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Oh no, Joe: WinPhone users already griping over 8.1 mega-update

Hang on. Which bit of Developer Preview don't you understand?

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Our night on the tiles

  • So go the Tiles?

Microsoft had planned to include new Notifications management in the last major update ("Apollo" or Windows Phone 8.1) in 2012, but it wasn't ready in time. It's here in 8.1 and has been positively received. This is a pragmatic acknowledgement that Live Tiles aren't ideal as a notification mechanism. But somewhat surprisingly the Tiles haven't been modernised either - they still display one calendar appointment or the most recent email, for example.

  • The new Calendar deprecates Agenda and Tasks

The redesigned Calendar in Windows Phone 8.1 is a big improvement for basic appointment handling, but it's lost the useful Agenda view completely, and relegated Tasks to a submenu.

That's because horizontal swipe gestures now scroll temporally through the calendar, rather than taking you different function-based panels. Users of Microsoft's own webmail and millions of Exchange business users make heavy use of Tasks. Microsoft hasn't communicated what the plan is supposed to be yet... Abandon Tasks for OneNote? Wait for a Tasks app?

  • Change for the sake of it?

Any change to established working practices is bound to bring grumbles, but some design decisions are puzzling users. Text editing has changed subtly, as the method by which you manoeuvre the "cursor" (what old Windows programmers know is really a "caret", not a "cursor") into place has changed. With this one, your thumb covers up where you want the cursor to go.

The People Hub takes a step back by losing the useful "Recent" pane - I found this a very useful memory jogger. Clicking an entry in the phone history list now calls them straight back - rather than bringing up their contact card. (You must click a fiddly icon to bring this up). There's now a rather me-too-ish "Speed Dial" - a job performed by Tiles or Groups now. Many users have seen their comma key replaced with a full stop.

Calling the update "Windroid" is pretty unfair, but the cumulative impression of these changes is that it's marginally less intuitive. And this kind of futzing contrasts with serious inactivity elsewhere. So it's disappointing to find that IMAP messages can't be flagged (it's probably the only email client in the world now that doesn't support this). By now you should be able to choose from which email account you send or respond to an email - as you can on the major platforms.

Hopefully Microsoft gets its "listening ears" on.

  • General Bugliness

From reading through the many quite justified complaints you'd get the impression that this was a consumer release of Windows Phone. It isn't, it's a "Preview", and for good reason.

Microsoft hasn't released this because it loves Apple fanbois the most and wants to make them happy. It's released it so application developers can learn and incorporate the new APIs, and tweak their applications as they see fit.

So it's buggy. As you'd expect.

Bugs I have encountered include the sad death of the Speakerphone (this now invokes Mute - but since Mute still invokes Mute, it means we've lost the Speakerphone), while others report an unresponsive power button.

I also found the on-device search pretty unusable. What happens now is that the Bing button performs its Internet searches (web, local, video and images) just as it does in 8.0. You must wait for that to complete, and only then can you perform the on-device search by swiping left. That can take some time. It's a pretty awful implementation.

And power management is very beta - with drops of between 20 and 50 per cent over 8.0 widely reported. All in all, it's not an end user release - but then it shouldn't be considered one really.

Microsoft has itself to blame here, because it wanted to lower the bar to encourage developers. Only it lowered the bar so low, an idiot can step over it. Cue outraged "consumers". It would have been more sensible to release it via MSDN or require some kind of accreditation. ®

* Anyone who has signed up for a Microsoft Live account, including all manner of fanbois...

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