Why Microsoft still has (a lot of) work to do…

I want to like Microsoft I really do. It’s gone from the ‘evil empire’ to plucky challenger (well, almost). But every now and then you run into a situation that beggars belief. My 12 year-old son is a Windows Phone user. He asked me, not unreasonably, to have his pocket money added to his Microsoft account so he could buy some apps and games from the Microsoft Store. Sure, no problem, I said. Three hours later and it’s still a problem.

Firstly how to add value to the account. Turns out the best way is via a gift card, which I was able to buy on-line. It took a while to figure this out because Microsoft doesn’t make it entirely clear that this is pretty much the only option. Anyway, the gift card was created, paid for and dispatched by email. My grateful son applies the gift card to his account. He then tries to buy a game on his phone. A message appears telling him that a parent needs to go to xbox.com to complete the account set-up (he already has an account). The parent, me, goes to his account. But it turns out that his mother created the xbox.com account in the first place; my credentials are no use.  So I summon my wife and we try logging-in with her account details. It now looks like we’re making some progress. However after my wife enters her credentials we’re looped back to an earlier point in the whole convoluted process. We check all the login details to ensure they’re correct. They are. As Einstein pithily observed, insanity is the act of doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. We repeat the same process several times. With the same results. Angry? Yes. Insane? Possibly.

We now try searching for some support. Sure enough there’s a support entry for this very issue with some lengthy explanations of what we need to do. We do all that is suggested, but it still doesn’t work. We’ve now wasted hours going around in circles — not to mention the pocket money that is sitting uselessly in my son’s account unable to be spent — all he wanted was a game. I suggest he downloads Angry Birds 2, but of course Rovio, like so many developers, hasn’t bothered with a Windows Phone version.

Now maddeningly frustrated we give up and I reach for the keyboard and start typing this.

And while I am directing my ire at Microsoft let me tell you about Cortana — another case in point. Cortana should be a jewel in Microsoft’s crown. In my tests it is vastly superior to Siri and more than a match for Google Now. It even tells jokes. My son was excited when he heard about Cortana and was eager to start using it. We managed to get his Windows Phone upgraded to the requisite firmware version as soon as it was available and he immediately launched the Cortana app — only to be met with this message, “I’m Sorry, you’ll need to be a bit older before I can help you.” After a bit of searching we discovered that its use is restricted to those over the age of 13. This, according to Microsoft, is due to the restrictions set out in the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. A U.S. act that doesn’t apply in Europe where we live! So one of the very few cool features of Windows Phone (soon to be Windows 10) is effectively closed to my son.

Microsoft should be helping people like my son to be its ambassadors, not making them the butt of playground jokes. I admire how he keeps the faith, but it’s hard for him to stay positive in the face of his Apple and Android-touting friends who seem to experience none of these sorts of issues. Come on Microsoft, surely you can do better than this – can’t you? And if you can’t, you must expect people to gravitate to those that nurture their customers, not make fools of them.