Life and Tiles drop cap

Well, the honeymoon is over. The last time you heard from me, my relationship with the Lumia 920 and Windows Phone 8 was in its infancy, untainted by the painful reality that we truly are stuck together – for better or worse. We were newlyweds, dancing the night away and taking long walks on the proverbial beach. But now we have had time to live together, I’m beginning to notice its flaws. Some of WP8’s quirks are beginning to make me question the practicality of our arrangement. When this whole thing started, I assumed I was ready to make the switch from iOS to WP8, but as the days wear on it is quite obvious that Microsoft’s mostly great operating system still needs some work. And the most pressing to-do list item should be a notification center. Where the hell is it!?

WP8 uses toast notifications to alert the user of missed calls, new texts, etc. The problem is that without a way to store these notifications, they are lost after a brief appearance at the top of your screen. If you happen to be away from your phone when a toast pops then it may be gone forever, and that’s no good. The number of missed notifications for any particular app is shown on its Live Tile – assuming you’ve even made a Live Tile for that app – but even this half-assed workaround is imperfect. Once an app is opened, the number of notifications is erased from the associated Live Tile, even if you don’t deal with or read any of them.

It was a missed Twitter mention that first had me riled up about WP8’s lack of a notification center. Under normal circumstances, I would have shrugged it off. Social media has never been a huge passion of mine. However, this particular mention was special. After leading a presentation on a tech journalist I admire, I decided to express my admiration of his work via Twitter. As luck would have it, I received a reply, but due to my Lumia’s pathetic grasp of notifications, didn’t find out until much later. Since I missed the toast notification and had no Twitter Live Tile, I was never notified of the mention. It may seem trivial, but that Twitter exchange was a big deal to me and my Lumia let me down!  

That wasn’t the only problem, either. A few days ago, my editor at DT attempted to contact me about a pressing matter and I missed the toast. There were no icons at the top of the screen to alert me and nothing on the lockscreen. There was a small number “1” on the Live Tile way down at the bottom of my homescreen, but I had no reason to scroll down there. My editor was annoyed; I was annoyed; and I knew exactly who to blame.

Microsoft uses the angle of “updates at a glance” a lot when promoting WP8, but has no system to back that claim up. Microsoft claims it “ran out of time” to include a notification center, but Windows Phone has been on the market for two years now and has gone through two major OS updates. If Steve Ballmer and company had time to include a “Kids Corner” why couldn’t they add one of the most essential aspects of a smartphone, especially considering both of WP8′s competitors, Android and iOS, have already implemented it.

My issues don’t end with notifications. Another side to WP8’s puzzling absence of important information is the icons up top that display the time, battery level, connectivity status, and ringer mode. By default only the time is consistently shown, while the other icons require a downward swipe. I understand the logic. Hiding extraneous information keeps things looking clean and helps Microsoft capitalize on screen real estate, but there needs to be an option to turn the hiding off. Only official apps support the downward swipe too, meaning third party apps (including Nokia’s) are incapable of showing the time, battery life, or connectivity. This oversight needs to be addressed and soon. Get it together, Microsoft. Seriously. You’re failing Smartphone 101.

Stay tuned next Monday for the next edition of Life and Tiles, when Andrew begins his dive into Windows 8 and the Lenovo Yoga 13. To catch up, read the entire Life and Tiles of a Windows 8 Convert series.