Redmond Diary

By Andrew J. Brust

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Devil's Advocate: Windows Phone 7

Today's briefing by Microsoft on their re-booted mobile platform and strategy was very impressive. The prototype hardware they showed looked great and the UI was attractive, productive and unique; it was not an iPhone knock off. Microsoft seemingly brought to bear what it should have long ago: all the cool technologies and properties it already has. Zune, Office with OneNote, Outlook and Exchange, SharePoint, Xbox, Bing Search and Bing Maps all look to be represented and integrated elegantly, rather than just pre-installed in some gimped, stand-alone fashion.

I'm not going to offer a blow-by-blow on the feature set of Windows Phone 7 Series (WP7)... other sites and blogs have already done so really well, as has Microsoft itself. (Read Visual Studio Magazine's coverage here and here). But what I would like to do is help you guard your optimism, and do so for myself in the process. There's a lot of stuff we have not seen around this platform, and it would be naive to assume these things will just take care of themselves. So let's enumerate them, and let's put pressure on Microsoft to make sure they're addressed by launch.

In many ways, the demo showed us very little. For example, how does email work? While we saw a number of attractive inbox views, I have yet to come across a demo of reading or editing an individual message or thread. Next, how will Office be implemented? Again, the demo showed us the entry point (essentially a big menu listing Office and SharePoint applications and options), and did not drill down on the apps themselves.

The browser looked nice, and offers the now requisite full-page view with zoom. It also offered niceties around typography scaling to aid readability at various zoom/magnification levels. But what I didn't see was the text re-justifying to the current screen width after a zoom, in the fashion that my Droid does. I find this feature indispensible as it lets me zoom in on any standard Web page, then be able to read it without any horizontal scrolling. Could this really be missing from WP7? What about touch itself? Watch the demos, be they on third-party sites or Microsoft-produced, and you'll see a lot of "do over" flicks to get the scrolling to work, and a lot of delays between flick and actual movement on-screen. It seems that, at least on the prototype hardware, the horizontal scrolling suffers intermittent anomalies or failure.

I think it's nice that the standard Zune software will let you sync a WP7 unit with your PC. But in the demo, this was done using a USB cable, rather than over WiFi or Bluetooth. Will the unit ship this way, or will WiFi sync become enabled?

The integration of social networks into the WP7 "Hubs" and home screen looks excellent. But so far as I can tell, the only social networks to be supported are Facebook and Windows Live. What about Twitter? While tweets can be served through a Windows Live feed, any requirement of users to do so, rather than just link to Twitter directly, would be an absurd deterrent to adoption. Twitter has an open API. I hope Microsoft will use it to integrate Twitter, or that they will partner with Seesmic and get it done that way.

And given the platform now has the word "Phone" in the name, it would have been nice to see a demo of phone functionality itself. But what wasn't shown either.

As good as today's presentation was, it's not enough to make WP7 viable... Microsoft needs to keep heads-down on this and make the platform solid and fleshed out. It also needs to keep making integration deals, with services like Twitter and teams internal to Microsoft that are responsible for products like Windows Home Server, Windows Azure, Live Mesh and more.

The reality is that Windows Phone 7 Series has a bigger chance of failing than of succeeding. To overcome those odds, Microsoft needs to play as hard between now and launch as they have thus far. Let's all hope the developer details shared at next month's MIX conference are a great follow-up to what we learned today.

Posted by Andrew J. Brust on 02/17/2010 at 1:15 PM


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