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8 things that Microsoft needs to fix in Windows Phone 8 right now

With the release of BlackBerry 10 this week, Microsoft has even more fresh blood for competition in the smartphone business. While one could argue that it is still Android or iOS that Microsoft is up against, the picture painted for spring 2013 is one of stiff competition and a fight for the third spot.

Windows Phone 8 has made great strides in making Redmond’s mobile OS much better than its predecessor, most importantly with the new NT kernel which will allow Microsoft to grow the OS. Having said that, there is a lot of room for improvement and we’re not just talking about touch-up features either but core aspects that need to be addressed.

Below is a list of 8 things we think Microsoft needs to fix in order for Windows Phone to really take off. We’re confident Microsoft already knows about these and in fact may have solutions in the pipeline. At least that's the hope.

Before we start we should note that Microsoft is rumored to be revealing some new features coming to Windows Phone 8 next month in Barcelona.

Traditionally Microsoft has a rather large presence at the mobile-focused conference and their absence from CES in January sets up Microsoft to gain back some momentum in the press.  We’re not 100% sure Microsoft will divulge an updated OS but we’re anticipating.

Now on to the list...

#1 Notification Center

Android, iOS and especially BlackBerry 10 all have notification centers, allowing users to have a unified single area to check the status of various apps and services. On Windows Phone, Live Tiles were supposed to be that but in reality, it’s not that simple.  Whether it’s an optional blinking LED or making use of the left-area of the Start screen, Microsoft needs a simple and elegant solution here. Check out this great design concept from our forums

Rumor has it they wanted this for the release of Windows Phone 8 but simply ran out of time. Fair enough. But it better be there in the next update or it will continue to dog the platform. 

#2 Universal Search

Likewise, this feature was rumored to be coming in either Windows Phone 7.5 ‘Tango’ or Windows Phone 8, yet this function mysteriously never arrived. It seems simple enough: Hit the Bing search key to make inquiries on the web as well as within the device. Search email, SMS, within apps, documents, etc.

It’s not a radical idea and other competing OSs already have this on board. In fact, Windows 8 has a nifty search feature, allowing you to dynamically search through various apps. It’s way overdue on Windows Phone.

#3 Instagram

Yes, we hate writing about it as much as you probably loathe reading it, but the fact is until this hipster service is on Windows Phone, it will absolutely prevent people from switching. We’ve had random conversations with Best Buy and AT&T employees and even a waitress who’ve all said the same thing: until this popular photo sharing app is on Windows Phone, it will always be a deal-killer.

For the record, Microsoft and Nokia know how important this is and we don’t think it’s from lack of trying that it’s not there. But there’s more to this than just throwing money at the Facebook company and while we don’t know the details, we’re sure there are talks of some sort going on.

Regardless, it needs to be here yesterday.

#4 ‘X’ to Close Apps

This one is so simple and yet Microsoft has yet to do it. In the card view of multitasking apps, just give us an ‘X’ to tap out an app.

C’mon Microsoft, the paradigm already exists with multiple Tabs in Internet Explorer—just extend it to apps.  It’s simple to do and it will make many folks happy (even if it is arguably unnecessary).

#5 Better Xbox Gaming

We’ve been beating this horse for a while now (see our continuing series) but it does need to be mentioned again. Xbox gaming on Windows Phone since day one has been underwhelming.

Integration with Kinect? Never materialized. Synchronous game play with Xbox 360? Never happened. A centerpiece game like Halo to really pull people in? Nope, not yet.

It is embarrassing that Microsoft has not been able to fully leverage the Xbox 360 with Windows Phone in 2012 or 2013 and it needs to be fixed.

Just look at the video above of Microsoft’s Eric Rudder (opens in new tab) demonstrating the gaming potential between PC, Xbox and Windows Phone and the game ‘Indiana Jones’. We covered that story back in March 2010.—nearly three years ago--need we say more?

