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Very random thoughts on a variety of interactive media topics. Broadly looking at experience design, brand, digital consumer strategies, innovation and a fair dollop of user-facing technology. I'm Experience Director at EMC Consulting and you can also find me masquerading as @poleydee on Twitter.

Living with Windows Phone

I’m truly lucky to have now lived with a Windows Phone for nearly two weeks, so it’s time to write about it! This isn’t a phone review or even a UI review – it’s about what it’s actually like to live with, in the spirit of seeing if it lives up to Total Experience Design standards!

First, cards on the table. I have used an iPhone, Blackberry, Nokia E72 and most recently settled on an Android handset as being the most useful and enjoyable phone I had ever had. So that’s where my preferences have lain up until now.

I want a lot from a phone, but have been always underwhelmed by every phone I have had. They keep getting better and better, but never live up to expectations. But if you asked me to pin the missing elements down to a set of functions, I would have struggled. All of these phones had features galore, and more recently, apps that did pretty much anything you want. Of course things like battery life and the UI could have been improved, but that still wouldn’t have nailed it.

What I really wanted was not a phone, but a multi-use device, something that I could rely on in a variety of situations to connect me, to entertain me, to talk to people on (weirdly), and in all of these situations, it never… well, I guess the phrase would be that it never “flowed”. Things were always fiddly or annoying in some way, or took too much time.

I guess that like Spock on Star Trek, I wanted to whip out my multi-function communicator or tri-corder and it would immXan Bimasediately tell me the answer to whatever was on my mind at the time. Or the seemingly magical all-powerful ‘PDA’ used by Jack Bauer in the supposedly real time “24”, where one button press would instantly reveal everything from real-time satellite coverage of his location, to accessing the building control system of a skyscraper so he can shut down the lifts!

The reality of life with a so-called smartphone is that things aren’t that simple. Want real-time satellite coverage of your present location Jack Bauer? Well first, unlock your phone, scroll to find the Department of Defense satellite app, then realise you need to turn the GPS on because you turned it off to save battery life, fiddle around in the settings, wait for it to lock on, then your 3G connection drops because you went in a tunnel, buffering… buffering… excellent got it. Except now the bad guys are right on top of me…

So without talking about the device, or even the interface, the reliability of the connection, or the nature of the on-screen keyboard, let me try to describe what Windows Phone is ‘like’…

Windows Phone is a flowing experience. You just have to tell Windows Phone three things in order for it to start to bring your world together. Your Facebook login. Your Windows LiveID. Your work email details. From this point in, you stop thinking about it…

With other phones I have to think about which calendar my itinerary is stored in. I have to think about which phonebook my mum’s phone number is in. None of this with Windows Phone. Once your details are in, you just have to think about ‘people’ – people you know, people you work with, their phone numbers, their email addresses, their facebook status, their photos, everything is in one place… in fact, this takes a little retraining for an old smartphone user like me. You would think that for a user experience pro, ‘people first’ is an easy thing to remember, but it takes a while to sink in. The ‘people hub’ is really the place to be regardless of whether the communication is inbound or outbound, work or social, email, voice or facebook. One long list of people you know and the stuff that they’re doing.

Windows Phone is not an ‘up and down’ or an ‘in and out’ experience. It feels flowing and linear. What I mean by this is that I’m not constantly thinking about menu structures. Any combination of operating system and applications has a means of navigation, to which each of us applies their own cognitive model – “go up to the top level” is an indicator of the type of mental map someone has made of a particular system for example. With Windows Phone, I don’t have a mental model of its hierarchies. Instead, it feels like I have an anchor – the windows button that takes me to the live tiles, but after that, I have no concept of what ‘apps are open’ and it doesn’t matter. When I am doing something and go on to do something else, then want to go back to what I was doing, I hit ‘back’ and I always seem to get there. What this allows you to do is use short term actual memory rather than a mental model. “What was I doing before I went to look at the map? Oh yes… “ and before you know it you’re back trying for a new high score on Bejewelled.

