Aug 25, 2010

So What’s up with Windows Phone 7?

Courtesy Microsoft

Courtesy Microsoft

We recently attended a Microsoft event hosted by @glengordon on Windows Phone 7. Microsoft showed off a prerelease version of Windows Phone 7. And it looked pretty good. That said, it wasn’t without its shortcomings.

Interestingly enough, Microsoft pulled an unMicrosoft and ditched the cruft of Windows Mobile <=6. You still create apps for Windows Phone 7 using .net — specifically Silverlight or XNA, their Flash competitor and game development toolsets. The basic tools are free. Good move.

In my opinion, Windows Phone 7 is absolutely a reaction to iOS. That’s not a bad thing. It’s a consumer-oriented mobile play like iOS. Microsoft had to scrap Windows Mobile 7 to catch up. I think they asked themselves what Apple did right, and in some cases wrong, and cloned it.

What, specifically, did Microsoft clone? Where did they innovate? Microsoft cloned Apple’s closed App Store and uniform OS feel, although they are not building the hardware. Apple’s store has an approval process and one can’t get third party apps onto the phone in any way outside of the App Store. (AdHoc for betas and rooting phones don’t count. I’m talking about typical commercial apps.) The same is true with Windows Phone 7. Microsoft charges one 20 bucks to submit a free app (after the first 5). This is interesting. Their rationale is probably both to cut back on crapware and help subsidize the cost of the review process.

Although Windows Phone 7 supports push notifications, it does not allow background tasks. That’s a limitation that sucks. Apple just (mostly) addressed this. Microsoft has not, but it’s somewhat understandable given they started over and will have come to market in a year or two.

Windows Phone 7’s UI is polished. Built in animations are smooth and it looks like a lot of thought went into it. It has the "feel" I tell my Android-loving friends Android is missing (btw, I like Android too). It’s also a departure from the standard grid of colored app icons. Instead you get a grid of flat boxes with critical information that update themselves. Sort of like Apple’s calendar icon on iOS only with data that changes more frequently. I like it.

The beta toolset is missing some critical features, which makes it tough to build a release app right now. That’s supposed to change in the next couple of months. I’m talking about some UI stuff and about good ways to store offline data.

An aside — it was interesting to see long time Microsoft developers giving the evangelists at the event a hard time about the lack of flexility in Windows Phone 7, despite iOS’ popularity.

It remains to be seen as to whether or not Windows Phone 7 can compete with the likes of iOS and Android.

We’re going to watch Windows Phone 7 and see if it hits the ground running. If so, we’ll be glad to support it along with iOS and Android.