Windows Phone 7 could be amazing. It's not, yet. Right now, it's a good start. This is what's broken, and what Microsoft has to do to make it truly awesome.
Windows Phone 7 doesn't have multitasking for third-party apps, even though every other major smartphone OS out there does. That's already borderline unacceptable for some people, but what made it nearly tolerable on the iPhone was relatively quick app launches, persistently saved data and fast resumes. So far, the bag is mixed. If you lock the phone and immediately unlock it, with most apps right now, you'll be hit by a Windows Phone "resuming..." screen, and then you'll often have to wait for the whole goddamn app to reload, whether it's Twitter or a game that took you a minute to get going in the first place (Rocket Riot, I'm looking at you).
The most obvious, best solution is to get multitasking for third-party apps onto the phone as fast as possible, using a model like iOS 4's limited multitasking. In the meantime, app load times need to get faster, and resuming apps needs to take less time than my grandfather's funeral. This is possible, and it's in app developers' hands to fix it. "It's primarily an implementation thing," says Windows Phone's Greg Sullivan, though he's quick to say the blame "is still on us" for not providing the right guidance for developers on how to come back from "tombstoning," which is Microsoft's fun word for app going dormant.
Earning Xbox Live achievements on the toilet? Awesome. Being able to play online multiplayer games with my other Xbox Live friends and earning achievements while on the toilet? That would be even awesomer. Right now, Windows Phone's link to Xbox Live is only medium satisfying, but the potential for amazing things is eyeball-explodingly obvious. Full-on Xbox Live multiplayer. Xbox Live Arcade games that you start playing on your Xbox and then pick up waiting in line at Starbucks, like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Earning items in a Fable Windows Phone game to use in Fable IV. Truly ubiquitous Xbox gaming, so even the most atrophied addicts can leave the house and still get their game on. Windows Phone should be the portable Xbox. (And it should be a remote for your Xbox too.)
ZunePass is thoroughly excellent. You can listen to basically everything in Zune's catalog as much as you want. And with Windows Phone 7, you can stream all of that over the air. But it's clear that the Zune app for WP7 wasn't really designed with "jukebox in the sky" as a primary function. You can't create playlists for streaming on the fly. You can't queue up a long list of stuff to stream from multiple artists or albums without great difficulty. (The "add to Now Playing" is awkward, and one wrong tap on a song can nuke the list.) There's no real history for streamed songs, beyond your most recent song. You can't mix local and streaming content.
You can't download ZunePass songs over the air. (Update: You can download OTA, but it's hidden by a long-press gesture that sometimes doesn't show the option on the first try.) The navigation in general for streaming content is tricker than for music that's stored directly on your phone.
Make Zune the amazing streaming app and service it should be, and really worth that $15 a month subscription, on top of the $30/month data fees and $5 a month for Xbox Live. Oh, and a built-in Shazam-like service that would auto-download songs would be baller.
If you buy a Windows Phone app on your phone, it's tacked onto your phone bill by default. If you buy it from the Zune desktop client, it's charged to the same credit card as your Zune account. Same with Xbox Live games on Windows Phone. Xbox Live and ZunePass are two totally different subscriptions. But you can buy things using Microsoft points on your actual Xbox or in the Zune desktop app (and the points are shared between your Zune and Xbox account). Theoretically, this is all tied together by your Live account. So why is it a disjointed mess than makes the iTunes ID look like a model of efficiency?
Ditch the Microsoft points. Use real money for all of the services. Offer a single Xbox Live/Zune subscription at a discount that rewards your most loyal customers. And hey, it might bring in some new subscribers too. Tie everything together with a bow.
Even with just 1,000 apps, the Marketplace can be frustrating to navigate. It houses three sorta separate but sorta unified storefronts—Zune for music and videos, games (the distinction between Xbox Live and non-Xbox Live games is muddy), and the overall App Marketplace. Sometimes you're whisked away to a different store, and sometimes you're not. It's conceptually messy.
It's harder than it should be to find apps on the phone right now, even with just 1,000. How's it going to be when there's 10,000?
Here's how watching YouTube currently works on Windows Phone: You touch the YouTube app tile. It launches Internet Explorer, which goes to YouTube's mobile site. You find the video you want. (Which won't be there half the time.) You touch it. The phone's video player opens, which is in fact part of the Zune music + videos hub.
This. Is. Stupid.
And you're pretty much hosed on services like Vimeo, at least until Flash 10.1 saunters its way over.
Windows Phone does a lot of things really right when it comes to blending the cloud and local storage. Photos are instantly uploaded to SkyDrive or Facebook. Contacts sync in from Facebook or Google. Free find-your-phone service. But the desktop side of things, Live.com, is still kinda gross. It needs to be clean. Sleek. It should feel like Windows Phone. (Or Kin.)
The native Twitter app is really good, when it's not taking 10 years to resume. And while having contacts pulled in from Facebook is a nice start, the People Hub should go all the way with full Twitter, Flickr and other services integrated into the core.
It's kind of incredible that the maker of the second biggest search engine in the US—and who has search tucked into the phone all over the place—doesn't have universal search to dig up apps, emails, texts or whatever.
A simple scrolling list of apps is okay when you've got like 12. Not when you've got 50. Or 80. Either let us organize them by category, or use alphabetical jumps, like the Zune application.
Do you remember how truly shitty Android was two years ago, when it launched? Can you believe Android 2.2 is what it looks like now? Especially when you compare how much iPhone evolved in the same period? (A lot, but Android's gone way further, since it had to come from waaaaayyyyyy behind.) Guess what? Windows Phone is the one lagging now. It's the one missing stuff that iPhone, Android, WebOS, even BlackBerry and Symbian have. So Microsoft needs to play like Google. Fast, constant updates, every couple of months until it's caught up or surpassed everybody else. You've got the resources. Use them. (I'd bet $20 there were far fewer people working on Android than on Windows Phone.) Don't blow this.
Don't get me wrong. Windows Phone is great. It's fresh, and it's really joyful to use, which is 50 percent of phone to me. But I know it could be, and should be, so much better.