When I say that the Windows Phone experience is ‘flowing’ I also mean more than just navigationally or interaction-wise. Here is a story from yesterday that totally sums up what I mean by this. First, though, let me tell you that I have never synced music to a phone. Just seemed like too much of a hassle, and I prefer to have a wider variety of music available, so I usually carry a much larger capacity music / video player with me. Anyway – bearing this in mind,.. yesterday I was in a store in London. The store sound system was playing a song. I liked it, but didn’t know who it was by.

I grabbed my Windows Phone and hit the Shazam app. Shazam listened to the song, then (much more quickly than my Android used to) told me what it was. Whilst I was thinking to myself “I must remember to go find that later” I saw a little Zune icon at the bottom of the app. I touched it. I was then in the phone’s music player, looking at the album art, a track listing and the first track on the album playing. I could have listened to the whole album for free (courtesy of my Zune pass) right there and then. Being a savvy geek though, I wanted it downloaded in my local collection rather than streaming, and one tap of the screen later it was all downloading. I never went back to the screen that showed the download progress, but next time I went to play music that album was all safely in my collection.

There were no walls in this process. There was no visibility of the fact that Shazam is an app built by a third party, no wait whilst the music player app opened, or even any acknowledgement that I had moved into the music player, or that it had to log in to Zune, or that the music was streaming, no retrying of downloads because the 3G connection dropped… none of that.

The phone simply heard the track, and gave me the whole album. That actually took three taps of the screen, although I wasn’t counting at the time.

This is just one example, but there are lots of others from sharing of stuff in to social spaces, to simple map look up of a meeting location, and so on. In fact one of the ways Microsoft justify the lack of cut and paste (at the moment anyway – I guess we’re only a software release away) is “why would you need it?” and in many respects they’re right. I no longer need to copy the postcode of a meeting and paste it into the map application. There is a host of other examples where you’re pondering how to do something, and you notice the button for it, or a link on a name or a menu option, or something that allows you to go straight to that function, or in some cases you realise that you don’t need to do it at all. For example, there’s a host of random pics on my facebook page right now because lots of people say to me “How easy is it to post photos to Facebook?”. In this instance, when you select to share to Facebook, and are prompted to write a comment on the photo – you are left wondering where the ‘upload’ button is – only to notice a discrete uploading status message that indicates that in the time it took you to think that, the phone has already gone ahead and uploaded it.

So as an experience, Windows Phone just feels really tight and integrated. There are no gaping holes between the different discrete parts of the phone’s operation that reek of the fact that different development teams worked on them. None of that stuff. It all just flows, without you ever really thinking about what apps are open, or what menu option will lead you to what.

Interestingly, one of the biggest feature of this device is something it doesn’t do and I nearly missed it, because it only just occurred to me that in the two weeks that I have had this phone, I haven’t turned it off. I’ve run music, apps, games, downloads, web stuff, email, everything.. and it has never skipped a beat. It hasn’t frozen, given ANY error messages, nothing has stopped responding, no long waits between things opening, and no need to reboot or reset it. It didn’t even drop any phone calls!

Us geeks are generally pretty forgiving of sexy bits of technology – and are understanding of the fact that memory can fill up, and sometimes things just need a bit of a reset – but we shouldn’t be, and Windows Phone obviously thinks so too, as it has been rock solid.

