As Windows phone users transition to Android and iPhone, they can take advantage of the much more vibrant app and content ecosystems found on those successful smart phone platforms. But an update to Instagram on iPhone this week reminds me that a step up to Android or iPhone isn’t without its shortcomings too.
You know, I’ve done this before.
After watching my beloved Amiga platform circle the drain and then disappear into said drain forever, I struggled to find a personal computing solution I could be enthusiastic about. At that time in the early 1990s, the Mac was expensive and technologically laughable. Windows 3.1 was popular but ugly and unreliable. OS/2 was interesting, but was made by IBM, which had a habit of kicking itself between the legs. And … well, that was it for viable alternatives. What saved me, finally, was Windows 4.0, which became Windows 95, and was very interesting. It wasn’t until the release of the iPhone in 2007—over 20 years later—that things changed enough for me to start reevaluating things again.
Of course, the promise of Windows phone seemed to tilt things back in Microsoft’s favor in 2010. Here was a mobile platform that put the user first, that aggregated the things we cared about most into content-centric hubs, that sought to release us from the tyranny of Apple’s unsophisticated “whack a mole” UIs. It seemed like such a good idea.
But it wasn’t, not really, and not understanding that at the time has set me, and many other Windows phone enthusiasts, back by years. The problem with Microsoft’s innovative but ill-conceived design is that it didn’t respect the needs of the brands—online services, apps, and so on—that were necessary for the platform’s success. That is, Microsoft wanted users to enjoy Facebook photos in the Photos hub, alongside their photos from other places. They wanted users to enjoy the benefits of Facebook “likes” from a social networking feed that blended that service together with contacts from other services.
Facebook hated that. So did Flickr, Twitter, Google, and any other service maker that wanted, understandably, to push their brands. And so Windows phone failed. And those hubs became isolated wastelands where only Microsoft services, or some small selection of services, were available. So we could access photos from a few services in the Photos hub. But not photos from Flickr, Google Picasaweb (now Google Photos), Instagram, or elsewhere. Windows phone was DOA, and it was never going to succeed. We just didn’t know it back in 2010.
But like that multitasking, multi-processing Amiga of 1994, Windows phone did—still does—things that other platforms are/were slow to adopt. And when you’re coming from an unpopular but innovative and forward-leaning platform and moving to a popular but still (in some ways) unsophisticated platform, you’re going to miss things.
You can adapt. Android handsets and iPhones don’t have hardware camera buttons, which drives former Lumia owners nuts. (Though to be fair, most Lumias ultimately didn’t have camera buttons either.) They don’t offer integrated experiences, though as I’ve pointed out, those were gutted from Windows phone over time too. They don’t have “at a glance” live tiles. And so on.
But of course these more popular platforms have improved too. The cameras in high-end iPhones and Android handsets aren’t just as good as the cameras in the best Lumias anymore, they’re better. (Sorry, Lumia 1020 holdouts.) The whack-a-mole UIs are still around, though you can offset that somewhat on Android with widgets, not that it matters: Apps are the real user experience now, and voice-activated digital assistants like Siri and Google Now/On Tap are the future.
But the vestigial expectations remain. When you’ve had it good, it’s hard to take a step down. So while the iPhone and Android are superior overall to Windows phone—it’s not even close, come on—the former Windows phone user will still run into the occasional glitch on these superior platforms. And the result is a mixture of humor and sadness. Humor around how silly it is that these things aren’t better. And sadness because Windows phone did these things right years ago.
Here’s one example. It’s just one, yes, but I wrote this because I saw the news today, oh boy. And well I just had to laugh. Having written the book, literally. (Sorry, Beatles fans.)
Thanks to an update to the Instagram app for iPhone on Monday night, you can now access the service semi-directly from Apple’s otherwise monolithic camera app. Which is a roundabout way of saying that Instagram has finally, belatedly created a Share extension for iOS. Meaning that you can access the service from any app on iOS that supports photo sharing. Including the camera app.
This is important for photo enthusiasts because it means that you can take a photo with the camera app and, semi-quickly and obviously—share it to Instagram. To do so, take a photo, display the camera roll, tap the Share button, select the photo(s), and then … voila! … Instagram is a choice. (Or, it will be after you enable it via More.)
So fast! So sophisticated!
OK, not really. But it’s better than it not being an option. More to the point, that kind of Share functionality was of course a key part of Windows Phone OS (and then Windows 8 and newer on PCs) before it ever appeared on iOS. And even more important, the ability to extend the camera app specifically was something Microsoft actually built into Windows Phone OS (version 8) via Lenses apps. Apple still hasn’t done this.
No, I don’t believe Instagram was ever available as a Lenses app on Windows phone, nor do I really care. The point here isn’t which specific services were available where—remember, that was an issue with Windows phone—but rather that Microsoft thought through how a user might actually need/want to use this thing, and then did the right thing for them, and did it first.
Instagram works similarly on Android, by the way, so if you’ve gone the Google route, enjoy that. In fact, I think it’s worked that way for a while now, so it’s not clear what too so long on iOS. Of course, if I had a dollar for every time I had that thought, I could retire.
Sometimes I really miss Windows phone. But then I sometimes miss the Amiga as well. Letting go. You know, it’s hard.