#6 Folders

Yup, here’s one that iOS and Android have given into and now have solutions for: folders. The idea being that some of us may have multiple media apps that we want grouped together, or a bunch of pins we want rounded up in a quick access folder. It’s a simple thing and becomes increasingly necessary as people add more apps, pins and tiles to their devices. Windows 8 makes use of “grouping” and Windows Phone needs to as well.

#7 Independent volume and profiles

Smartphones are called as much because they are supposed to be smart meaning we shouldn’t have to do certain tasks. Having our phones switch audio and notification profiles for home, work, movie theaters, etc. goes back to Windows Mobile and apps like PhoneAlarm. Why do they not exist on Windows Phone?

Likewise, let’s finally give users the ability to control the ringer volume independent of system/game volume, same with an easier way of going ‘silent’.

#8 Fix Xbox Music and Video

The whole three-screens-and-a-cloud vision only works if your media can truly transcend devices. Microsoft hit the reset button on their media services with Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 and while there are to be expected growing pains, they really need to get that system on track. With the amount of DRM errors for music and the inability to watch Xbox Videos on our phones, it’s a real hindrance.

Hope for 2013

So those are our Top Eight major things Microsoft needs to sort out. Is that an exhaustive list? Certainly not.

Other features like the ability to force-check app updates, fix YouTube (perhaps out of Microsoft’s hands), a more powerful email client or even making Windows 8 gestures and Tile functionality overlap with Windows Phone to give users the same experience are all up for grabs.

Like we said, we’re sure hoping that Microsoft addresses all or some of these in the near-term, specifically in Barcelona. We have a feeling that they are and for the platform’s sake, they better. BlackBerry is now breathing down our necks and Android and iOS are so far ahead in the market it’s borderline scary.

Microsoft has a solid foundation with Windows Phone 8. Let’s see them quickly build on it.