There’s loads more to talk about on living with Windows Phone of course that I’ll only touch on here briefly:

  • The neatness and speed of the interaction with music and camera when the phone is locked. Like Spock’s tricorder; when you want it to be a camera it’s just a camera – no need to unlock it, or open an app… just turn it on and take a picture. When you want to turn up the volume, you just turn up the volume – regardless of whether the phone is locked, or the display is turned on or off.
  • Gaming – I am not a massive Xbox Live kind of guy. I only just got an Xbox, so that I could get Kinect – but I’ve already connected up my Xbox live accounts, and massively got into games that give me Xbox points, and so on. I eagerly await the day a games publisher comes up with a game that has good reasons to play across both Xbox and phone, and has interaction with your Xbox Live friends because it all works so seamlessly. I’ve sat and changed my avatar on my phone, and seen it just appear on my Xbox. I’ve played more games on this Phone than I ever played on any other phone.
  • The Metro UI – well, there’s a lot been said about that already, so I won’t.. but suffice to say, it ‘feels’ really good. As well as working really well, it’s the transitions and interaction design that really makes this phone feel pleasurable to use.

In summary, living with Windows Phone is quite amazing for a Microsoft version 1.0 product. it’s also a device that changes a lot of the smartphone UI paradigms. You find yourself having to think ‘how would I do this if I were 7 years old?’ And I mean this literally, so when you can’t find the camera app, and your 7 year old son picks it up, holds it like a camera and presses the shutter button which fires the camera into life, remember that way of thinking and apply it. It’s how the technology should have been designed in the first place, but we ended up with a complex way of doing things that we do not have to be stuck with…

Could it be improved on? Of course... everything can, but in its first incarnation it brings something new into the smartphone market that I feel will be seriously challenging to a number of existing marketplaces – not least of which will be the corporate email device market, where it will push back the rise of the iPhone and take the game to Blackberry.

My suggestions for improvements are pretty minor…

  • Add the day of the week to the day and agenda dates i.e. Mon 8th Dec rather than just 8 December, otherwise you lose track when scanning a few days…
  • Make the top status bar a shortcut to related settings – e.g. if I tap on the wi-fi status icon, I go to the wi-fi settings.  Ditto for Bluetooth.
  • Encourage app developers to make the behaviour of their apps consistent. Many remember their state when shut down, but many don’t… this can be annoying, especially if you accidentally hit one of the hardware buttons whilst frantically playing a game! But at least, Windows Phone apps can keep state, unlike some other devices, and I guess we’re only one software release away from multi-tasking…
  • Integrate Twitter in the same way that Facebook is integrated. Ditto Flickr I guess…
  • Expose more Live Tiles functionality to developers so more app tiles can be live
  • Make the Zune music and video marketplace the best it can possibly be. It’s pretty good now, but they’ll need to keep on top of content deals, and the like to keep it tip top. Spotify has convinced us Brits that it’s ok to pay a small amount of money monthly for unlimited on-demand music, and you can have your Zune content on 3 computers, and 3 devices (and in your living room via your Xbox 360), so this may be the time we Brits finally buy into the monthly pass idea.

I do hope that Microsoft will take feedback on the UI, and continually improve it without complicating it. Ongoing subtle enhancement I think is the way to go.

If you want a phone that you don’t have to think about, but you’re equally proud to own or show off... then Windows Phone is for you.

Now – the only thing left is to ask the battery industry to give us all some new batteries for whatever smartphone we own that will last longer than a day! Although my HTC Trophy came with a battery charger that is so slim and sexy that my dear friend @clemency is proud to say she keeps it in her (Vivian Westwood) handbag, so if she can, so can you! it’s worth it.

Alves and Kenton BIMAs

(The T-Shirt art Oliver Kenton and Michael Alves from our interactive media team created for Microsoft in celebration of the Windows Phone association with this year’s BIMA awards. They didn’t run with the death of the paperclip artwork that you also see as crafted by Xan Perez-Lopez.. not sure why.)

Published Friday, December 10, 2010 5:11 PM by Paul.Dawson

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Kate said:

My wishlist would also include Messenger. Right on the People - after all that's where most of them came from. Waiting on multitasking is my bet.

December 10, 2010 6:17 PM

mikee said:

Well done.  As a former Android user myself, I would like WP7 to add a shortcut for Wifi, Bluetooth, etc.  

