So, it’s been a while. Hope you had a good summer. You look great! Have you lost weight?
Anyway, I got a shiny new Windows Phone 7 device, and I pretty much wasted the last three months of my life getting to know it. In that time, I’ve really put it through its paces power-user style, experimented out tons of apps, and tried to enmesh it into as much of my online life as possible.
I’ll save you the obligatory, drawn out, fanboy review. Suffice it to say, it’s an awesome phone, and I really do think it has a bright future. Instead, I’m using this post to discuss one glaring shortcoming I’ve noticed and to provide my own insight as a professional armchair critic.
Most phones provide a simple framework for organizing and launching apps, which in turn provide all the real functionality and do the hard work. So, if you want to play with Facebook, then – as they say – there’s an app for that. Twitter? Another app. You get the idea. While some apps do interact with each other, they’re still mostly regarded as siloes for your content and activities.
One of Windows Phone’s key differentiators is how it organizes your information around functional hubs instead of the traditional app-centric approach. The phone still supports scads of apps to be sure, but you can also visit several hubs – People, Pictures, Music+Video – to see all your activities clustered around these pillars. For instance, once you’ve connected services with your phone, the People hub automagically pulls in your friends across all of them and weaves together their social activities in one consolidated view called What’s New. Rather than focusing on which service they used to share an update, the People hub focuses on, well, the people. It’s a remarkable way to work and play.
The People hub is great, but too often it pulls in content from sources I follow that are not people. For example, I like the Microsoft blog LiveSide on Facebook, which is akin to subscribing to their updates. Likewise, I follow MSNBC on Twitter. This becomes awkward, as Windows Phone regards these entities as people, and displays their updates right alongside those of my real-life and ersatz virtual friends in What’s New. It’s kind of jarring to see an update from my lovely wife alongside LiveSide’s or MSNBC’s latest headlines.
The latest release of Windows Phone software, codename Mango, offers an option to help quiet the noise by hiding all contacts from specific services and only displaying those updates of individuals who match visible contacts. It’s practically the only way to prevent Twitter from flooding your contact list with the deluge of celebrities and other non-friends you happen to follow there. Turning off a service still allows you to see updates from friends with whom you’re connected on other services. So, if a friend in my Windows Live contact list happens to have a Twitter account, then I can see his tweets, while those from Weird Al Yankovic are blissfully hidden (sorry, Al).
It’s not that I don’t want to see Weird Al’s tweets or LiveSide’s blog posts, I just don’t want to see them mixed in with updates from my friends and family. Which brings me to my aforementioned point about a feature that’s lacking from Windows Phone 7. The solution, in my opinion, is to create a News hub for Windows Phone. The News hub could incorporate updates on social networking sites from any entity who’s not connected to a contact and provide a built-in aggregator for my RSS feeds (something that Windows Phone 7 sorely needs, BTW). I could see a lot of potential here for categorizing sources, such as technology, entertainment, and so forth. A News hub could also provide a hook for many apps that deliver news, such as updates from the Weather Channel’s app.
What do you think? Would you like to see a News hub in Windows Phone? Discuss!