Why You’ll Want a Windows Phone

By | June 17, 2010

Windows Phone 7This week I’ve been able to spend some (supervised) time with actual prototype Windows Phone 7 devices. I can say with utter confidence that I will be using one of these phones as my regular device before the end of this year.

You all know I don’t say something like that lightly.

I’ve been using an iPhone for the last couple of years, because nothing else has come close to the usability and consistency of that device. Yes, I’ve played with a Nexus One, which was incredibly fast. Yes, the Android platform is noble by its very nature, but I don’t need a granola bar or some home-crocheted organic yogurt. I want something gorgeous and easy to use.

Don’t call me a fanboy. You don’t know the depths of near-autistic agony I go through when touching these devices. A font out of place, or a single glitch in a scroll is enough that I have to restrain myself from crushing it with my bare hands. Yes, I did see a couple of very minor glitches in these prototype devices, but the improvement since the early videos is stunning. The important stuff like touch responsiveness and scroll speed is bang-on.

So what else did I see in these devices that makes me so confident in Windows Phone’s impending superiority?

Convergence

Windows Phone nails convergence. Facebook, Twitter, Windows Live, Gmail, Outlook. Just bung your account details into the device, and watch in awe as everything is conglobulated into a seamless experience.

Design

There’s one line from the Metro design language presentation that really stuck with me: “Fierce Reduction of Unnecessary Elements“. And they don’t just pay lip services to this: if you wait for a few moments, the Windows Phone user interface does away with the battery and signal strength icons.

Themes – those warty appendages that are to blame for atrocities like Android phones running woefully out of date OS versions – are done away with. Want to customise your Windows Phone? Sure, you can select from a number of different highlight colours:

Windows Phone 7 Highlight Colours

I kid (a bit). You can also completely customise the layout of the home screen, and you can choose a white-on-black design.

I’m not a complete font-nerd, but I do know what I like. The clarity and consistency of the WP7 design is just hands-down gorgeous. Did you ever think you’d see an article referencing Adrian Frutiger and a Microsoft user interface in the same context? Cats and dogs.

Flash

Windows Phone 7 Weather MockupNo, not Adobe Flash, I mean glitz, or what the kids call bling. Even with iOS4, the iPhone OS is starting to look a little dated. Put a brand new WP7 phone beside an iPhone (and yes, the 480×800 screen will just hold its own against the mad-dense iPhone 4G screen), and I can guarantee you’ll get more “oohs” and “aahs” over the new Windows Phone UI.

Dev

OK so this is one aspect I am utterly biased on. Learning to code for iPhone, while ultimately satisfying, was not a pleasurable experience. On the other hand, with the way we developers seek purity of purpose and clarity of code, the pure joy that is XAML and MVVM can be likened to a digital colonic. Or maybe that’s just the sad way I think when I can use 15 years of coding experience on a beautiful device.

There is an inherent risk here: the sheer number of semi-capable .NET developers that now have access to code for this device. If you though fart apps on the iPhone were bad, you can understand why Microsoft limits developers to only five free free (yes, free free) applications in the marketplace.

Apps

Update: I can’t believe I didn’t mention this in the original post!

The App marketplace is another shining example of the improvement in this platform:

  • Full try/buy integration in the marketplace. None of this stupid “Lite Version” crap that goes on in the iTunes App Store. Developers have access to an “isTrial()” API, which can be time limited, and is checked against the marketplace when online and when syncing.
  • Beta distribution through the marketplace. Again, no need to go and ask your testers for their device IDs. Just get their Live email address and send them a link.
  • And the marketplace app itself is as gorgeous as the rest of the UI.

So?

The only unknown is hardware. Microsoft have laid down some stringent rules, but we haven’t seen any physical manifestations. I’m hoping we’ll see some slick designs, along the lines of the HTC HD2 or other super-slim devices.

I want one. Do you?

44 thoughts on “Why You’ll Want a Windows Phone

  1. steve

    this screen holds its own against a screen you havent seen?

    *mouth fart*

    Reply
    1. Clifton Griffin

      I was thinking this too.

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that Windows Phone 7 is looking promising to people who have been hands on. I can also appreciate the Windows development ecosystem being much easier to navigate.

