No sooner do I write about my Apple vs. Android angst than Microsoft hooks me up with a new HTC One (M8) with Windows Phone, throwing a new wrinkle into my internal dialogues -- this is my first time using a Microsoft-powered mobile device since running Windows Mobile 6 on my Samsung Blackjack II back in 2009.
I'm using the HTC One (M8) as my full-time phone (or close to it) for the next week ahead of a much more comprehensive review. But after only 24 hours with Windows Phone, I can say the following with confidence: The phone is a beautiful piece of highly functional hardware. Windows Phone 8.1 continues to surprise and delight me with its really very pleasant user experience and overall design.
But most of all, I can say for sure that there is no way I'm going back to the HTC One (M8) when this review is finished.
And why not? If you've been following me on Twitter, you may have already guessed: There just ain't any apps. My experience with the phone has largely consisted of "hey, this is really cool! I wonder what Google Hangouts looks like on h---oh, nevermind, I guess it's not available. Welp."
I know that as a twentysomething living in Silicon Valley, my reliance on apps for everyday tasks is amplified compared to the rest of the world: I use a combination of Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar to get around. I check my personal email with the Gmail app. I use Venmo to pay my friends for dinners and cab rides. I use Google Hangouts and Snapchat to talk to my friends during the day. I order groceries with Instacart and buy and read comic books with Amazon's Comixology. I enjoy the schadenfreude of apps like Secret and the nostalgia of apps like Timehop. Heck, I pay for my coffee with the Starbucks app. I store files and backup photos on Dropbox, every single day.
Except for Uber, not a single one of these apps is currently available on the Windows Phone platform.
When I accepted the review phone, I knew it was going to be hard to go without Apple-specific stuff like iMessage, which lets me text my hordes of fellow iPhone-owners from my laptop or phone at my leisure. Blaming Microsoft for Apple keeping a closed standard would be like blaming Taco Bell for not releasing its Doritos taco shells to Chipotle.
But while the bare basics of what I want and need my phone to do are on there -- pretty sweet-looking Office integration that I haven't fully tested yet, texting, email, and the Facebook-Instagram-Twitter social media trinity -- I'm finding myself limited in some very frustrating ways, and only after a day. Your mileage may vary, but I'm guessing that most of the sort that would be interested in Windows Phone in the first place would bang their heads on the same wall.
There are third-party apps that claim to scratch the same itches, with unofficial Gmail clients abounding, but these are generally pretty bad and really help the general feeling that owning a Windows Phone is like slapping a rocket engine onto a merry-go-round: Going nowhere, really fast.
I only highlight this problem specifically because it brings up an important, and often overlooked, element of BYOD. If you're an IT manager running an all-Windows shop, Windows Phone's deep and frankly very nifty hooks into the Microsoft ecosystem may make it a compelling investment for your users. But as far as making it a phone or tablet that your users will actually want to use all the time, every day, as part of their lives? That part is severely, severely lacking.
This is a market share problem. The fewer people who understand how cool Windows Phone actually is, the fewer people buy the phones, meaning the fewer mobile developers even bother taking the time to port their apps over. Until they either sell a lot more phones, or the One Windows initiative comes to fruition with a lot more cross-platform pollination of apps, Windows Phone is doomed to be the best phone platform that nobody will want to use.