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Windows Phone at MIX10: Cooling down the hype

3/26/2010 6:32:12 PM

I’ve just returned from my trip to MIX10 and a short vacation in California. Lots of info has been posted about MIX and Windows Phone and by much better writers than me, so there’s no need for me to recap everything.

I’ve attended Windows Phone 7 track of sessions at the conference (for the most part) and unfortunately everything that I’ve learned cooled my enthusiasm for WP7 down one step at a time. Here’s what’s wrong for me first as a consumer and then as developer.

Why I’m not as enthusiastic about WP7 as consumer after MIX10?

windows-phone-7-series-4

Sure enough everyone has heard about no copy/paste in R1. That’s sort of lame and I don’t even know what to think about this. I hope they just make up their mind before the release.

Then there’s no real multitasking. I understand Microsoft’s point about this and I’d be ok with it with one small exception – at the very least built-in music player should be perfect. And I’m pessimistic about this being the case. Minimum requirement I need is for player to be able to remember position in last played file (for podcasts and audiobooks) even if the phone was turned off. WMP in WinMo 6.x couldn’t do that. So I had to use 3rd party player for podcasts and audiobooks and it wouldn’t work in the background on WP7. Can anyone confirm or deny that audio player in WP7 can remember file position?

But the most problematic part is virtual keyboard. No one at the WP7 booth could tell me if it would be possible to add additional keyboard layouts (for other languages) in WP7. It’s not possible to do with standard keyboard on WM6 but I can install 3rd party SIPs. And I’m using PocketCM keyboard which let’s me create layouts for as many languages as I need. It was confirmed during one of the sessions that no 3rd party SIPs will be allowed on WP7. The guys at WP7 booth agreed that my scenario for needing more than one keyboard layout makes total sense but they had no idea if there’s a way to do that (so I guess there’s no). They took my business card and promised to get back to me with an answer but I have yet to hear from them and I’m not holding my breath. We agreed that the technology is obviously there and there are no technical limitations preventing from adding this feature but they are in a hurry and I guess this has a low priority in USA. <sarcasm>Having 2 pages on the keyboard completely dedicated to smileys obviously has a higher priority.</sarcasm> It looks good in the demos.

One more issue is marketplace-only installation of apps. Making a switch for advanced users (even something in the registry) allowing them to install 3rd party apps without marketplace would make lots of geeks happier while still controlling stability of consumer phones. And this would open the platform for corporate use too. Geeks are going to jail-break the phone anyway so why not make it legal and sort of controlled?

I’ve talked to Ueli Sonderegger (from Brazil) about other things and then he mentioned he was told that MS is going to release WP7 at the same time in Brazil as in US but in English. Now this is totally cool with me but for large non-English speaking countries this is like a blow in the face. I guess his reaction was as simple as “WTF!?” even though he didn’t say so.

I’m left with a feeling that even though Microsoft managed to create a unique and cool experience which is not just not-an-iPhone but actually looks and feels great, they’ve copied Apple’s bad practices on the business side almost 1:1. And that sucks!

I guess at this point my thinking is that I’m going to wait for WP7 vNext as a consumer. Or at least wait for it to be in the wild for some time and see how things turn out (you know XDA guys and stuff :). I was curious how HTC is going to sell HD2s after WP7 announcement but after MIX10 I think I know the answer – HD2 with WM6.5 and HTC Sense would be a superior phone at least for tech savvy users for some time after WP7 comes out.

What about the developer story?

Windows-Phone-7-series-Marketplace-hub-1

When they confirmed Silverlight and XNA as developer platforms for Windows Phone a week before MIX I was very enthusiastic. If they say that before MIX they must have some bombs up their sleeves for the MIX, right? Wrong!

Yes, the tools are free and great but that was even more expected than Silverlight being a first class citizen. Everything else I’ve learned made me like WP7 less not more.

The tragic part is that we in Lithuania (along with Latvia, Estonia and a hundred other countries) are not allowed to build WP7 apps at all. Yes, you read that right. Since users can only install apps through the marketplace and the list of countries allowed to sign-up as developers in marketplace is very short (30 countries as far as I remember), we can only develop WP7 apps as a programming exercise and on emulator only. Cause even if we get our hands on a real device in the future you can only unlock it for development by signing up as a developer and we can’t do that. I’ve presented this issue in front of John Bruno & Todd Biggs (my question and public part of the answer is around 55:35 mark) and this is what’s great about actually being at MIX. What I’ve been told off the air is that Lithuania is, as far as Todd remembers, in a bucket of next 20 countries they plan to cover around summer and they have them divided in easy-to-do and hard-to-do buckets and again as far as Todd remembers Lithuania is in the easy-to-do bucket but he wasn’t sure and there are technical, juridical and other issues. What I think is really the issue is the size of our country. We are in EU and our laws are aligned with EU. Most of our banks are owned by Scandinavian banks. We can get money from PayPal and at the very least Google can send us checks for AdSense cause they are lazy to implement a better way, etc. So again I think the issue is with prioritization by market importance and not anything else. But let’s hope this changes really soon and I’d like to think that me bringing my interest in development up will have something to do to accelerate our acceptance into marketplace.

Another issue is not-really-real Silverlight. Scott Guthrie said “It’s not Silverlight Lite. It’s not Siverlight Mobile. It’s Silverlight.” (or something very close to that). As it turned out it’s Silverlight 3 and not even completely the same Silverlight 3 as on the web/desktop. Silverlight 4 will be released in April and by the time WP7 is released judging by current Silverlight release pace there will be Silverlight 5 Beta. So you can call it real Silverlight 3 but actually it is Silverlight Mobile. There’s nothing wrong with that since it’s for developing phone apps and not for web apps (IE on WP7 wont support Silverlight at launch). It’s just not what’s being advertised.

Enough with ranting/whining!

In the end I’d like to state that I still like WP7 in general and I really wish and hope it succeeds but I guess by holiday season 2010 it will be something like iPhone 1.0 – cool but not usable yet. Let’s hope I’m wrong here or I hope my old HTC Touch can sustain another year or even two before WP7 becomes really appealing to me.

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