The two big reasons why I'm quitting Windows Phone
The experiment is almost over. I've been using the HTC 8X running Windows Phone 8 as my primary smartphone for the last six months, but I'm about to give up and put my SIM card back in my old iPhone 4.
There are still things I like about Windows Phone -- particularly its contact manager, which is superb at syncing and de-duplicating contact information from different accounts.
But living with it every day for the last six months has exposed two gaping flaws that I believe Microsoft will have a hard time fixing: First-party services and third-party apps.
The truth about Bing
In case you haven't seen it, Microsoft has this advertising campaign called BingItOn. It invites you to enter queries into a blank page, then delivers two sets of unlabeled results -- one from Bing, one from Google -- and tells you to pick the best one. (I've taken it three times, with perfectly mixed results: Google won once, Bing won once, and there was one tie.)
The point that Microsoft is trying to make -- and has been making in private for a couple years now -- is that on core search, Bing is just as good and often better than Google, and if users weren't biased by the "Google" logo, they wouldn't think its results were any better.
Based on my mobile experience, this is absolutely false. Mobile search is different than desktop search -- it's usually less about doing research or finding general information. It's more immediate, and often more local, geared toward a specific need. And you never want to have to scroll past the initial screen.
Unfortunately, I had so many occasions where the built-in Bing search gave me useless information, I finally downloaded and installed the Google Search app. I found that it consistently delivers better results.
Microsoft and all its fans will scream "that's not true for me!", so I'll offer a few examples where I was frustrated enough to take screenshots. (I've put all screenshots at the end of this post.)
First up, March Madness. I wanted to check in how the games were going, so I entered "NCAA Tournament" into Bing. Those results didn't give me what I wanted, so I tried "NCAA Tournament 2013." The three results above the fold: A tournament schedule, Wikipedia entry, and a travel site. Useless.
Later that night, I entered "NCAA Tournament" into Google and the first result was a news article with a headline noting that Wichita State had knocked off Ohio State. Exactly what I needed to know at that moment.
Case number two: I was wondering how the NBA playoffs were going. Which teams were still in? How close were the Golden State Warriors to getting eliminated? (As you can probably tell, my sports interest is casual. I care enough to check in from time to time, but not enough to follow closely -- except for NFL football, where I'm more of a fanatic.)
Bing showed me an ad for sporting goods (useless), a list of recent scores (a plausible result), and a link to an article about predicting winners for the first round (useless).
Google's top result was the official NBA Playoffs site. Not exactly what I was looking for, but I clicked through to it and found the bracket almost immediately.
The third and final case: My six-year-old daughter was trying to explain something that she learned in school about the "first black woman to sing at the opera" (her words). I figured she was talking about Marian Anderson, the first African-American to sing at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. But I couldn't remember Anderson's name, so I searched "first black metropolitan opera."
Bing gave me an ad to buy a ticket to the Metropolitan Opera, a review of a recent performance by Latinospost, and another news piece about a person named Lars Cleveman debuting there. Laughably useless. I had to scroll halfway down the page to see the answer, buried in the text from a site called Wiki Answers.
Google's top result? A headline saying "Marian Anderson performed at the Metropolitan Opera."
(Again, to see screenshots, click here.)
To reiterate, this happened again and again. Movie listings. Local restaurants. Informational searches. Bing wasn't always wrong, but it was consistently mediocre enough that I found myself turning to Google as my default.
It's not just Bing search, either. Bing Maps is equally unreliable -- for instance, I was late to a meeting because when I entered the address "340 Grant Avenue," it couldn't figure out where the address was located and instead sent me to the location for the north end or zero block of Grant Avenue -- about 10 minutes away, in a different neighborhood (North Beach instead of Union Square, if you know San Francisco).
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