Code through the pain Ladislav Mrnka's professional blog about software development


I have recently become quite interested in Windows 8 and new "Metro" style applications development. I even think about buying Microsoft Surface (ARM version) once it is released but the final decision will depend on the final price of the device. As I thought about this I found that changing platform or using two or even three (I would like to try Google Nexus 7 as well) platforms concurrently can have additional hidden costs and complexities related to loosing applications, content and services used on another platform.

I'm currently Apple's customer. This article is about my move from loyal Microsoft's customer to loyal Apple's customer and about bad product strategy which can make a huge damage to company's reputation and customers loyalty. Current Windows Phone 7.x customers and Nokia Lumia owners can find part of my story quite familiar.

In January 2010, I started at a new job in one of the biggest Czech banks. The bank had very restrictive security policies and I didn't have email or calendar access outside of the internal network. As a senior developer I had only desktop computer and I didn't have VPN access. A part of senior developer's responsibilities was also participation on a lot of meetings with our internal customers to discuss requirements, bugs, changes, feedback and development progress. The problem was that business units were located in different office complex than IT and development departments. I had to travel a lot and without access to mail, notes and especially calendar it very soon became a mess. I didn't want to keep everything in traditional paper notebook because from previous experience I knew it would not work for me. That was the first time when I found out a need for a smartphone.

I used to be a loyal Microsoft customer so my choice could be only device running Windows Mobile. After my friend showed me his new HTC HD2 (HTC Leo) with Windows Mobile 6.5 (the first WM phone with multitouch capacitive screen) the choice was clear. This device was the only available choice to avoid a stylus because Windows Phone hadn't existed yet, iPhone was something I despised and Google Android - let's be honest, I had never heard about Android before I started to look for a smartphone. Moreover there were no interesting devices on the Czech market in the first quarter of 2010 (HTC Desire came after I bought HD2). I bought HTC HD2 for almost the full price ($599) because I didn't want to sign a contract with Vodafone (carrier). That was the worst IT/electronics purchase I have ever made.

Soon after purchase I found that the device was very nice toy and some equipment I can show off but its practical usage was terrible.  Multitouch screen was very inaccurate. I wasn't able to write a single word without making a mistake. There was even area on the screen where I never knew what key will be pressed - unfortunately the area was on top of K, L, M, Enter and Backspace. It didn't matter which key I wanted to press, the device made its own choice. It wasn't just faulty touch screen because this behavior moved together with keyboard when rotating device from portrait to landscape orientation. It was especially annoying in web sites or applications where Enter meant send or save.

Writing wasn't the only problem. Windows Mobile simply wasn't created to be controlled on a touch screen. HTC Sense covered only very small fraction of the system functionality and once I needed to do something outside of HTC Sense the pain was only growing. In my opinion Microsoft should never allowed creating this device - it only discouraged customers from buying their later Windows Phone devices. Immediately after release of Windows Phone 7 (in October 2010), I contacted HTC support with request for upgrading my phone to a new version of the operating system. I was willing to pay for the upgrade. I got a response that neither HTC or Microsoft will provide the upgrade from Windows Mobile 6.5 to Windows Phone 7 and if I want to have Windows Phone 7 I should check a new HTC offering - especially upcoming HTC HD7. So my six months old device with HW specification better than most of phones available for Windows Phone 7 launch wasn't good enough for upgrade - it was claimed as incompatible. The message was clear - Windows Phone was only for customers willing to pay for a new phone. In case of HTC HD7 it would meant another $599. That was a day when my customer loyalty to Microsoft ended. I had a crappy device with operating system totally unprepared for a touch control and I didn't have any possibility to upgrade. Moreover HTC HD2 even didn't officially received the last stable Windows Mobile upgrade (6.5.3).

To make this even more frustrating my device had another very lovely feature - it occasionally froze. It looked like it's working because it showed a lock screen but it didn't. The only way to get out of this state back to functional phone was hard reset (just removing battery didn't work because device didn't boot after restart)! Everything what happened during frozen state was lost - incoming calls, incoming messages, etc. When this happened for the second or the third time I was awaiting very important call. I missed it because my device was in frozen state ... I was so annoyed that I bought a new iPhone 4 within next few days (November 2010). It was just an act of anger. My friend had one for sale and he sold me 32GB version for price of 16GB version few weeks after its release in Czech republic. iPhones were sold out for next few months so it really was a luck. I loved my iPhone since the first day.

