I have now used Windows Phone Mango and Nokia Lumia 800 more or less every day since the end of November. I’m mostly satisfied with them, but there are a few problems too. The first one is very bad multi-tasking. And I’m not talking about some geeky specifications, but real useability issues.
Before Windows Phone I mostly used Symbian smartphones. Thay all had big problems, such as sluggish user interface and overall instability. But simple multi-tasking usually worked; I could leave apps running in the background and return to them later, as long as there weren’t too many applications running at the same time causing memory problems.
The same does not apply to Windows Phone 7.5, at least not with Nokia Lumia 800. I am writing about this now, because I have a fresh example from just yesterday. I had Sports Tracker running in the background to record my walking route. When I arrived at the destination, nothing was stored, but instead a new session of the app launched without any data for yesterday. Apparently it had closed from the background or I had accidentally closed it myself.
The problem is, in Windows Phone you can’t just switch between 3rd party apps by going to the main menu (Metro UI start screen), but instead you have to hold down the physical ”back” button for a few seconds, and then you switch to another apps from a visual view. The apps are left in a special frozen state with a minimal CPU and memory comsumption.
In my experience this system is too complicated and awkward to use. The same has happened several times with many apps like Spotify, gMaps Pro, and many Finnish services (such as news apps for Helsingin Sanomat and Yle).
And it’s not only 3rd party apps. Even the Microsoft Lync 2010 client is pretty much useless, because I can never rely on it running in the background. Even though I have properly used the back button to navigate to another apps, Lync often has closes itself. (I could also write a separate blog post about how bad the Lync 2010 client for WP is; it does not integrate with the platform at all like Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. I guess they haven’t had time to make a good app.)
I know Microsoft has chosen this kind a limited multi-tasking to save the battery, memory and CPU, but I think they should still optimize it for power users. Hopefully, maybe, this could even be improved with forth-coming firmware updates. I wouldn’t expect this to happen very soon, though. Many feel Windows Phone devices have even larger problems with bad battery performance, even though the latest firmware update at least for Lumia 800 is supposed to fix the issue to some extend.
Maybe we’ll see more advanced multi-tasking with the next major release, Windows Phone 8 or whatever they call it. Some optimistic estimates say it would be coming after summer or at least by the end of this year. Microsoft has not confirmed the schedule, or whether it will become available for current Windows Phone devices.
Update 18.3.2012 @ 22:16. According to technical documentation by Microsoft, the background in Windows Phone is supposed to work by bressing the Windows button too. In my opinion this does not change the point of unreliability of the background mode. You can judge yourselves, I am just more confused.