Will Windows Phone 7 Succeed

July 16, 2010 — 7 Comments

I just finished reading an article titled Windows Phone 7: Don’t Bother with this Disaster.  Interestingly enough, the author has done a huge about-face from his previous article Why I Like Windows Phone 7 (so far).  This whole blog post is basically to try and address his comments (and other BS I’ve been hearing/reading) and why I think Windows Phone 7 will succeed and will get market share (remember current market share is 0% so it has to go up some what :)

Kill Windows Phone 7
The author starts the article with saying

“Windows Phone 7 is a waste of time and money. It’s a platform that no carrier, device maker, developer, or user should bother with. Microsoft should kill it before it ships and admit that it’s out of the mobile game for good. It is supposed to ship around Christmas 2010, but anyone who gets one will prefer a lump of coal. I really mean that.”

Device makers are on board because now Windows Phone is using the desktop model to sell the OS, and we all know how successful that is!  Now, all device makers (OEMs) have to worry about is the hardware and innovate on the design. 

Microsoft has a set of specs that they must adhere to if they want to use the OS.  In reality, this makes the OEM focus on what they do best, create hardware.  In the past, with previous Windows Phone versions, they had entire teams to customize the Windows Mobile OS which means the cost to release hardware with Windows Phone was huge! 

You have hardware partners like Dell, Garmin-Asus, HTC Corp., LG, Samsung, Sony Ericsson and Toshiba coming on board.  Carriers such as AT&T, Deutsche Telekom AG, Orange, SFR, Sprint, Telecom Italia, Telefónica, Telstra, T-Mobile USA, Verizon Wireless and Vodafone are also on board.  Read below to see if developers are on board the platform.

Windows Phone 7 User Experience

“Seeing the UI in action across several tasks, not just in a highly controlled presentation, shows how awkward and unsophisticated it is…”

The phone has not even shipped and till recently only a very small set of internal Microsoft employees had the phones.  I saw the phone and played with it back in February and at first, was not impressed with the performance but attributed that to being an extremely early build.  At MIX2010 I saw the phone again and played with it and noticed improvements and the same thing at TechEd 2010.  My most recent encounter with the phone was at a Windows Phone 7 Workshop I did with Microsoft Canada and the improvements were outstanding, and it still wasn’t full production software.  I didn’t find it awkward at all, and neither did other attendees.

The new user experience for Windows Phone 7 is just that new! The whole point of the Windows Phone 7 design is less is more.  Considering the author first liked the UI when he first saw it and now considers it ‘clunky’ is strange considering it’s essentially the same from March 2010.

The author also talks about panorama mode and pivot mode and users not getting the ‘cut off text’ which signifies ‘more is available’.  If all you do is use an iPhone, no you might not get it until you use a Windows Phone 7.  I have actually implemented some panorama concepts to demo to potential customers interested in the Windows Phone 7.  Here is something running in the emulator (I’ve blurred out some parts that would identify the customer) but it’s obviously a weather app using the panorama model.  Notice the ‘hanging’/’Cut off text’ on the left’.

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They didn’t ‘get it’ when I showed the concept in Power Point but when they saw it running, the just ‘got it’.  Before I showed the customer, I actually showed my wife (who hates all this technology and would rather use pen and paper) and just told her ‘try to use this app’.  She saw ‘cut off’ text and instinctually dragged her finger across the screen to see ‘what else there was’ (I do have a touch screen monitor so it makes it a bit more realistic in terms of swiping). Her reaction, “wow that’s actually pretty cool!”. (Wish I could get her to react like that more often with my work!)

So I think people will like the new user experience and pretty sure Microsoft did not just ‘come up with the design’ without going through extensive user tests.

The Unfortunate KIN
With KIN, well that was a bomb from the start and I never did get it. This is probably your best source for finding out what happened and from reading the numerous comments seems Microsoft had to release something because of ‘contractual obligations’.  I never understood the KIN and glad it’s gone but the same will not happen to Windows Phone 7.

No Compelling Third Party Examples for Windows Phone 7
Author states that there are no compelling third party examples and the UI reminds him of DOS and ‘green screen days on VAX’.  I just don’t see the correlation.  If the author thinks these showcase apps from MIX10 remind him of the ‘green screen days on VAX’ something is wrong.  Just take a look at the AP Mobile for Windows Phone 7, graphic.ly comic books, FourSquare for Windows Phone 7 or the games that you can play and build on Windows Phone 7.  Doesn’t look like DOS or VAX to me.

As for only now starting to develop third party apps for the Windows Phone 7 the author should really get his facts straight.  Yes Windows Phone 7 Beta tools were released July 12 2010.  But CTP tools have been available since March 2010 and since then Windows Phone 7 developer tools have been downloaded over 200,000 times.  Considering there is not even hardware available to third party developers, this is pretty impressive.  You even got high school kids getting into the action!  Plus imagine all the companies that are keeping things secret.

Inexcusably old technology limits Windows Phone 7
Some things make sense but most is just non-sense.  I’ll dissect each.