December 10, 2010 7:53 PM

Mary Branscombe said:

you're getting map lookup for meetings? I can't get that to work on any of my appointments and was thinking that (like 10 download rights/month with Zune Pass and voice search) it might be one of those things UK users don't get...

December 10, 2010 9:13 PM

jose said:

My experiences with my WP7 HTC HD7 has been exactly the same. I'm a Silverlight developer that has been waiting for a "Silverlight" mobile device for over 3 years, but when this beast was unveiled it completely blew me away with the breath of features & technologies it attempting to put together. Then a month ago it delivered!! I've been waiting for a tablet for a while and my wp7 device has  indefinetely postponed that. If we get a tablet that has a very strong integration story like WP7 (Music/video/picture/social sites/games/office etc) i will definetely buy it based on my experiences with WP7.

Again.. well done MS peeps that made the happen!!

December 10, 2010 9:18 PM

NateB2 said:

There's another amazing feature of WP7 - the voice recognition.  If you hold down the windows button for 2-3 seconds, you can tell it to launch apps, call people, search the web for something - and it actually *works*.  I spent last night asking it to find random complicated items, and it guessed what I wanted to search for flawlessly.  The more I test it, the more I'm blown away by how good it is.  When I show my phone to my friends, this is one of the things I show them - while they're busy tapping away at a virtual keyboard, searching for something on the web, I just say what I want to search for, and the results pop up.  

As it stands now, the only way someone could get me to switch to Android or the iPhone is to pry my Samsung Focus from my cold, dead hands.

December 10, 2010 9:21 PM

Vinod said:

Great writeup!

You just sold WP7 to me. :)

December 10, 2010 9:25 PM

jamiet said:



December 10, 2010 10:39 PM

Peter Quirk said:


I couldn't agree more with your review. I've had my Samsung Focus WP7 for just over two weeks now and have found it meets all my expectations and then some. The seamless interface between people and their info, messages, websites, etc. is fantastic. I have three mailboxes on my phone and I like the way the phone keeps my work and personal mailboxes separate while merging contact info from multiple contact cards in those mail systems. The unified calendar that merges the events from those three calendars and color codes them to indicate which mailbox they come from is a real time-saver.

Like you I have not had a need for copy/paste nor multi-tasking. Once you use the phone you realize that the radio or music player already multi-tasks with other activities, the browser keeps tabs open so you can go back to them, etc. The search functionality is so well done, whether one is talking about the top-level bing search or the contextual search in applications, hubs, etc.

The Zune companion application is real discovery too. I've used Media Center on my PC, but Zune with a pass takes you to a entirely new level of enjoyment. I am discovering so much new music and sharing it with other family members. Like the Metro UI it has a wonderful flow.

Perhaps the most surprising thing here on the US east coast (on the AT&T network) is that the phone quality is excellent, I haven't had any dropped calls, and I don't have to hold the phone in a special way.

The twitter integration problems seem to be due to policy changes on the twitter side. Twitter was removed from the Live Messenger social feeds this week just as dozens of other feeds were added.

December 11, 2010 2:23 AM

chilero said:

Thoroughly enjoyed reading your article. I've only played with a live demo wp7 and was really impressed.  Played around with Samsung Galaxy S Android after and it just seemed boring or old after trying the Samsung Focus WP7.

December 11, 2010 3:10 AM

Paulio said:

Nice ux review. I've had a trophy for a couple of weeks too and agree with pretty much everything said. However, I would add that;

1. Adding/updating apps from Market place has frozen the hd7 in the house a few times

2. 'it just works' is great everywhere but 'outlook', which is a little surprising. Hopefully the 'executive' changes will improve that

3. The 'off/on' button is far too keen.

Although those points frustrate me it's still the go-to device for me

December 11, 2010 7:20 AM

zane said:

i agree with the fanboi comment...  the initial response from me to the ui was ugly.. get some artists to fix the "square" look. not everyone will love this phone.

