Hate Microsoft - Love Windows Phone 7?


I'm not the biggest fan of Microsoft. Both my original Xboxes now run Linux, I've converted my laptop and computers to Ubuntu, and I generally laugh in the face of Microsoft's increasingly desperate attempts to stay relevant.

So it was with great mirth that I went along to a BizSpark event a few weeks ago. Microsoft were going to be showing off their latest "innovation" - Windows Phone 7.

I went along expecting to hate it and, instead, found myself curiously drawn to it.

Take a look at the emulator for an interactive demo.

I played with the demo hardware and software and had my expectations blown away.  I'll be honest - I expected crap.  I had horrible memories of the stylus oriented Windows Mobile 6.  The phone which would display an hourglass if you had the temerity to receive a phone call while playing solitaire.

Windows Phone 7 (WP7) was a million miles away from the old Microsoft experience.

Pros

The user interface is refreshingly simple and fun to use.  It's like nothing else I've tried before and I really think that Microsoft has outclassed both Android and Apple.

Pushing so much information to the homescreen really makes you want to use your phone constantly. iPhone only does this half-heartedly and Android does it without much animation or UI consistency.

App Store.  One excellent feature of the MS app store is the "Try Before You Buy" model.  Rather than a developer putting out a free, limited version and a "pro" version they can publish a single app.  They can restrict the features and functionality of the "demo" version until the customer makes the purchase. Or, after a set period of time, the demo version can become non-functioning. Or have reduced function.  Brilliant.

Gaming on this device will be huge. It looks like it will be simple to port games from the Xbox to WP7 - that gives it a great competative advantage. Tie in Xbox Live (or whatever it's called) and you'll get gamers buying the same game twice - once on the console and once on the phone.  The 3D power of the phones was stunning.

Cons

There are some serious shortcomings in the Windows Phone 7 vision of the future which Microsoft urgently need to address.

  • Expand the development options.  If you want to write for Windows Phone 7, you'll need Windows installed on your computer.  Given that Android allows you to develop on Windows, Mac and Linux, it doesn't make sense to make developers buy a new operating system.  Especially as iPhone development is tied to Apple.
  • Open it up.  I love the idea of integrating my phone with my Xbox live account - but I don't have an Xbox! Open it up so that my Wii or PS3 gaming experience can be pushed to the homescreen.
  • The same goes for mail and IM - don't restrict it just to Exchange and MSN.  Openness is hard for Microsoft, but it will attract more customers to the platform.
  • Have a firm, public roadmap for enhancements which all manufacturers stick to.  Android is currently being stifled by manufacturers like HTC who refuse to update the software on their customers' devices.
  • Revenue share for developers needs to be better. At the moment it's the same 70/30 split being offered by Android and Apple.  It needs to be lower for two key reasons.
  1. Attract developers to the fledgling ecosystem.
  2. To avoid any accusations of a cartel.  To have all three major platforms "independently" converge on the same revenue share deal looks suspicious.

Now What?

I've played with the prototype hardware and I'm impressed.  The software is really good. Much better that Microsoft's usual standard.

It has to be.

Microsoft are betting their mobile future on this platform.  Win6.5 failed. Kin failed. They can't afford another high profile failure like this.  Mirosoft are putting their best people on this project and, as far as I can tell, are revisiting their Xbox strategy; SPEND SPEND SPEND.

By the time the phones launch (holiday season 2010) you won't be able to move without seeing an advert.  They will crank up their media machine to 11.  Just like the original Xbox, they will buy their way in to the market with a view that - like the Xbox 360 - the real prize is several years away.

I hope they succeed.  Not because I have any love for Microsoft, but because Nokia, Apple, and Google will all have to raise the quality of their software and hardware to compete against Microsoft's marketing expenditure.

I'm a Linux geek - and I think Windows Phone 7 is the best thing to come out of Redmond in a very long time.

8 thoughts on “Hate Microsoft - Love Windows Phone 7?

  1. Well, let me tell you that from a developer's standpoint, this phone is a gigantic fail. You cannot even get to the mailing address of a Contact record, which renders the phone useless for programmatically choosing and entering a shipping address from your Contact list.

    There is no developer access to events on the phone like Incoming Call. There are no background tasks. There is no Copy/Paste.

    This is a Soviet phone, promising much but when you try to write a program to actually accomplish the most rudimentary tasks possible on other phones, you will fail. The most you can write are games and simple web information retrieval programs in C#.

    E-Commerce is out, music and video are out, browsers are out, TV is out, native code is out, anything complex and useful is out. This phone will suck, because no 3d party ISV will be able to leverage it for anything.

    So, enjoy your animated cats and beer fart programs. Enjoy your craptastic scrolling-required user interface.

    Android, baby. That's the future.

    1. Hi Paul,
      That's one point I missed off. Some API functionality is *only* available to manufacturers and MNOs.
      Compared to Android - where anyone can change anything - this is a most unwelcome development.
      I understand that for a brand new mobile OS, MS might want to restrict some access on the grounds of security - but this does smack a little of "Only big companies can play". Not a smart move.

      Thanks for your comment.

      T

  2. You mentioned in your "Cons" that MS need to open things up. I think you're forgetting that openness is a two-way road. First of all, they need to have documented APIs for WP7 developers to be able to develop apps for those platforms. Microsoft have shown what *can* be done with their gaming platform. Now it's the responsibility of these other platforms to provide similar apps for WP7 or at the very least make sure an API is available for 3rd parties to do so.

    In my opinion, the biggest failing of WP7 was with the browser. I was at the BizSpark event and when they said the browser was a "hybrid between IE6 and IE7", I was in shock. Compared to the Android browser and Safari, which both have HTML5 capabilities, MS have put themselves at a severe disadvantage. I think it's very appealing to developers to write mobile web apps that'll run and behave the same across different mobile web browsers, but that means all of them must be on an equal footing. I know they said IE9 would be in a future release, but it seems to me like they may be shooting themselves in the foot.

    1. Hi
      They've said the browser is a mix of IE7 & 8. Not 6&7. Although I agree that shipping without HTML5 is a big mistake.
      Given that a large number of sites are still touting IE6 compatibility, I don't think the lack of a new browser will kill the device. But It will be interesting how well optimised the browser is for mobile.

      Thanks for your comment.

      T

  3. As for Mail, it supports google, live, yahoo, outlook, pop and imap out of the box already.

  4. I had a look at the interface and the functionality , and I have to agree, there's nothing like it at the moment - I guess with their backs to wall, MS had to actually 'innovate'!!!

    But yeah, it's miles ahead of IOSAndroidSybian - [you may aswell group them all together, afterall they're all derivatives of each other - and these OS' are looking decidedly dated now ] - Someone way back in the 80's/90's (god knows who - Nokia?) decided to copy the icon based - one-function per app model from the desktop pc and cart it to a mobile device. Bizarrely - this model has not evolved, yet alone been superseded!

    The thing is, a mobile device is not a desktop pc - what the user requires out of a PC is different from a mobile. The same goes with it's functionality, due to the constraints of the hardware and software (e.g. physical screen size and dimensions, processor, memory, battery etc)

    I think MS realised that what you want and expect from a pc is different on a phone - this in turn led to it's complete rethink of how a mobile OS and interface should function. I applaud this.

    😉

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