I switched from an iPhone to a Lumia 925 mainly because the clean, simple text-oriented UI appealed to me. I am neither a Windows Phone developer nor a smartphone power user, but the stuff I use should just work. This post reflects my opinion about Microsoft Windows Phone apps. They are all more or less "official" apps, not some obscure third-party products.
What's up with the header?
When a regular header style is used, I know I can flip through pages using a horizontal swipe gesture. When confronted with a non-standard header style, I need to figure out how the app's navigation works.
Regular style: Mail, Photos
The stock WP mail client presents a mailbox title and several pre-defined filters you can flick through. This is great: You see which mailbox you are currently looking at and you immediately get the filters thing. There isn't any unnecessary cruft.
The Photos application is pretty similar. A little title to show me where I am, and some filters I can choose via horizontal swiping. In the Photos application, the different pages do not only filter the content, but they also provide different views on the content, e.g. a list of thumbnails with month headings (all), a list of albums (albums) or thumbnails without any headings (favourites).
Although I personally found the older pictures hub more impressive (looks-wise as well as feature-wise), I think that the current Photos app is easy to use.
Now why is the Storyteller app doing it differently? Why is there even a separate Storyteller app? It's basically albums with a nice visualization of the locations the pictures are tagged with.
Big title: Suggestion Box
is an application that uses a big title that scrolls through your screen as you flip through the different pages (I think this is called "Panorama"). Most of the pages are filters, but there is also a page to navigate into sub-forums (categories). It is easy to use, however the application name does take up quite a bit of screen estate, and this is not the most important thing I need to know when working in the application. I am not a power-user of this application, but I doubt it integrates into the People hub, at least it is not offered as an app on the People What's new page. This might be a nice addition (e.g. someone comments on a ticket I voted for).
Big useless title: Alarms
The Alarms app shows its name on the top (good), and another title ("all") below. I do not understand it. Is there some way to create filters for alarms? Are there any hidden pages I might be able to activate using some obscure method?
Best of all worlds: Here Transit
Here Transit uses a bold title for the two main pages (plan route and nearby). On the top you can see the application name and the cute bus icon. When entering a journey, you can swipe between pages showing your different options for locomotion. The details view uses the regular page title theme.
Strange title style: Skype
Skype's overview page features its logo on the top. In the top right-hand corner, my user avatar is displayed, cropped into a circle with a fat white border. I am OK with the Skype logo, although I would prefer a simple text, but the avatar is confusing. Touching the avatar will bring up a page with a larger avatar picture (rectangular, yes!) and some fields to update my tag line or toggle between available and invisible. I think, such a page could just as well be made accessible via the action bar.
There are also two style inconsistencies I noticed: Someone decided it was a good idea to underline a page title. I do not know if there is any hidden semantic behind this. If there isn't, then underlining the title is not justified. I also find it distracting that the action bar has a black foreground against a white background (usually it is the other way round). The documentation states:
Use the default system theme colors for the Application Bar unless there is a compelling reason to customize the colors.
Small title style: OneDrive
The OneDrive app home features a larger application name accompanied by the infamous hamburger and a magnifying glass in a circle icon (more on that below).
There are four filter pages available whose titles are set in smaller, capital letter type. The currently active page is highlighted using colour. This style is not easily recognizable; are these pages accessible via horizontal swipe? Just use the regular style.
The most noticable difference to other applications is OneDrive's white background, and I find it annoying. Why does the application not respect my general theme setting?
Where is the search button?
OneDrive has another issue. If you ask a Windows Phone user where an app's search action is probably located, she will answer: In the application bar. Why does OneDrive not stick to this convention? OneNote and Files both have a search action accessible from the application bar.
How to use navigation in the title?
Both OneNote and Files use a different approach for visualizing and interacting with a user's current location in a hierarchy. I find both apps easy to use, and do not have any urgent problem navigating in them. On the other hand: Why use two different ways?
Files displays a home symbol and the current path at the top, using a sideways triangle as path separator. Each element is clickable, so I can navigate directly to a directory in the hierarchy. The current directory is the title of this page; good.
OneNote displays a "less than" symbol and the name of the parent section or notebook. There is only one navigation action, upwards.
How to manage groups of people?
This is an issue that might become obsolete with the further integration of Skype into the heart of Windows Phone: Managing groups of people is inconsistent between the core People application and Skype.
In Skype, when you navigate to the Favourites page, and you currently do not have any favourite contacts maintained, you are presented with an invitation to "keep all your favourite people together." Below this invitation there is an action link. Clicking on this action link will open a dialog listing your Skype contacts. You may now select your favourite people by checking the checkboxes in front of their names.
The People application comes with a pre-installed group called Best friends, similar to Skype's favourite people thing. You can open that group, read an instructional text about how groups work and add people to this group. Instead of showing a list of all people with checkboxes in front of them, People opens the regular contacts picker to select your best friends one by one.
Perhaps, future versions of Skype will be able to use the regular groups instead of relying on its own favourite people group maintenance. As a casual private user I am fine with the People app approach. For sales or other busy enterprise guys maintaining groups per customer, sales leads or projects using thousands of contacts, is probably a task they'd rather perform on their PC initially. I do not know if that is possible.
In my opinion, Microsoft could make Windows Phone more attractive for users by keeping their apps more consistent. This blog post only lists a few inconsistencies I personally find annoying.
Some of the more popular Windows Phone community websites are already reviewing the Windows 10 Technical Preview (e.g. WP Central, Neowin), and some Windows Insiders are already raging against the Androidification of Windows Phone, the advent of hamburgers etc. I cannot give any opinion on this, because I do not have a phone running Windows 10 preview, and because it is still a preview.
I do like a clear and simple interface. Does it have to look exactly like the first implementation of the Metro geniuses' concept? No. Do all apps have to look the same? No. Take the Here Transit app for example. It uses a different style, but it is intuitive to use for WP users and delivers a great experience. You still feel like you are in a casino along the Las Vegas strip and not in a bar on Hawaii, to use Arturo Toledo's metaphor.
A recent twitter conversation:
@gcaughey don't forget, there are also a subset of WP users that hate anything that doesnt look like a stock template. ie, is boring!— Scott Lovegrove (@scottisafool) February 13, 2015
@scottisafool Very true. But boring == easy to use for them I expect.— Ginny Caughey (@gcaughey) February 13, 2015
@gcaughey if they use that as an excuse, they're delusional as well as boring.— Scott Lovegrove (@scottisafool) February 13, 2015
I do not hate things only because they don't look like a stock template, but why should I unnecessarily invest time in figuring out how an app works? Perhaps I am boring and delusional, but I'd prefer an app that uses a stock template to one which requires me to spend a minute learning how to operate it.