Web Browser 
Yes it should have HTML5 support.   But let’s face it HTML5 is still in development, hardly any (if any) websites are leveraging HTML5 and IE9 is in ‘Platform Preview’.  From my experience with previous IE Mobile browsers on Windows Mobile, the IE Mobile browser on Windows Phone 7 is ready for prime time. 

Multitasking
Here we are talking about running background processes.  See my post on Windows Phone 7 and multitasking and Doug Boling’s blog on the topic.  With the new Windows Phone 7 Beta tools, things have changed and bring it more in line with today’s definition of ‘multitasking’.

‘Inter-Application Communication’
I like to call this Inter-Process Communication or IPC and basically means third party apps can’t ‘talk’ to each other. This does require running background processes so obviously this is not available. 

Is it really required?  On previous versions of Windows Phone I have seen lots of garbage code that I would get hired to fix.  On previous versions a developer does have the option of running background processes but guess what, as you run a process in the background, that is running code which means the CPU is processing instructions which means the battery is being drained.  In the end the user is pissed off because the phone doesn’t last the entire day!  The device will always get blamed first and not the app when in reality it’s the app that’s killing the device.

Let’s face it, how many developers out there are conscious of the amount of memory they are consuming or the amount of CPU instructions they are processing.  A lot of developers are coming from the desktop world or web apps world where they don’t have to worry about that and if there is a problem just throw some more RAM in the machine or add another processor.  On mobile, any mobile platform, memory is at a premium, you can’t add more memory or another CPU and large amounts of CPU usage (ie multitasking/background processes) diminishes battery life and destroys the user’s experience with the phone.  Usually because of one app.  I don’t see to many people walking around with the phone plugged into a power outlet using an extremely long extension cord!  So for me, blocking this functionality to third party developers is a good thing and will help Windows Phone 7 succeed.

Copy & Paste
I’m undecided here, I haven’t used copy & paste on my iPhone because I haven’t required it but maybe I’m just not a ‘power user’.  Microsoft hasn’t said much about this except that the phone will have it in the future (and yes there will be a future) and there are other things available to replace copy & paste.  I believe the way the iPhone does Cut & Paste is patented (not 100% sure) but I’m sure Microsoft wants to design something unique here, possibly something like the green ‘Spot’ on the KIN (which I didn’t like).

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Come From Behind
Microsoft is now entering the consumer ‘smartphone wars’.  Apple, Google, Nokia, RIM are already there. Microsoft was present but did not have a fighting chance with pre-Windows Phone 7 devices.

One thing to remember, Windows Mobile 6 does have market share although it has lost a huge chunk of that.  When you look at things like mobile point of sales devices or ruggedized devices (think oil field workers), what Mobile OS you think it’s running? It’s either running Windows Embedded or Windows Mobile 5 or 6.  Rarely do I see embedded Linux or whatever else there is out there. 

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In fact, while at the Apple store in Toronto, I noticed a sales rep with a mobile point of sale device the B-PAD from Fujitsu. Can you guess what mobile OS that runs?  You guessed it, Windows Embedded CE 5.0.  Albeit Windows Embedded CE is not a consumer OS but it’s ironic that Apple is using a Microsoft mobile OS to power their sales reps on the sales floor (don’t know if they still use it). 

Will Windows Phone 7 come from behind, I don’t know.  But with $1B to boost mobile efforts, support to make Windows Phone 7 a success coming all the way from the top, developer excitement, large development shops coming on board to develop for the platform (BTW that’s the part I hate :) and amazing tools like Visual Studio, Expression Blend and Silverlight I think they have a fighting chance.

It’s the new ‘smartphone wars’ and there will be a winner, will it be Microsoft similar to what they did with the browser wars?  Maybe.  Will Microsoft get market share similar to the desktop world?  Probably not but they will most likely get a big chunk.  With the cloud, desktop, TV/XBox, and mobile Microsoft has a pretty compelling offer.  All I know is this is most likely Microsoft’s last chance at being a contender in the mobile space and they are throwing everything they have at it.

What are your thoughts? Is the original article right? Is he completely off base?  Have feedback on what I have to say?  I really want to know so either comment below, contact me via my blog or twitter.com/MarkArteaga.

7 responses to Will Windows Phone 7 Succeed

  1. It is very likely they are still using the BPAD, as it uses chip and pin which took Fujitsu 5 years to get approved.

    Development time frames like that means the BPAD will be around for a considerable time to come.

    Also agree with pretty much everything that has been said here.

    Would like to say Multitasking on a battery device is HUGELY important due to the power consumption. Most apps do use multitasking on WP7 (web service calls in Silverlight are asych, threaded) but you just don’t get multi-apps-multitasking by default, which to Microsofts credit has been identified as a stupid thing to do.

    Sandboxing all apps (no inter-communication) makes perfect sense from a security, managablity perspective and if they do need to talk, well thats what the cloud can do to help.

  2. Also, the author was an editor of MacWorld for 4 years.

  3. excellent rebuttal, although I must admit, I didn’t read the original article, so forgive my compelte lack of credibility here…

    But I do think the doomsday claims of failure are exaggerated a bit too much, and sound like more of a preface to be in a position to say "See? I told you so!" if the phone doesn’t end up obliterating the iPhone…

    I’m still and have never stopped being excited about this new phone, and based on everything I have seen, there is no way it will fail. It may not be the iPhone killer but who cares? the iPhone doesn’t need to be killed, it just needs more competitors, and WP7 is a welcome addition to the ring!

