressing on the one you want and selecting to pin.) However, what we’d like to see in Windows Phone 8 is better categorization. For example, one square for productivity apps where you can drag those icons into that bin, similar to the capability on the iPhone 4.
5. Better indication of interface options
Another minor gripe is that Windows Phone 7 tends to play “interface roulette” with you: it is hard to know when you can swipe left or right, when you can long-press, and when an app offers extra options.
For example, the email app has plenty of icons below the main screen for creating a new message and syncing. However, the Picture app seems to have no options at all. (Oddly, you can long-press on the main pictures screen to choose a background image, but there is no indication that this is possible.)
6. Internet tethering
Is it too much to ask to make your phone work as a modem? This is one feature that would make sense for Windows Phone 8, especially if 4G networks proliferate. While tethering would be handy, we’d also like the ability to use the phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot for other devices (and make it free!).
7. YouTube app
Not including a YouTube app is a travesty, especially if you are under 15 years old and have a lot of spare time. What – there is no way to watch some angst-ridden teenage singing Train songs? Actually, there is a way if you fire up the browser and pop open a YouTube vid. You will be promoted to download the YouTube app from the Marketplace. The app is clunky at best: it looks just like IE but plays videos.
8. A true universal search
Like the copy/paste omission, the lack of universal search is a glaring problem. Even the Palm Pre had a useful search that returned results from your contacts, apps, and the Web. WP7 only provides Bing search, which is great for the web but not useful when you really need to find that one obscure sales contact and only know the first name, or just want to start an app quickly.
9. Aggregated email
WP7 tends to prefer a Windows Live email address. While the email client is useful enough, there is no way to add all of your email accounts and have them grouped in one client.
10. Deliver on the gaming promise
During a MIX event prior to launch, Microsoft showed the mech-shooter game The Harvest and hinted at a serious effort to bring the Xbox 360 casual gaming experience to the handheld. That game made our list of the best Windows Phone 7 games, but there are still a few conspicuous no-shows, including Crackdown 2: Project Sunburst and Halo Waypoint, and a few games we really want to see (Limbo, Braid).
11. Tweets from within first-party apps
Here’s one that is a little tough to explain, and we know that some view Twitter as a 140-character fad. However, Windows Phone 7 seems to almost ignore the service, especially when it comes to integration with other apps. We’d like to see the ability to tweet a favorite song from the Zune player or even post a photo from your photo stream to your Twitter account or directly from the camera app.
12. HTML5 support
The IE browser included with Windows Phone 7 seems to be a beefed up version of IE8 for the small screen, and its lack of HTML5 and Silverlight support is another glaring omission. HTML5 has not exactly become the de facto standard for rich content, but the potential with HTML5 is hard to ignore: better designed web pages, faster performance, and video feeds that actually work.
13. Advanced editing in Word
Including the Office hub app was a no-brainer, and it’s handy to be able to open Word and Excel files and edit them to some extent. (The PowerPoint app is strictly for viewing.)
What’s missing is the ability to do anything beyond changing the format and editing the text. In Windows Phone 8, we’d like to see more robust word processor and spreadsheet functions, even including such fine details and controlling line spacing and being able to (ahem) copy and paste between Word and Excel.
14. Create PowerPoint from scratch
The ability to view a slideshow on your smartphone is nothing new. What would be impressive in Windows Phone 8 is a way to create a PowerPoint show from scratch – grabbing images from Flickr, tapping in your text, setting slide timings, and maybe even streaming the show to the web.
15. Better software support for 4G networks
The Windows Phone 7 OS seems designed for the current age of 3G networks, but in Windows Phone 8 we hope that 4G access on the order of 7-10Mbps becomes widely available in the UK and US.
If that happens, the OS really needs to follow suit with a powerful HD movie download service and a way to make full back-ups to the web easily. Better yet, we’re still waiting for the day when massive mobile storage and 10Mbps access turns your smartphone into a primary media device for all media content.
16. Wallpaper on home screen
You can change the background pic – for the Picture app. In WP7, there is no way to change the wallpaper image used for the home screen and the lock screen. That’s a strange missing feature since just about every smartphone offers this basic capability.
17. IT feature to push apps
Microsoft obviously focused on the lucrative and fast moving consumer market for the first Windows Phone 7 release. In Windows Phone 8, we’d like to see better enterprise support – including a way to push apps to the device, such as those used for remote access and for custom apps that access enterprise software.
18. Ability to segregate social networking contacts
We like the way Microsoft added an aggregator for social networks. The People app is clean and refreshes quickly. However, it is an all or nothing approach – we’d like to see separate categories for Facebook and Live Mail, for example. And, it’s odd there isn’t a way to add a Twitter account.
19. Built-in back-up feature
One of the very last additions that Microsoft made to the Windows Mobile 6.5 release was a good one: it added a back-up utility that made a copy of your contacts and media files. Having this built-in to Windows Phone 8 would help make your smartphone the primary device for all media and a good storage choice for documents and spreadsheets.
Oddly, there is no way to back-up using a tool in the OS (using a scheduler, adding encryption to files) but you can copy files to the SkyDrive service.
20. Better built-in encryption
Phones are not the best encryption devices – for a large file, they might not have the horsepower to add robust encryption like AES. Yet, for most quick archives for contacts and documents, encryption would be a helpful addition.
Even better, we’d like to see a way to make back-ups with encryption that are then accessible from the cloud, and a way to lock down a device remotely so the data is safe.