After I got a new iPhone I took my HTC HD2 for a warranty repair because of freezing and a bad screen accuracy. The whole motherboard was replaced in the first round but the new motherboard had some problem with graphic processing - whole screen had blue (sepia) shade. I returned it for another warranty repair and the whole motherboard and the screen was replaced. After the second repair the phone behaved little bit better - no more freezing and better screen accuracy but other problems remained. There was also a new problem. Simply comparing 4,3" HTC's TN screen with resolution 480x800 and 16bit color depth (65k colors) to 3,5" iPhone's Retina LED backlit IPS screen with resolution 640x960 and 24bit color depth (16,7M colors) was like comparing a tractor (HTC) with a sports car (iPhone). The difference in resolution may not seem very high but difference in the quality of rendered content is huge.

To conclude the story of my HTC HD2. Windows Phone 7 was unofficially ported to HD2 and today you can even get Windows Phone 7.5 for HD2. The whole story about incompatibility was just another marketing statement to increase sales of new devices. I don't like such foul tricks on customers. We used my HTC HD2 as spare phone. First it was used by sister of my girlfriend and next by my girlfriend. Both had terrible experience with the phone and both are now very satisfied with their iPhone 4s. It looks like HTC together with Microsoft created a product which guides people to Apple. For last I gave my HTC HD2 to my brother. We will see when he buys an iPhone :) At least I almost sure that he will not buy another Windows based smartphone for a long time. All my friends and colleagues who used to have HTC HD2 either replaced them with iPhone or Android phone or in rare cases they installed Android directly on HD2 before moving to a new Android device. No one moved to Windows Phone 7.x!

The iPhone really changed my opinion about Apple products. Its size, its home screen design, the way how I control the phone and the screen accuracy are great. Also the AppStore with all those applications gives me whole new opportunities for using my phone. I know that this is also possible with Google Android and with Windows Phone but simply when I wanted to replace my Windows Mobile phone I chose an iPhone (by fortune) and in that time iPhone was simply number one.  My satisfaction with iPhone turned to a big interest about Apple products. I bought iPad 2 but after release of iPad 3 I gave it to my girlfriend. Now I own iPhone 4, iPad 3, MacBook Pro 13" (early 2011), Magic mouse, Apple TV 3rd generation, Time Capsule, AirPort Express and multiple accessories. These products brought me a new technical perspective and expectations. They also gave me a new way to compare different products and I can much better see when for example Microsoft can be better but also when Apple can be better.

The change in my loyalty has also damaged another Microsoft product - XBox 360. I used to be a big gamer. I own two XBox 360s, lot of accessories and probably more than 100 games bought on release date (and many times in limited, collectors, legendary or epic editions) + many DLCs bought on XBox Live and multiple games for PC. I play very rarely on XBox and PC since I bought iPad 3. I also don't buy new XBox games any more - I bought just Mass Effect 3 this year. iPad completely fulfills my occasional desire to play a game. Also the pricing strategy of iPad games better matches the time I spent with each game.

With shopping on AppStore comes also the biggest disadvantage of the platform I mentioned at the beginning of the post - as I'm using devices and shopping on iTunes and AppStore I become more and more tied to Apple. Changing the platform would also mean loosing all applications and Apple's cloud services I'm already using on Apple's devices (it's called vendor lock-in). Investment into the platform has become even more significant after purchase of MacBook because now I also buy application on Mac's AppStore. My monthly expenses on iTunes (including rented movies for Apple TV) and AppStore oscillate from 20 to 100 Euros. It doesn't mean that all Apple products are great and they beat competitors. Definitely no! Apple also creates products which are far beyond their potential and customer's expectations. I was especially disappointed by Time Capsule and I hate iTunes application but that are stories I don't want to describe in this post.

This market / platform fragmentation among Google ecosystem, Amazon ecosystem, Apple ecosystem and Microsoft ecosystem can bring additional obstacles when moving from one platform to another or when using multiple platforms concurrently. Especially when  purchasing a digital content make sure that you can consume it on other platforms you are using (or planning to use) as well. Storing music or movies in iTunes Match or subscribing to digital magazines through Apple's NewsStand are examples of services which do not span to other platforms. Purchased applications are just additional cost of each platform and there is no way to use them elsewhere.

Posted on August 18, 2012 by Ladislav Mrnka
Filed under: Apple
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