I've just come back from a chat with Paul Foster of Microsoft. We were discussing Windows Phone 7 - its promises and its problems.
I remain convinced that Windows Phone 7 (WP7) will be a hit. There are so many delightful touches in the operating system that I won't be surprised if it is ripped off before it is fully launched.
I was given an excellent overview of the software and proposed functionality. I also played with a demo handset. Even at this early stage the software is smooth and feature rich.
There are two sides to WP7 which I want to discuss here. The split personality of the device could really shake up the mobile market place.
What Do You Want To Be Today?
Is this a business phone or is this a gamers' phone?
The iPhone has always been a consumer device - support for corporate mail, networks and security policies has been added belatedly or not at all.
RIM's BlackBerry is the opposite. A hard core business phone which is now trying to woo younger consumers with non-corporate offerings.
WP7 is the first device that I've seen which has been designed from the ground up for both work and play. It has an (unfair?) advantage working with Microsoft's range of Enterprise software - OneNote, SharePoint, Outlook - as well as having the necessary range of security policies for a corporate environment. On the play side, it has total integration with Xbox and a wicked set of 3D graphics.
I do wonder if there is sufficient overlap between the gamer and salaryman demographics. Are corporates going to be able to justify giving their workers a powerful 3D games console (with built in phone)? Will gamers resent having to buy a phone with a load of enterprise rubbish on it that they just don't need?
I received a bunch of questions on Twitter about the phone - so here is what I managed to glean...
- Q: We know 3rd party apps won't be able to multi-task yet. But seems there's some state saving going on, how well supported is it? (Fabian Sasson)
- A: There is some support for multi-tasking. You can send push notification from your web-server to the phone (via Microsoft). During an incoming call / email / etc, apps are "tombstoned" - they are essentially suspended and then "rehydrated" when the user clicks back to them. If an app is terminated - it is able to save its state so when the user switches back to it, they can resume from where they left off.
- Q: Extra information on Xbox Live integration would be awesome. Does it need a subscription, for separate platforms do you buy twice? (William Morland)
- A: It will work with a free "Silver" subscription - you don't need Gold membership. While some games will be free, you will have to buy other content.
- Q: how many gamer points per Windows Phone7 title! Actually anything related to Xbox Live integration (Kevin Prince)
- A: You can't use gamer points to buy content. It's credit card or Operator Billing.
- Q: just confirm that the copy/paste rumour is actually a joke :) (Matt Rawlinson)
- A: No. No joke. The idea is that quality user experience comes first. Is there a way to get rid of copy-and-paste for the most common uses? For example, the OS should recognise a phone number in an email message and let you click on it to call, add to address book, text, send to a friend etc. Where possible, that should be done automagically without the user having to manually intervene. A fine stance, to be sure, but I would expect to see c&p in the next firmware revision.
- Q: Microsoft told us they have no devices for European markets. that wrong? (James Governer)
- A: Wrong. WP7 will launch worldwide. US, EU, Russia, Australia, New Zeeland and a whole bunch of other territories. Not all devices will launch in all markets. Not all launches will be simultaneous.
- Q: if you can manage to stop laughing, you could ask them why bother... (Sam Smith)
- A: I cheated a bit and didn't ask this. It's clear that MS are putting a lot of effort in to this. They know that mobile is the growth space at the moment and that they have failed miserably with WinMo6.5. They need to get this right. If they can, they've locked in mobile, email, SharePoint, SkyDrive, Windows Live ID and Xbox games. This could be the hub for all of MS's products. If it succeeds - and that's a big if - it will reinvigorate Microsoft and consolidate all their products into one device. That's either awesome or terrifying depending on which team you bat for. Regardless, it will set the mobile industry on fire.
If you're an Xbox games, you will buy this phone. Simple. I played with some of the 3D games on the handset and they are stunning. Sign in with your Windows Live ID and your Xbox Live stuff is accessible directly from the phone's homescreen.
But let's take it one step further.
Let's say you've bought a racing game on Xbox live and the companion game on WP7.
- You can see your gamer score and achievements - and your friends' - on your phone. Neat.
- If you unlock an achievement on your Xbox - it will be unlocked on your phone. Sweet.
- If you unlock an achievement on your phone - it will be unlocked on your console and show up on your dashboard. Make your commute count for something!
So far, so good. It's a wonder this hasn't been done before. But what happens next will give you a taste of things to come.
- You unlock the "Ford Mustang" on your console.
- Want to customise the car? Play the next level on your phone within 20 metres of a Ford dealership. Click here to find your nearest location.
- Click here to book a test drive.
