Windows Phone 7: Mango. So what?


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.

Juicy

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.

Cognitive Dissonance

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.

...and...

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.
wp7 Browser in phone

Forget your troubles, come on, get 'appy

And so, finally, on to apps.

Where WP7 really excels in in 3D. The sample BA app had a 3D seat checker which, while gimmicky, was incredibly smooth.
3D Seat selection

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.

Private Apps

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.)

Developer Tools

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.

Overall

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.

7 thoughts on “Windows Phone 7: Mango. So what?

  1. "It just seems silly that you’d ignore all the iOS developers."

    But isn't MS just doing what Apple did? You can't code for iOS on anything other than Mac; you can't code for WP7 on anything other than Windows. Seems the same to me.

    1. They are. The difference is that Apple created a new market (iOS developers) and Microsoft wants to attract those developers. The only way to do that it to convince iOS devs to buy Windows or to create an OSX version of their developer tools.

  2. Good point on 'new' features that weren't strangers to S60 1/2/3 and UIQ. I've noticed the same thing in the Android Market - a plethora of apps that make up for missing features.

  3. Of course they're playing catch up. The OS is less than a year old. Yes, they are behind, but they will catch up, eventually. Will they actually be relevant considering the other players (apple/android) have such a head start? I'm not so sure, but with the Nokia deal, they can probably flood the market with a really nice hardware/software combination, similar to what Apple can provide in terms of ecosystem.

    In the first year, the iPhone didn't even have 3rd party apps, nor did they do cut/paste. You need to take the time to get the basics right, then slowly build on that base. MS has a lot of cash, so they can afford to take it a bit slowly, in order to make sure their product gets better. In fact, they've got a history of doing exactly that.

  4. “I have to get this phone because it does something nothing else does.”
    So, what's the big innovation of Android or something that's only available on iOS?

    1. I can recompile the OS and customise it to the Nth degree.
      Supports OGG and FLAC (ok, some other phones now do).
      Tethering - without jailbreaking or asking my operator for permission.

      That do for Android?

      As for iPhone - nothing that I can see.

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