I was recently invited to the Windows Phone 7 Mango preview (no, I didn't get a free phone) - here are a few thoughts.
The first thing to note is that WP7 still looks gorgeous - the front tiles (aka widgets) are smart and add a real feeling of fluidity to the phone.
The second thing is rather more depressing. Windows is still playing catch-up. It's a standard joke that neither the iPhone nor WP7 had copy-n-paste on release - what's not a joke is the number of "new" features that Microsoft announced are things which have been around for years.
- Groups of contacts. I don't know about you, but I was able to group contacts on my ancient 6310i.
- Multi-Tasking. You know, like all those Symbian phones had years ago.
- Facebook events now appear in your calendar. Again, just like on BlackBerry, Android, etc.
- Music pauses when you receive an SMS - the phone reads the message to you and you can use voice recognition to compose a message. Nice that it's all integrated, but hardly revolutionary.
Compare and contrast the following two statements made by Microsoft.
The way in which people browse the web on a phone is different to how they browse the web on a desktop PC.
Windows Phone 7 uses Internet Explorer 9. The exactly the same rendering engine as desktop IE9. So pages look the same on both Desktop and Mobile.
While it's admirable that there's just one set of quirks for developers to code for - and potentially the same exploits on both - I can't help but think this is misguided. Do users really want all pages to render the same, or would they rather have a mobile specific rendering?
Here's a sample image provided by Microsoft.
Forget your troubles, come on, get 'appy
And so, finally, on to apps.
With a claimed 18,000 apps, WP7 has overtaken BlackBerry and is catching up on the other platforms. There are just two flies in the ointment.
If you're a big business and want to put "employee only" apps on to your employee's phones, you can! Well, you upload the app to the marketplace, set it as private, then distribute a secret URL to your employees. Anyone with that URL can download the app - so if an email accidentally gets forwarded...
It's a rather unsatisfactory kludge. Why not allow developers to deploy direct to handsets? (I know, I know... it breaks the MS control.)
So, you're competing with Apple iPhone. Presumably you want to attract iPhone developers to your platform, right? So, why aren't WP7 development tools available on the Mac?
Windows 7 runs perfectly on a Mac. Buy a licence. We've no interest in making our tools available on other operating systems.
That is, almost verbatim, the answer I received. I can understand not making the tools available on Linux. But iOS developers can only use a Mac. Why should they have to fork out for and install an entire OS just to run WP7 development?
Microsoft Office is available on Mac - so someone in Redmond has an eye on that market.
It just seems silly that you'd ignore all the iOS developers.
WP7 is a great platform. It's finally catching up with features that other phone users take for granted. The hardware and software work well - especially when tied in to Microsoft services like Xbox and Sharepoint.
I'm just left with a feeling of "so what?" As a platform, there's nothing I can do on there that can't be done on other devices. Yes, the 3D XNA / Silverlight thing is nice - but any better than OpenGL?
As a consumer phone, it's perfectly acceptable.
For Xbox gamers, this is the only phone to consider.
As a business device, it ticks many of the right boxes.
If you're heavily invested in the Microsoft way of working (Sharepoint, Office 365, Outlook), you'd be hard pressed to find a better phone.
But for everyone else, there's no "wow" factor. Nothing that makes me think "I have to get this phone because it does something nothing else does."
Perhaps I'm being slightly cynical. The hardware and software is great - it's nice to see them catching up with all the other phones. WP7 is a welcome addition to the ecosystem, even if it isn't driving forward innovation.