Integrating achievements, location, social networking and gameplay all in one package.
Game Over, Man! Game Over!
There are some limitations to the gaming service. All of these downsides are "for now" - let's wait and see what the future holds.
- No Xbox / WP7 live play. Due to the latency of 3G networks, you can't play against others on the Xbox live service.
- Some gaming APIs & Xbox Live integration are only available to registered publishers. Not a big publishing house? No access for you.
Big Boys Only.
WP7 takes one "great" thing from Android - multiple vendors producing a variety of handsets.
It then marries it "great" thing from iPhone - fanatical lock down of applications and services to trusted third parties.
Want access to certain API functionality? Only available to MNOs and manufacturers?
Want to run apps in the background? Better be in bed with MS. And not casually, either.
App development is "free". Well, the SDK and the compilers are free. You'll need to be running Vista or Windows 7 - no Macs or Linux. Registration to the Marketplace - which includes code signing - is $99. That will allow you to upload 5 free apps. Subsequent free apps will cost $19.99 each to upload.
Why this restriction? Quality. MS doesn't want their Marketplace to be cluttered with thousands of poorly developed freeware titles. They believe that putting up a significant barrier to entry will deter sub-par applications. I think, it may just cost them developers who want to dip their toe in the waters.
Want to offer a "lite" version for free and a "pro" version for $5? You can't do that. MS don't want duplicate apps cluttering their store. What they will allow is for developers to build in "trial" modes. So, rather than customers paying $5, trying the app, then applying for a refund - a developer sets what functionality will be available in the app for a trial period. The customer can then upgrade in-app. A really smart solution.
If you're selling apps, you can price between $1.99 and $499.99. That's right. Five hundred bucks. There are professional apps for BlackBerry which sell in this range - that's clearly one of the markets MS are gunning for.
The revenue share is 70/30. I really think MS have missed a trick here. It's an "industry standard" price point because no one wants to get in to a price war. Increasing the share that goes to the developer would be an excellent way to convince wavering developers to adopt the platform.
Paying for goods is via credit card or Operator Billing - no paying with Gamerpoints. Operator Billing will be supported in most territories - the advantage of being Microsoft is that you can push the MNOs to open a few doors for you. There will be no price descrimination between OB and CC. Any difference will come out of MS's 30% - so developers won't be left out of pocket.
There is definitely the feeling that MS wants big, professional applications only. A great way to ensure high quality experience on the device - but it may just cost them the next killer app.
I do wonder if MS should have made an Xbox Phone and a Business Phone. Bundling the two together could be too confusing for customers - and ultimately dissatisfying.
The UI is fantastic. Rather than copying the Windows 3.11 UI (a la iPhone and Android) they've come up with something which fits the form factor really well.
The Xbox integration will get every gamer wanting one.
The tight integration with Sharepoint and Exchange will get every Head of IT wanting to ditch their BlackBerrys.
The range of manufacturers will ensure that there aren't shortages on launch. A wide variety of form-factors and designs (all within the MS parameters) will help convince those who can't live without a touchscreen / QWERTY keyboard / flip / slider - that this is the phone for them.
The limitations for developers will be frustrating - as will the high cost of development. The MS commitment to high quality, revenue generating apps will stifle the number of applications available. But if it means not having to wade through 5,000 fart noise generators.....
Microsoft knows that they have to score big with this operating system. WP7 is due in the "holiday season" - up to 5 months from now - and they're already trailing it massively. They're being hugely open about their plans for it (for Microsoft). They're listening to developers and users. The whole Microsoft team - from Office to Xbox - has a stake in this phone. Come Christmas, I expect their media machine to be in full swing.
WP7 looks great. It doesn't have the openness of Android. It doesn't have the hype of Apple. It doesn't have the pedigree and mindshare of Nokia. It doesn't have BlackBerry's simplicity. It successfully steals the best bits from each platform and improves upon them.
I'm not a big fan of Microsoft - as I've said many times. If I were being uncharitable, I'd say that it has dragged along the worst features from the major mobile players - fragmentation, rigid QA, crappy revenue share, lack of multi-tasking. But even I am forced to admit that it is attacking RIM, Apple, Android and Nokia at their strengths.
If nothing else, this is the phone the N-Gage should have been.
There are three things Microsoft specifically told me not to mention - because they'll be making announcements in the coming months.
- What happens when you hold down the "Windows" key.
- How OS software updates are handled.
This post hasn't been checked, censored or spell checked by Microsoft. They did buy me a drink - but didn't give me a free phone - so I don't think I'm editorially compromised. I still run Ubuntu on my home machines.