Daniel Rubino
Executive Editor

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

  • Great sudgestions! now all I need is a WP8 device.
  • Apparently all the edit button does is add another comment…
  • When you want to edit your comment you need to refresh your page and it will let you after.
  • Pretty unawesome btw.
  • the comment system on this site is broken in general. Like when you post a reply, all you see on the new page is the comment you replied to. Not yours, no one elses.
    The WP-Central site is - sadly - not really a show off in terms of webdesign / programming.
  •   Love my job, since I've been bringing in $5600… I sit at home, music playing while I work in front of my new iMac that I got now that I'm making it online(Click on menu Home)
  • Lol, where ya been? Haven't seen you in a while. Oh by the way, I make 6 figures a month for playing Pac man. . .
  • lol good one
  • KatharineLutz, how have you been? So glad you are able to stay home for work, it will give you the opportunity to concentrate on applying ointment to that nasty rash in your genital region. How is that working out for you?
  • Don't try talking to a bot.
    Shit. I just did it.
  • This is Windows Phone Centeral, spambot. We don't care about your iMac.
  • What they need to fix is getting there phones in stock. I didn't mind waiting a week for my Lumia 920 which 2 months ago wasn't along time but now my mom was at Verizon ready to get Lumia 822 but it was out of stock. I wouldn't mind waiting, but im not like every other customer. My mom ended up getting a lower budget android phone. Kills me to hear this.
  • Have her exchange it in the allotted time Window. 
    I feel your pain.  My Dad Texted me today and he was thinkign of getting the Galaxy note.  I asked if he got it and he said he was goign to get an iPhone 5.  EEEEEEEeeeeeeeee.........  I wanted to suggest he check out the Lumia 920 (I previously offered him my HTC Arrive) but I said screw it. :p  loving my L920 BTW.
  • OMG! Why didn't she wait?? Android?? Noooo.. Please, please get her to exchange it before its to late!! Show her what your phone can do!! Nooooooooo!
  • LOL, RodneyeJ, you're toooooo dramatic!
  • Nooooo! Don't say that!! Please, please, PLEASE get her to switch,, Hurry before its tooooo late!!! Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!!!!!... Lol! But for real,, do it!
  • Show her the number of apps in Android Play Store and in Microsoft App store, she probably will make her decision without any second thoughts... :-)
  • You seriously would be shocked at how many people don't give a fuc:| about how many apps either app store has.. For example, my mom has a Samsung Focus and her start screen looks exactly the way it did when I configured it. She likes it because she has what she needs.. As most users will like WP because it really does have the apps you want and need. Nobody is going to install 700,000 apps dumb ass!
  • agreed. App store... How many fart sound, shotgun sound, crappy launchers, etc... does one need. 700,000 apps and only 500 of them actually worth anything.
  • Especially how that margin is slowly shrinking thanks to an eventual loss of developer support.
  • exactly!
    and no more than 50 of them are actually useful for the average user..
    I only use about 20 apps.. that's it!
    I don't get why people are so obssessed about the numbers.
    It's the quality that counts..
  • I agree, it is quality that counts. I have dozens of quality applications that I use on a daily basis on both my iPad 4 and iPhone. The iOS platform offers far and away the most comprehensive list of quality, heavily support, applications and games. Many of which are even exclusive.
    I had a Nokia Lumia 900 for a short time last year, loved the device, and for the most part the experience that was offered by the phone and OS. However; the pain started to become unbearable once I realized that I was missing applications like a real photo editor, instagram, my banking application, Poker Stars, a really great camera application, Real Racing 2 HD, Infinity Blade ... or any killer game at all really.
    I want the Windows OS to get the support it deserves, and I am on the brink of going back to it, but I just don't want the struggle that I had last year, and it doesn't look like it has changed a whole lot.
  • WP8 is about quality not quantity. I've only ever had Android devices until a week ago when the wonderful lumia 920 came into my life. Yes there are hundreds of thousands of Android apps, but how many of them are actually any good, and how many can you have on your device at an one time. The whole apps argument is pretty lame, although I do agree that perhaos there are some key apps missing from WP8.
  • Hold on there for one more thing he very obviously dismissed.
    It's a HUGE one and I don't just understand for the life of me, why in the hell anyone could ever, ever, EVER skip this as o e of the top 8; XBOX MUSIC SYNC APP(or Zune style sync software).
    Why would this not be mentioned? All those reading this, I want to know how your XBM experience is on your wp8? Mine is non existing because Ms dropped the huge music (disco) ball on us.
  • I felt that was kind of wrapped up in #8, all has to do with Xbox Music as a whole
