Just picked up a Windows Phone handset? Now’s the time to be nervous: we suspect that Windows Phone 8 is just a day away from being announced (Microsoft’s Windows Phone Summit kicks off tomorrow in the US), and the list of existing handsets that will actually make the jump is possibly cause for concern. Still, we don’t know what the what is just yet – all we can do is speculate, so speculate we shall.
We can hazard a good guess at which features from Windows 8 will make the move into Microsoft’s next mobile OS, but what else should we expect? There are plenty of features from Microsoft’s rivals – iOS and Android – that Windows Phone 8 could do far worse than to borrow and tweak to its own ends. Here are eight rival features that Microsoft should nick, in order to knock up a killer OS update.
1. Drop down notifications
The little notification banners that pop up in Windows Phone’s current iteration are unobtrusive and classy, but once they auto-disappear, they’re gone. Any unread messages or unseen calls appear on the homescreen tiles, but no one would blame Microsoft for stealing the idea of a drop-down page for notifications, a la Android and iOS. Apple stole this off of Android for one reason: it’s the best way to do things.
2. Better Skype integration
Microsoft owns Skype, so it’s mad that its own mobile operating system still has the worst Skype app of the three main platforms. Android and iOS have Skype apps that are fully capable of running in the background. On Windows Phone? You can’t receive a Skype call unless you’re actually in the app, which is half its use gone straight away. We expect this to be fixed; Microsoft’s had plenty of time to work its acquisition into something special.
3. Speedy scrolling
A small annoyance, this, but they’re often the ones that grate the most. If you’ve got a long list of anything in Windows Phone – songs, for instance – getting from the top to the bottom takes an age. In iOS, the system recognises your frantic swipes as an attempt to whip through, and begins to skip huge chunks in order to get you there quicker.
Likewise, Android proffers a small thumb tab on the right that lets you scroll to the bottom quickly. Microsoft needs a similar solution. Badly. The Spotify app in Windows Phone is beautiful, but anyone with lengthy playlists will know the effort in scrolling through for five minutes to get to the end.
4. Movies on demand
Windows Phone now has Netflix, which is just as well, because Microsoft’s been sluggish in producing its own movie offering. Signs are there that this is soon to change – Microsoft’s E3 2012 briefing lifted the lid on Xbox Music, which suggests that the company is looking into getting more proprietary content options up and running – but it needs to move fast.
Android has Movies on the Google Play Store, and Apple has iTunes. Both run across multiple devices, and both are compelling reasons for customers to pick a platform.
5. Quick access to settings
There’s absolutely no excuse for Apple not including this in iOS 6, and there’ll be none if Microsoft also skips it. All we’re asking for is the ability to very quickly turn things like WiFi, Bluetooth and Airplane Mode. Most Android skins provide widgets that let you do this, or stick these one-click options in the drop-down notification bar.
In Windows Phone, you can download apps that provide shortcuts to the settings but, frankly, in this day and age that’s still too much of a rigmarole. First world problem? Undoubtedly, but then so’s every tech-related gripe.
6. Super-charged voice control
Think Siri’s a gimmick? And S-Voice? Well, the only way is up for these things, and if you’re not playing the game, you’ve no hope of catching up. Microsoft already has some pretty top-notch voice recognition tech in Windows Phone handsets, but its application is limited to calling or playing songs and the like.
We’d like to see it expand to have proper hands-free input in Windows Phone 8 – in the same way Siri lets you activate it just by holding the phone to your ear – alongside system-wide integration and Bing-powered abilities. If you can’t join them, you can’t beat them.
7. Synced browsing
Android 4.0 brings access to the Chrome browser, which syncs your tabs with your desktop version. Similarly, iOS 6 has added iCloud support for Safari, which means you can pick up on your Mac where you left off on your iPhone or iPad.
Microsoft’s Internet Explorer has a bad reputation, but recent versions are starting to improve on a torrid history. Now that Windows 8 and the Surface tablet is launching, there’s a chance to link up mobile, tablet and desktop browsing in a similarly swish fashion.
8. Better Cloud back-up
Similarly, Windows Phone 8 needs to fall in love with the cloud on a multitude of new levels. At the moment, Windows Phone will offer to automatically back up your photos to Sky Drive, but that’s about the limit of its powers.
Thing is, there’s very little support for people wanting to move from one Windows Phone handset to another, which a lot of people might want to do when they find out that their phone won’t be eligible to upgrade. Microsoft needs to back up your text messages, words added to your text dictionary and all of your apps, so that moving across to a new device becomes as seamless as it is when buying a new iPhone.