[From Paul:] i think this UI has a distinct lack of visual design, which I think is what makes it good... this UI has more 'feel' than 'look'. Anyway - not a fanboy - it's an objective opinion - as is yours of course.

December 12, 2010 3:15 AM

jamiet said:


The fanboi comment was just a joke because I happen to know Paul and in fact knowing him as I do I know that anything he writes would be wholly objective.

Plus I was drunk when i wrote it :)


December 13, 2010 10:21 AM

jamiet said:

"You just have to tell Windows Phone three things in order for it to start to bring your world together. Your Facebook login. Your Windows LiveID. Your work email details. From this point in, you stop thinking about it…"

Small point for anyone reading this far. You can connect your Windows Live ID & Facebook ID together at http://profile.live.com prior to even buying the phone. That way you'll only need to tell Windows Phone two things instead of three.

December 13, 2010 12:54 PM

David Baker said:

"the windows button that takes me to the live tiles, but after that, I have no concept of what ‘apps are open’ and it doesn’t matter" - when I follow that approach my phone starts behaving, erratically (short on memory) and finally dies. Happened in marketplace when scrolling, often the app feedback refuses to load etc... Knowing which apps are tombstoned, properly closing them or allowing to jump to them is a necessity. It now takes more clicks to reactive an app than it did in WM6.1/6.5 this is bad. Apart from that I like it lots!

December 13, 2010 2:38 PM

Dread10ck said:

Brilliant writing, Paul. Having gone from iphone (the novelty wore off) to android (Desire, and Galaxy Tab - which I still own). I was pleasantly surprised with my HD7.  

I find the WP7 UI paradigm to be simply stunning. The words flowing and seamless come to mind again and again. I suspect that others will copy this and may improve on it - but for the time-being nothing comes close. Other smartphone users that I meet (and I meet a lot of people)  immediately want it when they see it in action.

An interesting point though, many people who have never used a smartphone (this includes blackberry users) don't see what the big deal is and tend to see android, iOS, and WP7 as the same undifferentiatied thing ("like the iphone" - they say). How to make these WP7 devices stand out even more is a real challenge.

One irritant in the experience: The marketplace malfunctions - returning me to the start screen annoyingly often.

1st Big-Silly-Grin experience: 2nd day with my phone, my wife's live-tile changes to her recently updateed picture by itself then slides down revealing her name (so far so normal) and then flips over revealing her status update - I grin like an idiot!

December 14, 2010 4:43 AM

jimski said:

@David Baker: There is a known bug that occurs in Marketplace that typically happens when scrolling quickly or to the bottom of a category. Upon exiting and going back into Marketplace it will continuously try to load but will give up and kick you back out to the Start screen. The only solution is a soft reset. Ater the reset it won't happen again, at least not immediately. So that suggests it has something to do with memory buffers or cache building up. Hopefully it will be corrected soon with an update. Every new OS is bound to have a few little bugs.

You can't really close an app in WP as the OS manages that. I have had to do some resets while trying to force problems to occur, like the one mentioned above, but I have already gone a full week without a reset more than once, opening and closing multiple apps per day (I have already downloaded about 100) all day long and my Surround does not even whimper with what I throw at it. I don't pay any attention to what may be opened or hiding behind the Start screen. I used to worry about that with my WM device ut not anymore. As long as I keep this phone feed with battery power she is always ready for some more fun.  

December 14, 2010 6:19 AM

Sanat Gersappa said:

***. Now I want one.

December 15, 2010 6:21 AM

Rob said:

Ref the calendar showing the day of the week as well as the dates, in your regional settings, check the Long Date format. Depending on your region, you may or may not have an option that shows day and date.

English UK does not have the option, but some other English variants do have it.

December 15, 2010 6:48 AM

Mark R said:

@David Baker That marketplace app not loading is a bug that is being addressed according to a email i got from WP support.

