Let me start off by saying that this is not a post meant to bash Microsoft or Windows Phone. I love my Windows Phone more now than I did when I first bought it almost two years ago. In fact, I love it so much, I recently talked both of my teenagers into buying Nokia Lumia 900s (the $19.99 price tag didn’t hurt, either).

All of that said, having two additional family members in the Windows Phone ecosystem has amplified some of the issues I’ve had with it since the beginning, and brought a few more to the forefront.

These are all issues that have been present since Microsoft first released Windows Phone, and they still haven’t been solved. If they want to eventually gain major ground in the smart phone market, they are going to have to figure these things out.


Yes, We’re Family

There is a very nebulous concept as to when someone is a minor within your family or not. In order for my kids (we’ll call them “Thing 1” and “Thing 2” just for anonymity’s sake) to be able to download apps (we’re not even talking about buying apps, we’re talking about downloading any app – even free ones), we had to go to the computer and complete a lengthy, complicated process to prove that there is an adult involved in the decision.

To start with, Thing 1 had to sit at my computer and sign into her new Xbox/Live account. Then, she had to fill out some additional details in her account until we finally got to the point where it told her that one of her parents needed to create a Live account. The verbiage here was a little confusing, as it didn’t explicitly point out that we could use an existing Live account (it seemed really heavily leaning toward the idea of the parent creating a new Live account), but I decided I’d try logging into my existing account anyways. That worked, and I was able to verify that she’s my kid, but that was about as far as we got. Once I got into my Live account, it redirected me back to her account. When I tried to adjust her privacy/permissions, the system kept crapping out, so I was never able to verify what her permissions were set to. Regardless, after completing this process, she was able to download apps to her phone.


Family’s Not Good Enough

Now that I had “proven” that Thing 1 was part of the family, and was connected to my Live account, I was hoping that maybe I’d be able to share my Zune Pass with her. Sadly, that’s not the case.

In Microsoft’s world, it’s not okay for a 17-year-old to use any apps without parental approval, but it’s perfectly okay to ask them to pay for their own Zune Pass (or Xbox Music Pass or whatever they’re calling it nowadays) account. In order for Thing 1 and Thing 2 to be able to enjoy Zune Pass, we have two options:

  1. Each of them can pay for their own subscription (on top of the extra $20/month/kid we’re now paying for data, another $9.99/month/kid doesn’t sound all that appealing) or
  2. They can forget about using their own Live accounts and keep their phones connected to mine. Unfortunately, this also means that they’d get my calendar, my Xbox profile, etc. That’s not all that appealing, either, especially since Thing 2 has been an Xbox Live user much longer than I have, so he has quite a bit invested in that ecosystem.


Differing Currencies

This is probably the biggest source of headaches within the Windows Phone ecosystem; there is no common currency for purchasing things. If you want to buy apps or games, you need to have something set up to pay real money. Unlike the dreaded iTunes, you can’t even purchase gift cards for the Windows Phone marketplace. Instead, you either have to have a credit card attached to your Live account (I’m definitely not going to do that for Thing 1 or Thing 2), or you have to allow Microsoft to charge your Wireless (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, whatever) bill (another option about which I’m not all that enthused).

However, if you want to buy music, your money’s no good. Instead, you have to go out and buy Microsoft Points. Just try and buy music without any Microsoft Points in your account.

So, theoretically, I can buy Thing 1 a few Microsoft Points cards, and she’ll be perfectly happy, because all she wants is music. However, if I want to get something for Thing 2, who could care less about music, but wants every game, I have no recourse other than to let him buy what he wants and pay for it later.


What Do We Do?

I sincerely hope that Microsoft is working on these issues, and that we’ll see some major changes in the ecosystem once Windows Phone 8 is released. Until then, unfortunately, there’s not much we can do, except to continue to voice our concerns to Microsoft’s product teams.

Hopefully, if enough people make their voices heard, Microsoft will eventually figure out how to unify the currency used within the ecosystem, and will come up with a better plan to handle families.

What other issues within the Windows Phone ecosystem get on your nerves?

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