      I’m currently trying to learn iPhone development having spent the last 8 years almost exclusively in .NET. It’s a difficult transition to say the least.

      But, this being said, I have no confidence in Microsoft’s phone product at this point. After owning two WM devices, I switched to the the iPhone. I pre-ordered the iPhone 4 on Tuesday. Apple has shown a commitment to making their software and hardware the best in class. Incremental improvements that continue to impress and impact the direction of the industry.

      It’s comforting to know that even after my phone is a year old, Apple will continue to release iOS updates that I can benefit from. It sucks being left behind or being relegated to XDA builds because Sprint doesn’t want to release an OS update for your phone.

      Apple’s approach garners my trust. So, I’m sticking with their platform until I’m proven wrong.

      Reply
      1. Ben Post author

        I completely understand your point of view.

        It’s horrible to see Android going down the very same path that Windows Mobile took: Sony Ericsson X10 users are howling with anger because they’re still stuck with Android 1.6 due to the crapware that Sony has layered into the OS.

        Only time will tell, but Windows Phone’s stringent hardware specifications and commitment to locking out carrier customisations (other than preloaded apps) are designed to overcome this upgrade paralysis. It’s a bold move and I’m going to throw my cards in with them.

        Rest assured, if they make a fool of me twice, you’ll read it here first :)

        Reply
      2. Ian Randall

        That being said, my iPhone (which is like a 4th child to me, I love it that much) is ~1yr old, I got it a few weeks before 3GS came out, and it’s a little disappointing that I won’t get (all) the benefits of OS4 without a hardware upgrade… So will I spend another $1000 or so on an iPhone4? I think I’ll wait to see what the WP7 looks like before making that kind of commitment…

        Reply
      3. Gordonbe

        Clifton, not to worry about updates. now that there is a stringent hardware specification that must be met Microsoft now owns the OS update process you will get updates directly from microsoft that update all wo7 devices. this means that it doesn’t matter where you get your device or even if you bought it a year ago you will still be able to apply the update to your device.

        Reply
    2. Anton Polimenov

      Sorry to hear that you have already pre-ordered iPhone 4, since it’s known that it’s a total fail (see http://www.silverlightshow.net/news/WP7-Windows-Phone-7-will-smash-the-new-iPhone-4.aspx)

      About the OS updates – May be you are right at some point about Windows Mobile OS Updates. But don’t think that Microsoft haven’t realize it too. That’s why they are changing their strategy about OS Updates. For more info read http://www.silverlightshow.net/items/WP7-What-is-Windows-Phone-7.aspx – Internet Explorer for Windows Phone 7 and Software and OS Updates paragraphs.

      Did you know that when you publish your application at iPhone’s AppStore or whatever it is called, it became Apple’s property ? Sorry but I don’t want my application to be Apple or Microsoft or anyone else’s property!

      Reply
  2. parsley

    I’m a little annoyed there’s no support for legacy apps, or even C++ Dlls, and I’m definitely going to miss some of the lower level functionality accessible in Windows Mobile, but I can see myself knocking out a few lines of code for this. As for purchasing? Well, I don’t have an iPhone like you fanboys so as long as it’s got a keyboard like my Sony Xperia X1and I can hack it to connect to the company Wifi then I’m in.

    Reply
    1. John O'Donnell

      Understand your concerns but in order to make a device this good the product team had to make some hard decisions. With a development system built on Silverlight, XNA, C#.NET and Expression Blend I hope long term developers will take a look and think wow what a cool experience.

      Reply
      1. Clifton Griffin

        Yeah, and to their credit, the direction they are heading with phones mirrors their decisions for the XBOX and Windows development. You just feel the squeeze more on a phone that can’t reasonably cater to every historical development dependency as well as a desktop operating system can.

        We’ve all been saying that they needed to completely rewrite their mobile operating system. I’m glad they finally did.

        To be honest, I’m also glad they left out legacy support all together. There are not very many good looking, highly useful Windows Mobile apps out there right now. Giving developers a way to run their apps without redesigning them for the new OS would have been a mistake, imho.