Awesome write up.We got two  Samsung Focus. We absolutely love 'em...The keyboard is a time saver since i need to type up spanish emails or texts. Holding down different keys gives more key options.Like holding the "N" key give u the ~ over the n, same with question mark. It gives me the ? and the upside down ? that i need..i know its small but it really great...also hold .com and other domains...

the zune/subscription hub absolutely awesome..I added TWIT, lastfm and youtube and they all live inside the music hub..Whenever i play anything from youtube it is replayable in the zune history instead of having to reenter the app ..Anyways there is much more that i am enjoying. Thanx once again for the additional info that you wrote. Great article...Take Care , Mark

December 15, 2010 7:03 AM

Mark said:


Until u actually use the phone you wont understand how awesome the tiles work..What is this fanboy stuff? Because people actually like the this new approach instead of a bunch of mini icons on the main screen . IMO The metro ui is just a better way to get around on the phone...Not a fanboy but a huge FAN of the wp7....Wont ever go back to the iphone i have used for the past two years....Take Care

December 15, 2010 7:09 AM

Charlie Skilbeck said:

Another WP7 bonus - let's not forget 'Jacuzzi', the mind teasing word game! NOT available on iPhone. Please for the love of all that's good and holy will somebody please buy my little game!

December 15, 2010 7:24 AM

Jon Beets said:

I have had a LG Optimus 7Q for 4 weeks now.  The only other choice from Telstra was HTC and after being scarred for life with the Touch Diamond, I could not go there.  I am a long term WM phone user but have not used an iPhone or Android based phone.

I love the UI and the flow, as Paul discussed, particularly the consistency of the Back button processing with applications, though curiously not some Telstra apps!  The merging of contacts with Facebook in the people hub is great and the use of Zune is growing on me.  I love that I can customise the tiles to have my priorities close.

The niggles I have seem mostly to do with the hardware.  You seem to have to touch very precisely and thumbing, particularly with the right hand is problematic at best.  My son who has an iPhone, considers the device is not thumb friendly.

Another more major niggle is that the Windows Live ID used when setting up the device for the first time cannot be changed without a hard reset!

All in all I am very happy with my Windows Phone 7.  I am able to seriously consider ditching my MP3 player for the first time.  Bluetooth performance is excellent and battery life is reasonable.

Thanks for the excellent article Paul.


December 15, 2010 12:22 PM

LarryE1946 said:

My goodness, what a fantastic write-up.  I can't wait for the store to open to get there to buy my WP7.

December 15, 2010 12:32 PM

Jiffy said:

I just love the new interface and waiting until I can recontract (6 more days to go). Trying to decide between trophy, omnia 7 and HD 7.

December 15, 2010 2:20 PM

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About Paul.Dawson

I started working in 'new media' when it was new... around 1996, doing websites for people like DHL and Cellnet (remember them?) as well as CD-Roms for people like Dorling Kindersley. I joined Conchango in 1999 because I was fed up with the conflicts and overlaps between the companies that we tended to partner with to deliver these things. Usually it was a tech company and a marketing agency. Neither had the user's needs in mind, and both were trying hard to take business away from each other. So at Conchango I saw the opportunity to create an integrated team, who as a result of all being on the same side, and following good user centred design process, delivered better stuff for both our clients and their customers. Bizarrely, now that we have teams who truly understand all these aspects of projects, we now partner very well with both tech and creative companies! So we built an interactive media team who do design, branding and user experience, and since 2006 have consistently been rated best in Europe at this by Forrester Research. Which was nice! Since then I've worked on digital strategy and innovation for companies like Virgin Atlantic, Barclays, Tesco and other great clients as part of EMC Consulting. Now I spend a lot of time evangelising to customers and at conferences, about what EMC Consulting do in the field of Customer and Brand Experience, as well as still working for real clients on real projects. The final thing I do is look out for what new user-facing technologies will be relevant to us, our customers and consumesrs. I help shape how we adopt them, and how we apply them, and how we build the skills we need to be the best at them.

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