Windows Phone 7

I usually refer to it as “Windows Phone Point Seven” to indicate this isn’t even a 1.0 release, lacking many features found in Windows Mobile (the prior phone/mobile device OS from Microsoft).  I’ll list some of my thoughts; to write everything would require the longest blog post in history.

Point One: Why?  That’s my biggest question.  Why?  Why was it necessary to scrap the former phone/mobile device OS and start over from scratch?  This OS is completely new and won’t run Windows Mobile programs, so third-party developers must also start over from scratch, learning a new code base and tools.  End users must also start over, discarding long-time favorite programs and hoping there are new ones to take their place.  Was this new OS a knee-jerk reaction to Apple and Android success, or was the Windows Mobile OS really inferior and lacking?  If it was inferior and lacking, why did it take Microsoft so long to recognize and correct this?  Was the problem more with the UI, the underlying operating system, both, or the marketing?

Microsoft used to do dog-and-pony shows around the country every couple of years to promote Windows Mobile.  These were live demonstrations of many of the things you could do with Pocket PCs, as they were called back then.  The presenters were familiar with the hardware and software, so you could get intelligent answers to your questions.  I attended several of these events, enjoyed them immensely, and hope this is one tradition they resurrect.  I was at one such show years back, and after the formal presentation I talked with the presenter, a Microsoft employee.  I thanked him for coming to our city and for the very professional presentation.  I did want to disagree with something he said.  He claimed that WinCE (former name for Windows Mobile) was for both business and pleasure.  I felt it was aimed solely at pleasure – listening to music, watching videos, playing games, etc.  He disagreed, stating there were many customers who used WinCE devices for business during the day, then used them to relax with games, music, and other diversions after the workday was done.  I said the WinCE editions of Word and Excel were clearly inferior.  They lacked features, and would actually change fonts and destroy formatting in documents created by the desktop versions of Word and Excel.  I pulled my Handspring Visor (a PalmOS handheld) from my pocket and asked if he was familiar with it.  He was.  I asked if he could honestly say that WinCE was as good as the PalmOS and WordSmith.  He said that not many people wanted that much word processing power on a handheld, and admitted I had the best solution at that time.  He said they had different priorities when they were developing the current release of WinCE, and he hoped they’d have time to develop Pocket Word and Pocket Excel for the next release.  Actually, it was at least two releases later before Windows Mobile had good “pocket” versions of Word and Excel.

I’ve thought many times about what that Microsoft employee said.  He was aware of the shortcomings I detailed, and was also aware of the other OS.  The key word in the discussion was “Priorities.”  I was at another event for other Microsoft software, overheard someone complaining about the lack of a particular feature, and again heard the word “priorities” in the answer.  These two responses show the Microsoft mindset.  It’s not that the largest software company in the world couldn’t do better, couldn’t include this feature or that one; couldn’t do more testing, couldn’t commit more resources to a project, they only seem to do what is deemed necessary to get that program out the door.  That bothers me a lot.  I realize software is a business, but what about doing “what’s right.”  Doing what’s right for users would, in the long run, also be what’s right for the company and shareholders.  Consider these costs.  First, the cost of lost sales when customers purchased Android, Apple, and other Smartphones instead of Windows Mobile.  Next, the millions and millions of dollars spent developing and testing Windows Phone 7.  The cost of misplaced priorities is extremely high for just this one item.  The mobile phone business is just one example of where Microsoft had the early lead in a category, then let other companies come along and take a significant piece of their pie.

Point Two: Windows Mobile was heavily marketed to business as The Mobile Solution.  Many WinMo users were large and medium-size businesses, or individuals wishing to carry a mobile office in their pocket.  Windows Mobile was the best mobile solution for business needs, and still is for many users.  When Microsoft announced Windows Phone 7, they said development would continue with the Windows Mobile OS for corporate customers.  Really?  Windows Mobile v6.5.3 was released for some devices month ago, nothing since.  Jump over to the carriers’ web stores, and try to find any new device powered by Windows Mobile 6.x.  Fast forward to today and Windows Phone 7.  Business needs have been mostly ignored in this release.  The screen is a different technology than Windows Mobile devices, leading to a user experience more like Android and Apple.  Use your fingers instead of tapping on menus.  No cut-and-paste in the initial release.  Try to type without cut-and-paste.  You’ll wonder how they got anything done back in the typewriter era.  No removable and swappable storage cards?  Another big limitation.  No syncing with Microsoft Outlook or the desktop?  No multitasking for third-party apps?  No file system viewer/manager?  The list of reasons why this won’t work for business goes on and on.  I imagine many business users have kept their old Windows Mobile phones, as no “new” OS has all the features and programs that appeal to business users.  Blackberry?  The business tool for many, but lacking some features of Windows Mobile, and Blackberry has its own limitations and problems.  There isn’t even a clear path for the near future, but the likeliest candidate for corporate is the iPhone.

These are reasons WP7 isn’t for  me.  My primary need is a powerful mobile office device, not a “gaming device,” a “social networking device,” or a “media consumption device.”

The only major complaint I have with Windows Mobile is the need for frequent soft resets.  Without garbage collection/deletion by programs such as MemMaid and frequent soft resets, Windows Mobile comes to a halt.  This should have been solved by Microsoft years ago.  Again, their priorities.  A stable OS must have been far down on their list.

Point Three: How do I…?  Windows Mobile made it easy to get data files (music, videos, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, whatever) and other elements into, or out of, your Smartphone.  You could easily copy data to your desktop computer, then sync it to your handheld next time you attached a sync cable or synced wirelessly using Bluetooth.  You could copy files from your computer to an SD card, then pop the SD card into your handheld.  Not near your PC?  Insert an SD card into your handheld and copy the data from the card, run a program from the card, or copy data to the card which you could then pop into another computer.  Those choices are gone.  This is progress?

In this and other items, Microsoft seems to have copied Apple.  But they copied Apple as iOS was a couple of years ago, not today.  My iPad has more ways to sync documents and get documents in and out of the device than Windows Phone 7.

Point Four: There are winners in this new OS.  It’s meant for consumers.  Certain consumers.  There are many things left out of this OS; these omissions are touted as making it easier and more fun to use.  What??  I need more Koolade to drink!  Gamers and social media fans are among those who will like this new OS.  The gaming makes Windows Phone 7 look good relative to Android, the new kid in town.  Android has achieved remarkable market share and momentum at a startling speed, but looks weak in gaming compared to Windows Phone 7 and Apple.  Windows Phone 7 has the X-Box connection, and Apple iOS games are quite good and polished (and numerous).  If Microsoft takes advantage of the X-Box connection, this leaves Android as Odd Man Out in the gaming wars.

Point Five: The hardware looks quite impressive, but there are many things I’d compare before purchasing any Smartphone.  You’ll find lists of things to compare in other posts here.  Salesperson trying to rush you instead of helping you compare?  Thank them and go to another store.  Spend lots of time thinking and comparing; you’ll be living with your good or bad decision for many months!  Take pictures with the camera.  Compare the pictures with pictures from other camera phones.  Which has the most detail, best and truest colors, and pictures that are sharp and clear in a variety of settings and lighting?  The camera is an intricate combination of hardware and software, very hard to do just right in a Smartphone.  How easy is it to send photos to your computer, friends’ phones, and various web sites?  What is the total experience compared to iPhone and Android?  Which phone is the most intuitive for all functions?  Which phone has the best apps for Facebook, listening to music, web browsing, and other things you do most?

Point Six: Limited Availability.  In the U.S., WP7 is available from AT&T and T-Mobile, Sprint is coming soon, no Verizon on the horizon.

Point Seven: It’s the Apps!  The ability to run clever, ingenious Apps is one large reason, maybe the largest, behind the iPhone’s success.  You don’t have to be a techie to download, install, and use some of the greatest mobile software ever seen.  Apple reviews all apps before allowing them in the App Store.  Apple’s App Store has the largest number of Apps, and overall these apps are the most refined and polished.  The Android Market is a completely different experience from Apple, and offers the second highest number of Apps.  There is no quality review to pass for Android apps.  The Android Market is like the Wild, Wild West compared to Apple’s sophistication.  Few rules concerning what you can and can’t do, almost any app can be in the Android Market.  The Android Market is more “open” than Apple’s, but you take risks, and the overall app quality is lower than in the Apple App Store.  There have been Android apps that steal your personal data and send it off to the bad guys.  Then there’s the Windows Phone 7 Marketplace.  A much smaller selection – more than 7,000 apps and growing rapidly, tightly monitored and controlled by Microsoft, and obviously missing many of the cleverest apps.  Many people won’t buy Windows Phone 7 because of the limited apps, and many developers won’t devote time and energy to Windows Phone 7 until the sales numbers are higher.  Truly a Chicken and Egg situation.

When I bought my iPad, I visited the App Store daily.  I downloaded over one hundred apps and used many of them daily.  Then it dawned on me: I had become an addict, and I cut back my iPad usage.  Most of us have real lives, and those lives require time, attention, and nurturing.  Some apps are quite useful, so it made sense to continue using the iPad.  My iPad has 115 apps, but I really use 19 apps daily or frequently.  Some of these are built-in apps, so I really use only a few third-party apps on a regular basis.

The bottom line on apps is…you don’t need or use hundreds of apps.  If a platform has the apps you need, and those apps have great features and work well, that’s all you need.  If the platform’s App Store/Market/Marketplace is lacking, keep looking.

This will change for WP7 in the near future.  Some developers report that WP7 is the easiest Smartphone OS to write code for, due to the tools available from Microsoft.  Microsoft reports more than 30,000 developers have paid to join the Windows Phone 7 Developer Program.  This isn’t a freebie — you must pay to join — so these developers are serious.  Many of these developers have released apps on other platforms, and will likely recode and release similar apps for WP7.  There may be an explosion of WP7 apps in the near future!

Microsoft just ended a contest aimed at developing new app ideas.  The contest offered money and X-Box systems as prizes for the best new app ideas.  Microsoft will develop the winning idea into a free app; they’ll likely develop and release other apps inspired by this contest.  Every little bit helps.

The contest is over, but the desire for new apps is never over.  Whatever Smartphone you use, chances are some day you’ll think of a great app idea.  WRITE THE IDEA DOWN.  You may have the chance to submit the idea to someone who will develop it.  I can’t count all the app ideas I’ve done nothing with, then later saw an app like I envisioned.

I mentioned two WP7 competitors, so I should mention another.  WebOS is the two-year old “next generation” operating system from Palm, now a division of Hewlett-Packard.  Palm developed WebOS, then ran out of money to promote and further develop WebOS, before they were acquired by HP.  WebOS is a very capable and advanced operating system.  HP will unveil their WebOS plans for the near future on February 9.  Stay tuned!

 Point Eight: The initial WP7 over-the-air System Update, due any day, will fix some things but not everything.  You may not even like the fix for some things.  However, I must applaud Microsoft for the initial release of Windows Phone 7 working as well as it does.  It’s very stable for a 1.0 release.

Initial Windows Phone 7 sales to carriers aren’t bad.  Not in the same league as Apple or Android, but this is 1.0 trying to gain momentum.  The UI and the included apps seem very well thought out for version 1.0.  Gamers may find this platform attractive, but for most users I’d suggest letting this platform mature a bit.

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About pdacomputing

Small business owner in Pittsburgh, PA. I've used different mobile platforms over the years; currently using 2 very different platforms.
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