        Reply
      2. John O'Donnell

        Back in the old days of Windows CE 1.0 we used embedded visual basic and embedded C++. Back then I was amazed that i could run VB code on a device like the Windows CE 1.0. Back then we did not have either .NET or a database but that was quickly fixed by CEFusion from http://www.odysseysoftware.com/

        Having seen how we started and where we are going I am more than a little bit excited in what the future holds for us in mobility

        Reply
  3. Bob gregor

    I was a ms phone early adopter all the way back to it’s pocket pc 2003 roots. I grew tired of microsofts consistent ability to put a new coat of paint on the same old foundation. That was evidenced by the completely useless core user experience without a dorky stylus. I kept holding on through windows mobile 6.1, but seriously microsoft, 3 years and no major upgrades? I agree with mac fanboy above: I grew tired of hacking other phones firmwares to my phone because my wireless carrier or phone handset mfg didn’t want to update a 6 month old phone.

    I bit the bullet march of 2010 and bought a iPhone 3GS after yet another windows mobile disappointment. I preordered a iPhone 4 for the 24th. If windows phone 7 does awe me on release, I’ll consider it after a year; I’d like to see what M$ release/update strategy is.

    Written on my iPhone in tweetdeck.

    Reply
    1. Clifton Griffin

      Yikes. I just became “mac fanboy above”. :)

      To me it’s about trust and platform. Microsoft has built a platform I trust with the XBOX 360, so I invested in it.

      I’m not going to develop for or use a platform that could just be another attempt in a long series of half hearted experiments.

      Reply
      1. Bob Gregor

        Lol…I have quickly found myself becoming a “skeptical” mac fanboy myself. Less than 1 year ago I hated all things apple, then decided to try the iTunes UX because I had grown tired of Windows media player, again because of a lack of updates and an outdated UX. iTunes passed, so I got an iPod last christmas, and an iPhone in march.

        I gave you the fanboy status because you had the diligence to pre-order in time, before they sold out. With all the press about order problems and frustrated users, you have to be somewhat savvy (and/or lucky) to have gotten a pre-order.

        I am a skeptical fanboy, because I do not see apple as a “do no evil” corporation. I think they are a typical, profit driven, corporation. That means that when user rights, privacy and innovation come in the way of profit, the corporation has to make a decision whether to honor the stockholders or the customers; stockholders usually win, due in part to the fact that a lot of apple employees are also stockholders. I think Apple is completely anti-competitive in the app-store market, and approval process. There is no appeals process, and it is a closed system. If apple doesn’t want you in the app store, they don’t approve you, or amend the developer terms to exclude you. That is totally not the open, peace loving hippie goodness company that Steve Jobs started the company as; in fact, it sounds much more like his competition of the day: Big Blue.

        The test of time will certainly tell if Apple’s attempts to control its platform have hindered, or added to it’s success. I think that it has helped in insuring some consistent usability guidelines, although there are still godawful apps in the app store, with terrible UX and little to no value.

        Reply
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  5. Clifton Griffin

    @Bob

    Yeah, I don’t know how I ended up here, but I don’t have many arguments left to make on the “not a fan boy” side. I think iPhones are intended to be the gateway drug for the rest of their products.

    I’m skeptical too of their app store process and many of their decisions. But, most of those decisions don’t harm my satisfaction with the product. I’d rather have a phone that I actually enjoy using with somewhat corporatist rules than a phone I can do whatever I want to but don’t like as much.

    (And, for the record, the same logic applies to why I am on AT&T…what a truly awful cell service provider!)

    Reply
  6. Bill Bennett

    Interesting.

    I’ve always wondered what Microsoft could achieve if the company’s top engineering brass ever embraced the idea of ‘radical simplicity’.

    This could just be the answer. And with luck, it could be the phone I’ve been waiting for.

    Any hints on when the finished product will surface?

    Reply
    1. parsley

      New development kit due this summer (US time), and phones before the end of the year. NZ is actually in the first group of countries to receive phones (another plus for Microsoft) so the MS guys are looking for good NZ apps to feature in the Marketplace.

