Microsoft Releases Windows Phone Developer Tools 7.1 Beta
Microsoft today at a launch event in New York City released development tools for Windows Phone "Mango," the code-name for the major Windows Phone 7 upgrade due this fall. Andy Lees, president of the Windows Phone Division, keynoted the launch event, which focused primarily on new consumer-oriented features in Mango.
"Developers can start writing their applications today so that they're available when Mango is ready in the fall," Lees said of the released tools. "We started out seven months ago with zero applications in our marketplace and today we have over 18,000... In Mango, we're expecting a significant acceleration with the support we get from our partners."
The Windows Phone Developer Tools (WPDT) 7.1 Beta can be downloaded here.
Windows Phone developer Nick Randolph, principal of Built to Roam and author of Professional Windows Phone 7 Application Development (Wrox, 2010), said there was little new for developers at the event. "Today’s announcement was about the consumer features of Mango," he said.
For instance, support for third-party multitasking, featured at the launch event, had been discussed earlier at the Microsoft MIX 11 developer conference in April. And Microsoft today did not mention any plans for integrating Flash onto the Windows Phone platform. Randolph said that while consumer-oriented features like "Threads" and "Groups" are not critical for developers, they are "essential for consumer adoption."
Said Randolph: "The key to Windows Phone success is platform differentiation and the integration of social messaging, the support for contact groups, linked inboxes and importantly multiple tiles with back tile support."
The Partner Imperative
Microsoft's Lees hoped to hammer home that message in New York City. "For the ecosystem, the stars are aligning, and we think that Mango will be a tipping point of opportunity," he told the audience.
The partnership with Nokia, announced in February by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, a former Microsoft senior executive, was a point of focus.
"Nokia brings scale and innovation to the ecosystem," said Lees, adding that Nokia sold more than 400 million phones, including 100 million smartphones, in the last 12 months. "I'm pleased to be able to say that Windows Phone Mango will be the release that is used for the first Nokia Windows Phones. We already have Nokia phones running Windows Phone Mango in our labs today."
Current Windows Phone 7 handset makers HTC, LG and Samsung will all have new phones for Mango and the platform has drawn commitments for Mango-based phones from Acer, Fujitsu and ZTE.
New devices won't be required for current Windows Phone 7 users to get the new OS.
"Users will get this through a free upgrade, they'll receive a notification on their phone just telling them to simply plug it into their PC and that all of these capabilities will come down and their phone will be upgraded," Lees said.
The Consumer Angle
He spent most of the presentation demonstrating the enhancements to the phone OS that Microsoft executives hope will deepen the differences between Microsoft's tile-based interface and the grid of apps that dominate the Apple iPhone and Google Android experiences.
"Seven months ago, we launched Windows Phone 7 into a crowded smartphone market. And we did so with a new perspective -- phones were just becoming application launchers where consumers were presented with a grid of applications," Lees said. "We know that applications extend what you can do on a phone. In other smartphones, applications are just silos. You're presented with a grid of applications that don't integrate into the total phone experience."
Lees said the tile approach, which will become even smarter in Mango, was the main part of Microsoft's answer to the issue. Another part of the answer coming in Mango was the multitasking capability previewed at the MIX conference in April.
Major new features demonstrated on Tuesday fell into three categories: app improvements, communications improvements and Internet experience improvements.
App Connect will connect apps to search results and make their integration tighter with the Windows Phone Hubs -- pulling data from the apps for other usage scenarios and making each app less of a silo.
Live Tiles will be improved in a way similar to App Connect to pull real-time information from apps without opening them. Each Live Tile in Mango will be more dynamic and hold more information than the Windows Phone 7 versions.
Multitasking, which was discussed at MIX, will allow quick switches between apps and allow them to run in the background.
Threads is a concept to allow users to switch between text, Facebook chats and Windows Live Messenger inside one conversation. Derek Snyder, who ran the demonstrations on Tuesday, showed a Facebook conversation coming into his phone. "It's giving me intelligent information: Andrew is offline, I should go ahead and text."
Groups is a feature for organizing people in a contacts list. A group can occupy a personalized Live Tile, showing status updates from the Start Screen and allowing the user to send a text, e-mail or IM to the whole group.
Face Detection Software speeds up the process of posting tagged photos to the Web through Facebook (among other apps). Pictures will also be people-centric now, automatically appearing with the contact, along with other Facebook and Twitter conversations, phone call histories and other data points, Snyder said.
Linked inbox will allow not only for seeing multiple e-mail accounts in one linked inbox but will also be flexible. In Snyder's demo, a Hotmail and Yahoo! account were grouped under a personal account, but a work e-mail account remained separate.
Hands-free messaging will be built-in for both voice-to-text and text-to-voice. In one smooth demo, Snyder showed how a driver could listen to and respond to an incoming text without taking his hands off the wheel or his eyes off the road.
IE 9 will be the browser in the phone, and Lees vowed there would be no compromises as far as the user experience. Speaking of Internet Explorer 9 and some other Web features, he enthused, "Finally, the phone has become a first-class citizen on the Internet."
Local Scout is a new feature with "hyperlocal" search results and recommendations for nearby restaurants, shopping and activities.
Quick Cards provide a new formatted summary of relevant information, including apps, that come up during a search for a product, movie, event or place.
Bing on Windows Phone will bring more ways to search the Web. In one example, Snyder used the phone camera to photograph the cover of Miley Cyrus' 2009 book, "Miles to Go." Bing searched the image and brought up a Quick Card about the book. An App shortcut automatically handed off the data to Amazon Kindle for Windows Phone, which gave Snyder a prompt to download a sample. "I've gone literally from taking a picture with Bing Vision, handing that off into an application and now I'll be reading that book, all in a matter of seconds," he said.
Lees said the demonstration Tuesday was only able to scratch the surface of the 500+ new features coming in Mango. "We'll be going through and taking these in more depth over the coming week, including new capabilities in music, maps, calendaring, OneNote and social networking," he said.
Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.
Michael Desmond is an editor and writer for 1105 Media's Enterprise Computing Group.