  • I have both a win7 and win8 phone. I also have a win 8 laptop, a surface RT, a Xbox 360. I use Xbox music everyday on all devices. I have no sync issues. The newly updated "windows phone app" lets you manage (add, delete) music and video. The Xbox music app itself is how you configure syncing. Yes, its confusing with multiple devices, but playing with all the sync options i found what works best for me. For example. I have the laptop as the "source of truth". The phones and surface are secondary. The laptop i have the "sync to other devices" off, As I don't want to fill up my phones or surface. And from surface/phones I have "sync to other devices..." downloaded turned on. This will then sync from phone to laptop. Seriously. I understand everyone's frustration with the sync, but I spent over 10 hours testing every scenario on each device until I nailed it. If anyone needs my exact how to. Just ask.
  • Maybe I'm not using it right? But when I download a song to my phone my computer no longer gets that song added to its music library like it did on Zune. I tried enabling the option to download music to my computer that I had/have on other devices but Xbox music downloads all my music. Even non DRM music and makes it DRM protected. Point me to a way to fix my issues iamoniweban. On top of that I still download music on my Zune player, because the Xbox music app on win8 sucks, and I still can't sync that music to my phone.
  • On phone: make sure the cloud sync is set to on. From pc Xbox music app, set the two cloud setting to on. I am also assuming your referring to the Xbox music pass service when you download a song. Another tip, nothing will sync to the device until the device is activated, this is done by downloading a song the first time from the device. Let me know if this works. If not I will help.
  • I have the same issue, I download a song on my phone using music pass and I can not get it onto my win 8 PC.  I expected as its cloud synched that it would auto download next time I logged onto my PC, but no.  I have all those options ticked you mentioned, still no joy.
  • YEs i am aware of the sync to cloud, but as i stated before, it downloads ALL my musc (including non DRM music) as licenced music, and at a lower quality. Most of my music that isn't from zune/xbox music is 320 kbs (or what ever) and xbox music just redowloads it as a lower quality file.
  • And that right there, spending 10hrs just figuring out how to get it to work IS the issue. Why would any of us have to go through that. Zune was uber simple yo use. It automatically displayed album cover, and organized every song as its on the album. Sync.was drag and drop, you knew exactly what is going into your device regardless if the album or song was dl from iTunes or ripped from cd.
  • MS needs to provide a better how to. all i a,saying is i got it working on 5 devices.
  • Wow. That was a huge help. Part of the problems I think is that alot of settings are "hidden" in the charms bar. Its not easy to find it remember its there.
  • 100% agree!!!!!  IMO, Xbox Music should have been #1 or #2 on the list! (Behind only to Notifications Hub.)
    Xbox Music is HORRIBLE, SOOOOO many problems!  I think many of the problems come from the sync app.
  • Help out and vote to get back Zune style sync here;
  • /\ this
    Do it!
    But with the working link!
  • Thanks
  • I liked Zune PC app, but it felt from time to time heavy. For now i'm happy to sync my music using Windows Media Player in Windows 8 Pro. Works perfectly. And the ability to browse WP8's storage along with doing sync is super+ :D
    For music sync feature, I miss the wireless sync feature from WP7.x with Zune.
    // chall3ng3r //
  • Yup, gotta talk to customer service again as I try to re download albums I've paid for due to DRM issues, and getting charged again.
  • I was looking for this too. Zune needs to be brought back as the XBox Music sync center. I am upgrading to WIN 8 pretty soon but I would love for my Win Phone 8 device to sync to my current Win 7 computer.
  • Yeah they're good suggestions with the omission of the 5min screen timeout limit. Which is a security risk because I like to have my phone on all the time when it is docked in my car!!!! I press the power button when I want my phone locked! So since it auto locks I have to set my password time to around 15mins so when I am driving I don't have to type in my passcode all over again just to do more on my phone! Its crazy and no one complains of this feature it is the most of annoying to me of all other features! Because it is a no brainer to just give me an option to turn off the screen timeout!!! So frustrationing the worst part about it is that the feature was in the open devkit that leaked out before the phone...
  • My Quantum had the 15/30/never options and the L900 only has the 5 minute limit. Long time peeve of mine after going to the Lumia. And this also causes the Wifi to disconnect after 5 minutes which is also annoying and wasn't addressed with 7.8..
  • You do realize this is because of the screen type, right? AMOLED screens will get burn in if left on the same screen for an extended period of time... LCD ones don't. Hence the time limit options...
  • That is a good point, I have not realized that. Unfortunately this option is also missing on my Lumia 620 with a LCD display :(
  • I dunno. Instagram?  WGAFF...
    Fix the things that actualy make the device hard to use.  Notifications, that's huge.  Seperate volume controls, that's big (but not sooo big).  I rather be able to scrub through audio.