      Reply
    2. John O'Donnell

      It was the reason I bought a ZuneHD as soon as they launched. The interface is just great. Using typography presents a clean interface. of course also having XNA means many developers who launch a Windows Phone 7 game could also release a version of it on Xbox.

      We already have one demo where you can start playing a game on xbox then continue on a phone perhaps as you sit on the train to work.

      Either way the next 12 months are going to be very interesting with mobile :-)

      Reply
  7. John O'Donnell

    Wanted to ask as this thread is fun, as you have all seen Windows Phone 7 what are you thughts around these panarama style apps?

    Reply
    1. Ben Post author

      I’m in two minds about it. The built-in panoramic apps are great, and make a lot of sense. I’m less confident that third-party developers will use them properly.

      Reply
      1. Anton Polimenov

        I hope that Microsoft will make an control or at least template for Visual Studio for panoramic view to solve your considerations. In the UI Design and Interaction Guide for Windows Phone 7 Series file (downloaded from http://developer.windowsphone.com/) Microsoft sayed: “Currently, there is not a panoramic application template or control provided as part of the standard
        application platform. However, by using Silverlight developers can create similar application experiences”. That brings me the idea that Microsoft will release control or template :)

        Reply
      2. Ben Post author

        Yeah they showed their new Pivot control at TechEd, but not a Panorama. Like I say, I personally think people should leave Panorama to the built-in apps, unless they have a really compelling reason to do otherwise.

        Reply
    2. Anton Polimenov

      Sorry, but I can’t agree with you. I think that the application should have same styling. That includes Panoramic View too. Reading UI Design and Interaction Guide for Windows Phone 7 Series, you will see that this is Microsoft’s idea too. They want third-party application to implement panoramic view.

      Reply
  8. Chainsaw

    Well I don’t follow most of the comments here (whoosh, going over my head), but, I’m not sure I want all my stuff “conglobulated”. Is that a good thing? ;)

    Reply
  9. rob-nz

    Well, we’ll see.

    However what MS needs to remember is that on a samrtphone paltform, it’s all about the apps.

    Look at the Palm Pre – nice piece of hardware beautifully integrated into a well built and funtional OS. But hardly any apps. Crappy app store, with very little uptake by devs.

    MS needs to make it easy to get and use apps, as well as easy to publish. The old WinMo marketplace was hopelessly fragmented between a myriad of different sites, payment mechanisms and distribution mechanisms.

    Not convinced that arbitrary limits on free apps per developer are the way to go either.

    On iPhone and Android, free limited featuree or ad-supported demos often lead to sales of the ‘Pro’ versions. This is a well tested shareware retail model.

    I also hope that Win P 7 has ditched the horrible (from a security guy perspective) practice of alowing apps to run from unpermissioned FAT32 external storage!!! (Code signing or not, it’s just wrong!!)

    Reply
    1. Ben Post author

      I can’t believe I didn’t mention that. Marketplace is another shining example of the improvement in this platform:

      • Full try/buy integration in the marketplace. None of this stupid “Lite Version” crap that goes on in the iTunes App Store. Developers have access to an “isTrial()” API, which can be time limited, and is checked against the marketplace when online and when syncing.
      • Beta distribution through the marketplace. Again, no need to go and ask your testers for their device IDs. Just get their Live email address and send them a link.
      • And the marketplace app itself is as gorgeous as the rest of the UI.
      Reply
  10. Ben Lilley

    I’m stoked to see Microsoft doing something promising in this area, and I’m also impressed they basically started from scratch. However I have serious doubts about Microsoft’s ability to build an all round solid experience. They haven’t pulled this off anywhere else, the closest they’ve come is the Xbox 360 but the hardware still sucks.

    On top of that I don’t see HTC, Motorola or anyone else building hardware that is as polished as Apple’s. In the end that’s why I have an iPhone; it is the whole package, software and hardware are completely polished and no matter what you say about the ‘walled garden’ — as a consumer it means I’ve got the most reliable and pleasant piece of tech I’ve ever had.

    With all that said though I’m still looking forward to trying WM7 later this year.

    Reply
    1. Anton Polimenov

      I think that you are not familiar with Microsoft’s politics. They don’t want to make everything them self. They prefer to hire some company to help them, not because they can’t make it, but because of co-partnership. If you manufacture Windows Phone 7 device, you are interested in success of your product. So not only Microsoft are carrying for forcing the product, but their partners too.

