Posted by: gregboyko | March 31, 2010

Windows Phone 7 Series

One of the things on my mind in recent weeks is the new Windows Phone OS that Microsoft will be bringing to market later this year. Much has already been said both by mainstream media and by bloggers and other tech enthusiasts, but I have a few thoughts of my own that are worth sharing. We’re now several weeks beyond the first official announcements at Mobile World Congress in February, and a couple weeks beyond the Developer-related announcements at MIX10. With these significant events behind us, now is a good time to reflect on what this will all mean going forward.

I am very excited about this release! There is a very good chance that I’ll buy one of these phones on release day, or very close.

The Name

First, I want to address the name. There has been a lot of criticism about the name Microsoft chose, with most of that criticism being about the length of the name and how difficult it is to say. I must admit that I initially had these feelings as well, however I’ve come around, and I think the name is actually quite good. The key point I want to make here is that the full name (“Windows Phone 7 Series”) will rarely be used. It will be used when initially introducing a topic, and on official communications, but when it comes to conversations in context, this will almost always be shortened to something much more manageable. I’ve heard “Phone 7” a lot in context, as well as “7 Series”. Both of these are short and sound good. Even just dropping “series” helps a lot, so expect to hear a lot of “Windows Phone 7” references as well.

I’ve also heard people try to say the whole name in conversation (e.g. in podcasts), and it is quite awkward, so I don’t recommend it. But used in context, the shortened names are very good.

Finally, the full name makes a lot of sense:

  1. Capitalize on the Windows brand
  2. Identify the product (“Phone”)
  3. Identify a version (“7”) (and probably not coincidentally, capitalize on the goodwill that the Windows 7 desktop OS has earned)
  4. Indicate that the OS will be available on many different devices (“Series”)

The Product

From what we’ve seen about the OS so far, devices with the Phone 7 OS are going to provide some excellent user experiences. The UI is beautiful, simple, and clean, with an emphasis on usability and providing at-a-glance info to the user. Conceptually, it is very different from anything else out there today, doing away with the app-centric view and putting integrated experiences front and center, pulling in data related to what the user is doing from a myriad of sources (including popular web services and social networking sites). This approach is so different that it’s going to be difficult to compare these phones to what’s currently on the market. I argue that this is good, and from a user standpoint, Phone 7 is going to make everything else look antiquated. It’s going to be so much easier for users to get access to the info they want in Phone 7 as compared to other smartphone OS’s that the productivity improvements should be dramatic. HTC has started down this path with the Sense UI, but to have these concepts built into the OS from a philosophical standpoint will make it work in ways that no one can touch.

From a hardware standpoint, we know that the minimum hardware will ensure a great experience. It will only get better as technology improves. But from pure hardware capability, all 7 Series phones will be quite excellent.

Much as the iPhone broke the mold when it was introduced 3 years ago, Phone 7 similarly breaks the mold, providing a revolutionary new view of how usable and useful smartphones can be.

The Development Tools

Development Tools, perhaps more than anything else, will set the Phone 7 platform apart from competitors. I’ve started playing with the tools, and they are excellent. Basing the platform on Silverlight and XNA is brilliant. These are platforms that some developers are already accustomed to, and have a low barrier of entry for those who are just learning the platform. Silverlight is powerful and makes it easy to create compelling, beautifully designed applications with relative ease. XNA (which I’m less familiar with) is the same platform that is used for developing Xbox games. All of this gets wrapped inside the mature, powerful Visual Studio 2010 development environment, which is a delight to use compared to just about any other IDE on the planet. The development tools are excellent, and as a result I expect many new developers to develop for Phone 7.

Additionally, the tools (including a version of Visual Studio) are free. This opens up the platform to the hobbyist developer as well as the pro, and I expect we’ll see a lot of activity with people wanting to create applications for these phones.

The Major Criticisms

The biggest criticisms so far are that Phone 7 won’t have multitasking for third party apps, won’t initially have cut and paste, and won’t allow development of “native” apps. Honestly, who cares? Regarding multitasking, it will be there where it makes sense (e.g. music playing in the background) and notifications combined with the ability to return to your app in the exact state you left it will deal with most other scenarios. Cut and Paste? Well, it’s probably coming. The consensus seems to be that MS just didn’t have enough time to get it right and still meet the deadline of having phones in market for the holiday season. Finally, the need for “native” apps is pretty limited. Silverlight and XNA provide easy-to-program, high performing platforms while at the same time keeping things safe, secure, and reliable. Will lack of “native” apps be a limitation for some developers? Perhaps, but not for very many.

Marketing

It’s really too early to say much here, but I expect Microsoft will market Phone 7 pretty hard. Initial “ads" (if we can call them that) from Mobile World Congress and MIX seem to be off to a good start. With the expectation that mobile phones (combined with cloud services) looking to be the most important computing platform of the next decade, expect the investment to be big.

The Carriers and Ecosystem

The mobile phone industry is complex, and the carriers (like Verizon, AT&T, etc.) play a huge role. What’s going to be nice about Windows Phone 7 Series is that it will be available through multiple carriers, with phones from multiple manufacturers. The consumer will have choice, and that’s a Good Thing. My hope is that all companies involved will be left to focus on what they do best. Microsoft will focus on the software, the carriers will focus on the network, and the manufacturers will focus on the hardware. This all has to come together into a single, unified experience for the end customer, and to date no one has done it right. Apple punted with the iPhone, making it available through only one carrier in the U.S., although that may change a few months from now. Google and Android looks like it will have the same problem with fragmentation that Windows Mobile 6.5 (and earlier) had. This is an area where we’ll just have to wait and see.

The Summary

Overall, the potential for Windows Phone 7 is tremendous. The smartphone market is still rather young compared to the potential size. Microsoft will be a big player in this market, and needs to be. It’s hard to underestimate how important smartphones will be in the coming years, and this is not unrecognized by the company. I’m personally extremely excited about Windows Phone 7. It will be my first smartphone purchase. Yes, I know I’m behind the times here, but from everything I’ve read about existing smartphones, and from playing with them in stores, they just have too many shortcomings. I hope and expect Phone 7 to address most of these, and believe it will be the first smartphone that won’t be painful for me to use.

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