I have a confession: I'm the proud owner of an iPhone 6. In fact, it's now my full-time device. After using Windows Phone on and off since its introduction in 2010, I've grown frustrated enough to give up and switch back to iOS fully.
I'm the resident Microsoft expert here at The Verge, and for years I've switched between Android, iOS, and Windows Phone to check out new apps and how each platform is progressing, but it's now clear Windows Phone is being left behind. I'm not alone: Ed Bott, a fellow technology writer, has also given up on Windows Phone, and Microsoft has left its loyal customers frustrated by focusing on iOS and Android. Microsoft may have made some significant changes to Windows Phone this year with the 8.1 update, but like the many previous versions and updates I'm still left waiting for more. I'm through waiting.
Mobile apps are changing the world, and Windows Phone is lagging behind
Microsoft is behind in mobile in a big way thanks to the rise of apps. While Windows Phone fans will argue that the platform now has more than 500,000 apps, most of the top iOS and Android apps have Windows Phone equivalents that are severely lacking. Take Instagram for example; it arrived on Windows Phone more than a year ago without video recording support and still it's not updated with this basic feature. It's simply unacceptable on a platform that prides itself on photography and the great Lumia cameras. The irony here is that when Microsoft joined Instagram last month, the company's first post was a video.
I've always been slightly frustrated at the lack of Windows Phone apps, but as the gaps have been gradually filled, a new frustration has emerged: dead apps. Developers might be creating more and more Windows Phone apps, but the top ones are often left untouched with few updates or new features. That's a big problem for apps like Twitter that are regularly updated on iOS and Android with features that never make it to Windows Phone. My frustration boiled over during the World Cup this year, as Twitter lit up with people talking about the matches. I felt left out using the official Windows Phone Twitter app because it didn't have a special World Cup section that curated great and entertaining tweets, or country flags for hashtags.
That same sense of missing out extends elsewhere with Windows Phone. I rely on apps like Dark Sky on iPhone to give me a weather warning when it's about to rain, or Slack and Trello to communicate with colleagues at The Verge. All three aren't available on Windows Phone, and Dark Sky is particularly useful when you're at a bar and it pings you a notification to let you know it's going to rain in your location for the next 30 minutes. It lets you decide whether to grab another beer (tip: always grab another beer) or risk getting wet. It's an essential app to me personally, and it's a good example of how apps are changing the world.
Windows Phone also lacks Citymapper, which I use in London to navigate public transport. It has literally changed the way I commute, travel to meet friends, and get to work events. Without it I might not take a bus that gets me to a meeting on time, or be able to easily weigh the various transport options. Snapchat and Tinder are also missing, and while I don't use either regularly, they're both altering the way we communicate and socialize.
Third-party apps aren't enough to help Windows Phone
Third-party alternatives often fill the void of missing official apps, but they run the risk of breaking randomly or not supporting official new features quickly enough. Rudy Huyn is one of the most prolific Windows Phone developers that focuses on these unofficial third-party apps. Microsoft recently profiled and highlighted Huyn as a "passionate" and successful Windows Phone developer, but his success just further highlights the app gap problem. Instead of attracting great indie game developers, unique apps, or photo editing software like VSCO Cam to compliment Lumia cameras, one of the top Windows Phone developers is simply mimicking official apps that aren't available on the platform. Without these killer apps, Windows Phone will continue to struggle. Even Microsoft's own apps are now available on iOS and Android, and they're often better than the Windows Phone equivalents — yet another reason to switch.
Aside from apps, I've always felt frustrated at the lack of a good Windows Phone flagship device. The Lumia 930 is too bulky and heavy, the HTC One M8 lacks a good camera, and the Lumia 1520 is simply too big for my personal use. In many ways the iPhone 6 is what I would like in a high-end Windows Phone: thin, lightweight, good camera, and well-built (just don't bend it). Microsoft is focusing on low-cost devices at the expense of a flagship Windows Phone, and the canceled "McLaren" device is further evidence of that.
Despite these obvious drawbacks, I still love Windows Phone. New additions might come slowly, but it's clear that Microsoft has been careful to ensure that new features are added thoughtfully. Windows Phone has been engineered to ensure it runs well across a variety of hardware, something that Android traditionally struggled with until recently. There's a lot to love about Windows Phone straight out of the box, and for many, that will be enough. But apps are changing the world, and it only takes one to be unavailable to ruin the experience.
Can Windows 10 help?
I may have switched back to the iPhone personally, but if Microsoft can get me quality apps that I care about on a true flagship Windows Phone then I'd happily switch back. Android apps on Windows Phone might be the answer, but that could just be BlackBerry all over again. Let's see what Windows 10 can do in January.