WinPhan Phocus: Brandon Casteel!

We feel as though each one of you is special and unique as a WinPhan and we want to bring attention and gratitude to each and every one of you for all that you do for our WinPhan community! This is our attempt to give something back to each of you! This week we are offering a WinPhan salute to Brandon Casteel…

Thanks for taking the time to share something about yourself to other WinPhans out there and thank you all for your continued support! ^The WinPhan

Can you start by introducing yourself(be sure to include your Twitter handle) and telling the WinPhan community something about yourself?

Hi! I’m Brandon Casteel, or @bccasteel on twitter. I’m a SharePoint administrator professionally, though my background and college education are in graphic design. I’m about 3 years into transitioning into the SharePoint role, and have done everything from site design, user interface design/site theming, user training, strategic planning and proposals, and tons of other boring stuff. I’m a dedicated husband and father of an energetic 2 year old son, and I love my family to death. I’m excited to announce we have another one on the way! I’m also a pretty big gamer, and write articles occasionally for a site called RTSGuru.com… and that’s probably enough of a bio for me.

Are you an accidental WinPhan or was it a conscious choice? When did you fall in love and what was it that made you realize you had been swept up in the WinPhandemonium?

Well, in college I was a huge Mac addict. This was in the early 2000s, and I graduated around the time the iPhone came out, but for the longest time I was ten yards deep into iFandom, with a .Mac account and a succession of iMacs, MacBooks and the like, complete with a sense of self-satisfaction that comes along with the territory. Once I graduated, I spent about 3 years working for a small business (I was essentially the whole design department) and moved back into a Windows environment. My dad, who is himself a huge Windows fan, kept plying me with Windows Mobile phones, a gaming laptop, and copies of Vista (I mocked him for this one in my Mac days) and eventually Windows 7.

Somewhere along the line, I fell in love with Microsoft’s products. It started with Live Mail/hotmail, which I moved to after .Mac. Then I moved away from Google to Live Search, and watched the unveiling of Bing, Live Wave 4, and eventually Windows 8 and Windows Phone… I even have a Surface RT now, which I love and use pretty much daily. My wife will attest that I was very eager for Windows Phone 7 to launch, and I actually got to a Sprint store the minute it opened to pick up my HTC Arrive when it launched (I’m now on AT&T with an 8X). By degrees, I’ve become more and more bought into Microsoft’s vision of “3 screens and the cloud” and especially SkyDrive and the Metro/Modern User Interface.

From a business perspective, I think Microsoft’s vision for data storage and management is just… more compelling than Google’s. I’ve sat through Google’s pitch for their online business solutions, and I was appalled at their suggestions. So, from SharePoint to Windows 8 to WIndows Phone and even Xbox, I’m Microsoft across the board now.

What Windows Phones have you owned thus far? Aside from your current device, which others have captured your attention and why? Are you smitten with a particular OEM? What do you hope to see from Windows Phone in the near future?

Hoo boy. Well, I started with an HTC Arrive, and when my family switched to AT&T I got the Samsung Focus S, which I still love. Then, I was fortunate enough to be gifted a Lumia 900, then an HTC 8x, which again, I’m quite taken by.

I’m a bit jealous of the exclusive Nokia apps, and when my contract is up, I’ll be looking to see if Nokia has anything as sleek as the 8X (I found the 900 to be a little bulky). I think my favorite handset thus far has been the Focus S, and I hope to see something decent from Samsung in the near future. Though, if Microsoft ever did make a Surface Phone, I’d be all over that.

Have you fully bought into Microsoft’s ecosystem or are you still reliant upon other services like Google? Do you think Microsoft is headed in the right direction. More importantly, do you feel as though they value you as Windows Phone owner, why or why not?

The only Google product I currently use on a regular basisis YouTube. I do not like the aesthetic of Gmail or Google Search, and I know virtually no one on Google Plus. I also just… don’t really trust Google on a gut level, though I have no specific reasons for that distaste.

From a UI and UX perspective, I think Microsoft is headed in the right direction. I have a handful of complaints about Windows 8 (though it’s by far my favorite OS at this point) and Windows Phone, but I find them a joy to use and I look forward to their future iterations.

I worry about Microsoft’s mindshare, the continued negative perception of everything they do by the tech press (along with an unwillingness to give them props for their good ideas), and about the viability of Live Tiles when compared to Google, and Android’s seemingly more versatile Widgets. I think that Microsoft continues to fail at providing a compelling narrative for switching to their services, though aesthetically and functionally I personally prefer them.

With the ever increasing quality of the cameras onboard our Windows Phones, has it turned you into a picture taking fiend? What advice do you have to taking better pics and editing them in your WinPhan experience? If it wasn’t the camera, what feature about your WP changed the way view or think about technology?

I think if I had a Lumia 920, I might be more inclined to snap pictures of everything. Having used the cameras in a wide variety of Windows Phones, I have to say that none has really matched the camera in my wife’s iPhone yet in low light conditions (read: indoors). I love the camera on my 8X and have taken a couple of really good shots with it outside, I still find the cameras in most Windows Phone devices to be lacking where I need it most. Though again, I haven’t used the 920, which I think has the 2 camera feature I really need most: low-light photo taking, and image stabilization. Perhaps my next Windows Phone will be a higher end Lumia, though I’ll have to see what’s out there later this year.

As a WinPhan we’re all busy trying to bring recognition to WP. tell us about one of the times you got through and made a convert story of your own! What do you think is the best way to market WP? How do you pitch it to your Android and iPhone owning friends?

Easily one of my favorite features of Windows Phone is how almost every piece of an application can be treated as an application. From pinning Facebook pages and groups as tiles, to having New Tweet or my wife’s Contact Card on my Start Screen so I can see when she’s tweeted or posted to Facebook, I am really sold on this feature. When I go somewhere new, and have to park a distance away from the venue (like taking my son to a zoo or visiting a new city for a day) I can pin my car’s location to my Start Screen, and easily find my way back there. The ability to skip through the process of opening an app and then navigating to commonly used functions is a real time saver and something I always mention to other smartphone users.

There was actually a Windows Phone ad that talks about this feature, with a boyfriend and girlfriend stalking each other’s check-ins and posts using contact cards in Windows Phone, which I thought was pretty amusing.

Final thoughts about Windows Phone:

I think that Microsoft’s Metro vision for their services is a great design aesthetic, and that “authentically digital” is more attractive and usable than skeumorphism. I think that Windows Phone 8 is shaping up to be a very compelling phone OS with a lot of personality and some interesting ways to help people keep their lives organized and connected. I think that, either because of the nature of Live Tiles, or through lack of developer interest in exploiting this feature, there’s some missed opportunities on the Start Screen, and I worry about how long term Live Tiles will compete with Android widgets and whatever Apple might use to offer live content on the home screen. Either way though, I’m all-in on Microsoft at this point.

Cheers and thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with us Brandon!

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