    But the absolute most aweful, unworkable thing about WP is email.  It is absolutely atrocious.  It is 2013.  How is it that I can't edit email contents before forwarding or replying?  How is it that I can only attach images from my email?  How is it that I can't forward or reply to a message from an account other than the one it came into?  How is it that there are no formatting options for my text input...I can't even add a bulleted list or bold something!  And how on earth can it possibly be that when I tap the tile and go into mail, even for a split second, the counter goes back to 0 and there is no count of how many unread messages are left.
    I use my phone for my job, Microsoft.  But you make it very, very hard to do so.
    (Indeed, I am hard pressed to think of one single thing other than background GPS that WP8 actually does better than WP7.  Certainly, the W8 kernel is a disaster, really unstable on both PCs and phones.  And the PDF situation?  A nightmare.  And while it was the same as now on Mango, when I bought my old (then NoDo) Windows phone I coud edit .DOC more!  And worked like a charm in more!)
  • Likewise, the calender function is so PRIMITIVE and it's a TOTAL JOKE!
    The month view is useless!
    The day view is confusing without clear distinction between days!
    And the other calender functions for recurring appointments etc is not available, c'mon these features are already on outlook, so why is it not implemented in WP8?
    How to make this phone competitive for business use?
    I had high hopes after reading the reviews for this phone, but having it for 2 months now, I am regretting my decision!
  • +1
    The calender is the most important app for me and it is more the absolutely basic. You never can see, if two appointments match or not.
    But since they did not update the calender on and the little teaser or no teaser (for a notivication center) we saw today, I have some hopes, that they will provide us with something big at the MWC in Barcelona.
  • Chronos Calendar, fantastic app and free!
  • Yeah, the email and notifications situation actually makes me look more seriously at the new BlackBerry 10 phones.  
  • Me too :)
  • I'm currently using a BlackBerry z10 (borrowed from a friend) and I have to say the BlackBerry 10 software is very nice to use and very productivity focused. It's a nice change from my 8x. I will be going back to it next week. Although they have the same problem that WP8 has...lack of top apps.(although WP8) is getting better. I wouldn't be surprised if BlackBerry draws more customers if Microsoft does not deliver with the next major update. Btw, on my z10 I have instagram (side loaded of course) and it works fine...step it up Microsoft.
  • came over from crackberry, have had a z10 for a month and i agree generally with your observations. 
    i will keep monitoring WP, since microsoft's cloud/online services (outlook, skydrive, office etc) are top notch, whereas blackberry's are,well, umm....
  • Rotation lock... I need a global rotation asap. 
  • Agreed, I would rank this above all of the items in the article.  Near trivial to implement at the OS level, but unfortunately it seems those in power are among the group that just doesn't understand this.  Apple and Google understand though, as do some WP app authors.
  • What I would do for this.
  • Yes!!!! Want this very badly. Reading while lying down is a pain in the ass.
  • Totally!! I dont understand why microsft came up with little updates?? They cd hv brought all dese things in the package!! :/
  • That be no fun. We won't have nothing to look forward too.
  • +1
  • Agree! Since it is really inconvenient to read book lying in my bed
  • I agree. This makes the device more functional in certain situations
  • Here's the crazy thing (and I've said this before):
    Rotation lock used to be in WP7. It was in the final pre-release OS, build 7003. Much like "Find On Page" it was removed for absolutely no real reason at all and never put back. I'd venture to say it's actually still in the OS, just hidden away. I have no idea why MS wouldn't just reenable the functionality. Like tgr42 said, it would be trivial.
  • Just like universal search my pre-Nodo HD7 did it out of the box.
  • What I do is rotate device to landscape, then rotate device so it's upside down. This then allows me to read the phone when I'm lying down.
  • Yes! This over instagram any day.
  • +100000000000000000
  • This is my number 1 must have feature.
  • Ya I always wonder why they took that away.
    It should be a basic, global feature. We have to make one for our app UC Browser so our user can browser web pages  while lying on bed...
  • This. A thousand times this.
  • Thank you. I also see this as way up there on the "easy to do and no excuses for not having it list"! :) I am absolutely sure it was not mentioned because everyone is thinking well obviously they are going to have this in all the GDR2 and GDR3 updates so no reason to mention it...well it is a no-brainer and that is why it needs to be mentioned all the time, everyday without fail. MS is very capable of being completely ignorant over very long periods of time in some of the simplest areas.
  • I guess I'll stick to my 7.8 L800 for now (although the 620 is very tempting..). These sound like viable points but I'd like to add one: