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Premature ramblings about WP7

So, yesterday was Microsoft's press conference about Windows Phone 7 Series. I'm sure we all saw it and many have written up their responses to it. I thought to let it sink it in for a day before writing about it, and that day has now passed. There are a lot of unanswered questions and concerns, some of which I am going to elaborate on below.

Well, it surely is a new and fresh design, no doubt about that. I'm not so sure it is very usable though. First off, it seems like quite a bit of screen real-estate was wasted. Also, I personally thought in the demo that it took a lot of clicks and swipes to get at anything useful. Sure it's a new way to do things - but can it beat a start menu in efficiency?

Also, everything looked rather blue. I sincerely hope these are placeholders for subtle iconry or something similar. It wouldn't hurt to have some rounded corners either, this is phone 2.0, after all!

Furthermore, I believe the man in the video said he was also responsible for the design of a lot of other Microsoft products including Windows XP. Now I'm not sure if he's the one, but if this is the same guy who thought a green start button on a blue taskbar - this alone the reason for many to put XP in classic mode - was a good idea, that might explain a lot. Come on, green on blue?

I do love the idea about the device being information-centric rather than function-centric, though. That does sound like a logical way to do things, however it remains to be seen how well it will work in real life.

A phone is not a PC
If you've watched the entire press conference you've heard that line beyond too often. The thing is, apparently a phone is not a phone, either. Where did the dial button go? Aside from all the other functionality, a phone should be a phone.

Usually when I need my phone quickly it is to call someone. Seeing the video, we need to go to the home screen, then press phone at the top, then dial a number. Though possibly not the most used, the most important function of the device no longer has a dedicated button. Personally I find that a very odd decision.

The social aspect
Microsoft seems to have put a lot of emphasis on the social. Without a doubt, that integration is great. However, across various sites I see one comment about that again and again: "I don't actually use any of that social stuff".

After some gray matter exercise, I have also come to the conclusion that I simply do not know anyone in real life who actively uses any of these social services. Sure, some of them have facebook (mostly hyves here) accounts, but most of those that do only go there to accept friend invitations and that's it. As for twitter, aside from myself I simply don't know anyone in real life who uses that.

That begs the question how useful this is. For those of us who are "anti-social" netwise, what does WP7 bring us? Or will it ultimate convert all of us, and none of us will ever get any actual work done anymore?

And what about other social sites that are not so well known in the US but used a lot in the country you are from? Will functionality for these be easily added?

Personally I currently only have a "ChainfireXDA" twitter account and a personal facebook. I could however imagine that if I have such a social phone, I could also want a personal twitter account to keep things seperated a bit. My friends really don't need to know a lot of the tech stuff that is interesting for followers of ChainfireXDA on twitter. Can the device handle multiple accounts?

Of course, that is assuming that I would ever use twitter personally, which I wouldn't. (Currently I only have it because it's the only quick way to get into contact with MS WM folks - not because it's actually fun or useful). But it's an interesting question nonetheless, I think.

One thing to note, is a lot of people (including myself at times) have not believed in the leaked specs and information ("rumors"). However in my opinion it seems like all the things they talked about actually matched the rumors on those points. Which seems to make it more likely that the points on the rumor lists that were not discussed may also be correct. Which brings me to my next points.

It seems clear that WP7 is largely a new OS. It is very unfortunate that Microsoft does not want to release any technical details until MIX'10. I'm sure there are many developers out there with a lot of questions. Now I understand they want to release it all at MIX, however there is no way I can agree with that.

I would dare to say that those actually going to MIX only represent a very small subset of WM developers, and most of us would like to get cracking now. With the first device rumored to be out in September, that only leaves six months for developers to get to know the new toolsets (and likely new technologies they haven't used before), port existing apps (if possible), test them, submit them to marketplace, and the mandatory three month wait for Microsoft to review/accept/reject the application. I don't know about other developers, but I really don't have the option to drop everything I'm doing and focus solely on this.

Now, @windowsphone actually did twitter they will not start with an empty app store, so I expect there to be some form of backwards compatibility usable for a subset of the currently available applications.