  4. I was also very surprised by the total reversal by Galen Gruman. InfoWorld is not the most trivial of sources, so any opinion vented there should not be taken lightly.

    Will Microsoft succeed in regaining traction of the mobile market? That’s the $1b question. There is pretty much excitement appearing in my twitter timeline, and since devs = apps this is obviously a good sign for Microsoft. The question is not if people are going to make apps for Windows Phone 7 – they are already doing so. It’s fun to do and the developer experience for other mobile platforms compare to the Blend/Visual Studio combination like Paint compared to Photoshop. Still – that is not enough.

    What I personally like about Windows Phone 7 is the fact that finally someone has the guts to take a different approach at the smartphone. Today, the iPhone GUI app-oriented concept is more or less the de facto standard. Take an iPhone, Android phone, and Bada phone and at first glance their are hard to distinguish, both in apps and in general behaviour. This was a new and exiting thing in 2007. In this theatre, Windows Phone 7 stands out like a orange tree in an otherwise green forest. The informational/social hub-based approach is an interesting example of thinking-out-of-the-box.

    That GUI will make the difference. The question is – will ‘Joe Sixpack++’ buy this concept – both metaphorically and literally? For me, as a tech geek, the concept seems very attractive. But your experience with your wife is a message the people at Microsoft will be very glad to hear. I personally would like to try Windows Phone 7 on MY wife – she’s a truck driver with an ancient Nokia – as wel ;-)

    Anyway – the market for smartphones is very crowded now, but if the launch is executed flawlessly and the devices’ basic functions perform just without problems (and don’t suffer from basic things like antenna misbehaving when you hold the phone ‘wrong’) Microsoft has IMHO a fighting chance, especially since ‘top dog’ Apple is currently in very hot water. It will take a while, but I see a distinct possibility. And that will life on the mobile market a lot more interesting.

    But there is no room for error. Nothing *but* a perfect launch is possible, or else it’s curtains on the mobile market for Microsoft. I will wait and see.

  5. Hey Mark,

    I am looking forward to the Win Phone 7. I find it amusing that people think the smartphone race has a finish line. It does not. It’s an ongoing race with consumers choosing the latest, best device when it’s time to get a new phone.

    However, I respectfully disagree with you regarding Inter-Application Communication. A message bus similar to MSMQ would be sufficient to provide a messaging pipeline to apps. I think the low battery argument is weak and I heard it from a few people at Microsoft. I’ve been working with Windows CE since 2.11. And I agree that poorly designed apps will chew up resources. However, the smartphone pendulum at Microsoft has swung to ‘extremely cautious’. Once they gain market share and user acceptance, I strongly believe that they will begin to open up more functionality on the phones such as a message bus and/or socket communication. With the Mobile Marketplace, Microsoft will have the ability to remove poorly performing or resource hogging apps. And I also believe that today’s more sophisticated user will realize that it is the app causing the problem, not the phone.

    But until Microsoft has gained back the trust of the consumers and developers, I realize that they have to be very cautious. I AM one of those developers out there that cares about memory and CPU usage. And I also care about have features such as sockets and background processes. To all the other developers out there who care as well (more than you realize), it will get better as consumers buy more phones. Until then, we’ll just have to make do with what we have.

    Cheers

  6. Redtalon – I don’t understand how you think the cloud will help with inter-application communication on the device. My personal opinion is that it’s a very weak argument.

    Correct me if I’m wrong – the cloud can host web services, databases, and other services for an application or for applications sharing data across one or many platforms or applications. For two sandboxed applications running on the same device, I don’t think using the cloud to simply communicate between them will be effective or useful in many cases.

    I’d like to hear your arguments for using the cloud in this manner – perhaps I am missing something?

  7. To be fair, I am pretty split.
    I was looking forward to WinMo 7 (before knowing what the official name will be, I knew this is "the last chance" for MS, so they will try to do something great.
    But now I doubt.

    Let me explain: they are talking the Apple playbook from 3 years ago, and repeat all the mistakes that meantime Apple fixed. No multitasking, added in iPhone 4, no copy/paste, added in iPhone 3.

    Also, not native development. Pretty bad idea, if you ask me. Just look around: Apple wanted initially to only allow JavaScript dev, no native, they turned around. Android wanted only a Java SDK, now they have the NDK (Native Development Kit), Palm only wanted to allow HTML+JavaScript+some extensions, now they have a native sdk as well.

    This prevents a big class of applications from making it, or at least rising the bar quite a bit. Think stuff like the Acrobat Reader, maybe Flash (ok, probably MS does not want that one anyway), ScummVM, Opera & Firefox, others.

    I wish they make it. But why be stubborn and refuse to look around, and learn from mistakes done by others?

    As it is, it will ship in 2010 at the level where others were in 3 years ago… Can MS afford to wait for the 3rd version to get it right (as the "legend" says they usually do)?

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