It's still a Windows world

2013-11-10 10:00

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WinPhone is so good, it influenced the desktop version, writes Toby Shapshak

Ironically, the underdog in the mobile world is Microsoft, but the so-called third ecosystem (after Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS) has benefited as a result.

Built from scratch, Windows Phone (the previous incarnations were called Windows Mobile) is a solid, impressive operating system that has rightfully impressed geeks.

Nokia’s CEO, Stephen Elop, made a bold move by ditching the aging Symbian (which he famously called a “burning platform”) for Windows Phone three years ago and the move has paid off handsomely.

Initially derided, Elop’s courageous decision has made Nokia the standout maker of this distant third operating system (with less than 5% of the global market share), but saved the proud Finnish company from becoming just another Android-based smartphone manufacturer.

So how good is it?

It’s surprisingly good. So good that the interface was reverse engineered into Windows 8 itself. Unlike Windows for desktop computers, which needs to use old programs and files, Windows Phone was free of this legacy requirement.

As such, it’s a thoroughly modern operating system that gets better with each iteration. Nokia’s success with WinPhone has created a genuine third ecosystem (the apps, the services and the assorted other components, both physical accessories and services) and has resulted in arguably the most beautifully designed smartphones from Nokia.

So it’s not surprising that Microsoft is now buying the troubled Finnish icon, which reintroduced bright colours to the staid black-handset market.

Live Tiles

Instead of static icons on each screen like iOS and Android, Windows Phone opted for what it calls Live Tiles. These squares of different sizes, which you can rearrange to your specifications, show current information instead of symbols for the app.

In reality, these tend to be pictures of your friends (be it from the Facebook, Twitter or messaging apps) or a few lines of text. It’s still more interactive than those icons, no matter how beautifully rounded the corners are. The ability to “pin” apps to the main screen and rearrange them is very useful. The navigation, using sideswipes, is arguably one of the best too.

But what about Instagram?

Perhaps the biggest complaint about Windows Phone has been the absence of that one app that seems to be addictive to smartphone users: Instagram. The good news then, if that’s your stumbling point, is that it’s coming soon to Windows Phone.

Most of the other major apps, including Facebook and Twitter, are already there, as well as a range of clever ones like Path.

Microsoft’s Bing search engine still doesn’t hold a shadow to Google’s, but Nokia’s Maps and other clever features, including streaming music, are superb – and are sure to come to Windows Phone once Microsoft buys Nokia.

And Office?

As you’d expect, the mobile version of Office is backed into the operating system, as is the use of the SkyDrive cloud-storage system. The best use of this is obviously Microsoft’s Office productivity suite. Called Office Mobile, it’s part of the Office 365 package, which costs R750 a year and is valid for five devices, including iPads and iPhones.

The advantage of SkyDrive-linked files is that you can work on them, make changes, email them, etc – and the original is stored in the cloud so you can access it with ease from a laptop.

Talk to us: Do you think Windows Phone is better than Android or Apple's iOS?

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