However, until we have more information, developing anything at all at the moment seems to be a waste of time. It is looking likely that all those developers who have invested in WM the past year or so are pretty much completely screwed over.

Let's hope there will still be native code, and not just .NET. Not just because I favor native over .NET anyday, but also because of cross-device compatibility. If you exclude the UI and OS-specific calls, and you are really careful, you can create the core logic for phone-independant types of applications in C++ and use them across Windows Mobile, Symbian, iPhone and Android. Let's not lose that!

Also from the rumors so far it seems that 3rd party apps will be a lot more sandboxed than previously. In my opinion this is contrary to the innovation they are looking for from developers. Some great things started at XDA and required full access (Wi-Fi tethering is only one example that started on WM/XDA and since has taken over the world).

Of course, this is all completely premature, as we don't have this information, but consider that at this moment it seems like coding for WP7 will have to be done in some form of .NET and/or Silverlight.

The big WM software houses pretty much exclusively code native, not managed. Which means they would have to rebuild everything completely from scratch. If I were for example SPB I would seriously be scratching my head right now about the future.

Let's take a look at the top-7 sellers at PocketGear:

1) SBSH iLauncher
2) SKTools
3) SPB Mobile Shell
4) Navigon MobileNavigator
5) Robo
6) WMWifiRouter
7) AE Button Plus

At this moment it looks like at least five of these (marked in bold) will not be easily ported and/or will require a complete re-write - if their respective functionalities are even possible in WP7.

Now imagine that several of the better known developers have stood with WM, have believed in it, have invested a lot in it, the last 1-2 years even while marketshare was dropping and WM was getting behind on other OS's (in some ways - in a lot of ways WM is still the best OS there is!).

Already Microsoft has made a royal mess (and pain) of the Marketplace for 6.x (if you are a Marketplace listed developer you probably know what I'm talking about) losing a lot of people a lot of investment, and now it might be that these developers must completely start over. Due to the crisis it might also be a lot of these houses have had to use up their buffers already.

For the moment it seems that if you are one of the developers who stood by WM instead of jumping to iPhone or Android, Microsoft is repaying you by leaving you hanging. Well done. The biggest submarket on WM (aside from perhaps games) looking at sales, is surely tools and utilities, and it are these developers that will be hit hardest.

I would say (as things currently look) we might lose a few of the well known developers in the WM world when WP7 becomes the standard.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: WP7 can run WM6 apps according to and Microsoft Netherlands - click here for the article

Enterprise and hobbyists
One thing on the rumor list is also disturbing - Marketplace being the only way to distribute / install applications. I would certainly hope this is not true, as many applications simply do not belong on the Marketplace (internal business type apps and such) and it would make development and testing a lot harder. Not to mention the hobbyists like most people on XDA wouldn't be able to hack and patch away 'as usual'.

This has always been one of WM's greatest strengths and it would be a real shame to lose this.

It has been stated multitasking will be different (and "complicated"). What it seems to be coming down to is that apps will not be running in the background but paused by default, but there were other methods like push notifications and such to make things happen.

Now, as far as I understand it has not actually been stated you cannot run something in the background. Perhaps there is an API call to keep an application from "background pausing". However what I would personally think is more likely is that this will not be possible, but something like a service currently is will be possible.

When you get down to it, most (though not all) current applications that need to keep running in the background can be implemented in "service + frontend" style. If this is still possible (technically it probably will, but the 3rd party sandboxing may prevent it), a lot of background style things may still be workable.

Again all of this is premature, and we will know more after MIX. Though WP7 seems promising, there are some big questions and drawbacks to the whole thing. The above are just collected thoughts and caveats I see right now.

Keep in mind that with stuff like this, I am one of those people who primarily looks at the downsides of things, and less to the upsides. I'm sure there's a lot of truely great stuff in WP7, none of which is mentioned above :)

Furthermore, it may seem like I am complaing that WP7 is not really a follow-up on WM6.5 but something completely different. I do realise that a big change is what is needed for WM, and I'm certainly not saying I would have done everything differently.