Apps may not be as important as you think

January 22, 2015

Even after being on the market for more than four years and making a lot of progress with both the quality and quantity of apps in its store, Microsoft routinely still gets lambasted for not having enough Windows Phone apps. Or the right apps. Or this app that I simply cannot survive in this world without.

I personally think in all of these cases, people need to seriously chill out. They're little software programs on your phone, not food, water or shelter. If this is you, take a deep breath. Relax. R-e-l-a-x.

Okay? Ready for this? Perhaps, maybe, just maybe, apps are not as important as journalists, manufacturers or your peers want you to think they are.

Something I've come to realize since owning a modern mobile device - I've had three iPhones and three Windows Phones - is that third-party apps don't really matter. They really don't. What matters more is the caliber of the overall default user experience from the mobile operating system itself. Third-party apps are just frosting on top of the cake and while frosting can be delicious, if the cake below it is dry and bland, do you really want to eat it?

It would seem that Apple, Microsoft, Google and Blackberry all understand this, especially the first three companies. They've all been working really hard to make their default, built-in user experiences as standardized, polished and as useful as possible. These companies realize that this has to be a core strength of their products and systems.

If you're in the market for a new mobile phone and looking at Windows Phone as an option, I encourage you to try an experiment with your current device: Remove all of your third-party apps and games.

That's right. Delete every single one. Get right back to the basics and use your phone as it came out of the box. Do this for a week, two weeks or maybe even a month. Just ensure you give it a fair shot.

I think what you may find is that you actually don't need third-party apps after all. What value are they really bringing to your life other than even more information or additional emotional stress? Be honest with yourself.

An even bigger side effect of removing all but the essentials from your mobile device will be that you'll spend less time squinting at a screen and more time noticing and interacting with the world around you.

That is, instead of staring at your phone and taking filtered photos of your food with Instagram, tweeting about what you're watching on TV or mindlessly scrolling through your Facebook news feed while wandering down the sidewalk (and bumping into other people and fixed obstacles) you'll find yourself noticing and interacting more with the world around you. Talking to people in line-ups. Making eye contact with others. Not walking into lamp posts.

I believe this is what Microsoft may have been alluding to, very likely accidentally, with their Really? commercial a few years ago.

I'm not naive enough to think that Microsoft made this spot because they somehow miraculously recognized that four years later Windows Phone wasn't going to have the biggest and best app store around, and therefore they should focus their marketing more on the default Windows Phone user experience. No, not in the least, but they got something right here, which is...

Perhaps we all should spend less time seeking some form of unsatisfying ephemeral high and instead aim to more deeply connect with the people around us, especially our friends, kids, spouses and family.

I know I sound like an old man stating that, but I think that there's some significant value to living your life this way.

Instead of being a slave to your third-party apps and checking your phone constantly for updates or pushing updates out yourself, strip your device bare. Just use texting, calendar and music. Get rid of email too. Everything goes except the essentials. Then, start lifting your head.

I think what you'll find is that your mood and your outlook on life will actually be a whole lot better without, rather than with all those apps that you thought were necessary just a week, two weeks or a month ago.