      There is some freakin’ economic logic. So there is logic in this ;)

      Reply
      1. Ben Lilley

        Oh I completely understand that. The point I was making is that because they don’t control everything I don’t think the whole package will ever be as polished as the iPhone experience.

        We’ve seen this with even the latest HTC/Moto Android handsets and I’ll be (pleasantly) surprised if Microsoft can pull this off.

        Reply
  11. rob-nz

    I can’t believe I didn’t mention that. Marketplace is another shining example of the improvement in this platform:

    ?Full try/buy integration in the marketplace. None of this stupid “Lite Version” crap that goes on in the iTunes App Store. Developers have access to an “isTrial()” API, which can be time limited, and is checked against the marketplace when online and when syncing.
    ?Beta distribution through the marketplace. Again, no need to go and ask your testers for their device IDs. Just get their Live email address and send them a link.

    Will developers outside the US be able to sell stuff straight away?

    I know initially the Appstore was limited, and Android Market is still limited to only about a dozen countries from which devs can publish paid apps (mostly US, UK, western europe and Japan.)

    I gather it’s to do with the way the publishers get remunerated and local tax laws.

    Of course Android devs from just about anywhere can publish free apps.

    Or I guess you can register from a US address? (But probably be subject to US taxes)

    Reply
    1. Ben Post author

      Will developers outside the US be able to sell stuff straight away?

      Yes! New Zealand is one of seven launch territories for WP7 (places you can buy phones AND apps). Then there are something like 30 countries where developers will get paid (basically North America, Western Europe, Australasia, India, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong). Slightly strange that you can make money off apps in a place that you can’t buy apps, but kiwis don’t need to worry about that.

      Of course there’s the whole localisation thing (an app in the French app store must at the very least have a French description, and preferably full i8n), plus market targetting (I can choose to only sell an app in New Zealand).

      Reply
  12. Murani

    Excellent article. MS’s change in policy on controlling much more of the process starting with WP7 is a welcomed one. WM on crapware is what doomed the platform more than anything. Sure there will be devices that launch in the fall that will be almost outdated when they release but others like HTC and Samsung are preparing to bring absolutely fantastic flagship worthy devices to the market. Dell’s Lightning is smply beautiful by looking at the leaked render shots i’ve seen.

    I like the iPhone because it just works. MS absolutely needed their phone to “just work” and took the proper means to make sure of this. The latest builds being previewed right now are as snappy as i’ve ever seen an OS and MS is requiring apps to fully load and be interacting with customer within 19 seconds and each screen has less than a second to transition or it will get rejected by MS. They are serious about having a snappy, smooth and stable user experience.

    Reply
  13. cam

    hey guys i was curious to see what you think of the upcoming n8 from nokia? or are there no symbian fans here?

    Reply
  14. JP

    Nice write-up, thank you … keep ‘em coming. All I can say about the phone is that I wish I had one!

    Reply
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  16. Nik

    Fantastic – I hadn’t heard much about WP7 on NZ shores, very excited to hear we’re a launch territory. I have hope that this will shake up the smartphone market here.

    Reply
  17. Deathwish238

    You may like the WP7 ui and fonts, but to me it screams Zune everywhere and that’s not something I want to stare at everyday. Android’s legacy versions are no big deal, phones get updated soon enough and older versions are still great. I use 2.2 but using a 1.6 or 2.0 device doesn’t bother me a bit. It’s the core of Android that makes it great.

    It’s also far better than Apple withholding features to get people to upgrade. The iPhone 3G can’t handle a wallpaper? That’s bs.

    I hope WP7 is decent, WinMo was my entrance to the smartphone world and WP7 looks promising even if it is too Zuneish. However, I don’t see one feature that WP7 has over Android.

    Wait till later this year when WP7 and Android 3.0 Gingerbread are released. Gingerbread will be a major UI overhaul that will make Android even more gorgeous and refined.

    In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy my Flash support, plethora of Widgets, limitless customization and support Open Source by using my Nexus One.

    Reply
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