Windows Phone (again)

In theory I was supposed to be taking a day off on Monday to look after my children on half term. (Note for parents, making hot cross buns at home is a fantastic way to occupy the kids.). A spot of car trouble killed off our trip to go swimming so I ended up spending a fair chunk of the day following the announcement of Windows Phone 7 series and the reactions to it.

Blogging about my experience with my new 6.5 phone so close the launch of Window Phone 7 Series was setting up a hostage to fortune. I had 3 factors in mind when I decided to get it.

(1) Windows Phone 7 Series (as we now know it) was in the works.

(2) It always takes time from the announcement of a new release of Windows CE / Windows Mobile / Windows Phone to get new devices to market.

(3) My old phone was falling apart, and needed to be replaced.

Past experience tells me to allow of six months from release of software to device makes, to device availability, with potentially another couple of months before they are available as my corporate phone.We’re setting an expectation of “Holiday season” for general availability of the Windows Phones with the  7 Series software on them.  One article I read said the prototypes on show in Barcelona this week are made by Asus, but Dell, Garmin, HP, HTC, LG, Samsung, Sony Ericsson and Toshiba are all listed as launch partners. Qualcomm are listed as the partner we are working with on the silicon. Orange supply phones to Microsoft UK and were given special prominence as a launch carrier, with Vodafone, T-mobile and Telefonica (who own o2) also named.

If “holiday season” is right it’s quite possible that ordinary phone users inside Microsoft won’t get the new phones until January next year: I couldn’t wait that long. Whether it is cameras, PCs or phones – you know that whatever you get today, there will be something better (and probably cheaper) in a year’s time.  This looks like being true here in spades, I have the latest version of Pocket PC phone edition which has changed in small increments since 2001, and the next generation will be a big change – but there was no sensible alternative.  The upside of having a 6.5 phone for roughly a year before 7 is available set against the downside of having it for roughly a year after compromise I’m happy with.

One thing that amused me about what came out in the launch is that every Windows Phone 7 series will be a Zune. Having heard my colleagues in Redmond saying over and over “Microsoft is not going to manufacture a Zune phone”  the answer turns out to be that lots of people are going to Manufacture Zune phones.   How long before rumours start that Asus, Dell and the rest will be able to make non-phone devices based on this software (i.e. Zunes) ? [No, I have not heard any such thing, and I’m not trying to start the rumour] Beyond that – there is hardly anything I’ve seen internally which isn’t viewable externally. This is perhaps the best demo. (Found among other places on the Windows Blog)

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There’s more at  I like what I have seen, no two ways about it. I didn’t see anything much in the way of negative commentary – though a few people were reserving their final judgement until questions like “How will the Marketplace work ?”, “What exactly is the Multi-tasking model ?”,  “How much app rewriting is needed ?”  There’s an intriguing point on the last two in a tweet by Charlie Kindle, but the real answers will have to wait for Mix.

Gizmodo seemed blown away saying  “Windows Phone 7 is almost everything anyone could've dreamed of in a phone, let alone a Microsoft phone. It changes everything”   - although I found  their comparison of philosophies with the iPhone more interesting. Engadget were similarly enthused starting “Forget everything you know about Windows Mobile. Seriously, throw the whole OS concept in a garbage bin or incinerator or something” and ending “for the first time in a long time, we're excited about Microsoft in the mobile space.” Techland were just as excited “it's a brand new decade, and Microsoft is about to leapfrog Apple and every other player in the mobile space with Windows Phone 7”

Sharon picked up that beyond the headline grabbing UI, Zune and Xbox live hook-ups, this is a useful business platform not just with Exchange ActiveSync for mail and mobile office apps but Sharepoint integration.

Tim Anderson had – let’s call it “an interesting take” - on Microsoft’s partner model and how it plays in the phone world,  translating one set of Steve Ballmer’s words as “we are being hammered by OEMs who wreck our product with poor quality hardware and add-on software”. Ouch: it is a charge that some – including Tim have levelled at PC suppliers; once we might have had the ability to say what software should or shouldn’t be on a machine, but courts decided we abused that ability and took it away. Having a smaller market share in phones we mean we can be much more prescriptive about the hardware and what the OEMs can change in the software. Some Microsoft cloud services (notably Bing search, but also Xbox live and Zune) can’t easily be removed without changing the character of the phone, so those seem to be fixed points: the words that Tim translated were “We want to lead and take complete accountability for the end user experience”. The danger doing that is reaching a point when things are so nailed down when everyone says “Wouldn’t it make more sense for Microsoft to take charge of making and selling the thing – as with Xbox.”. But things have gone too far in the opposite direction and what is available on the devices vary so widely that developers can’t be sure that what they write will work on two different devices which supposedly run the same OS, and we’ve moving back from that.

Tim also responded to a statement from Andy Lees “[Mobile operators] have tremendous value to add. They are not just dumb pipes” I know from my time working on Mobile Information Server (the forerunner of Exchange ActiveSync) that Mobile Operators hate the idea of being a dumb pipe, but I don’t think Tim is alone in thinking “I find it hard to think of tremendous added value from the operators”. I  recall a time when Orange reduced the value of the phone (adding applications which killed the battery, blocking installation of apps they had not signed). The iPhone has shown that a platform is better for developers of it (a) is one consistent platform, and (b) it bypasses the carriers for sale of applications.  Today my phone has Orange Maps and other services which only work if you are connecting over Orange’s network, not over WiFi for example. A service I have to disconnect from my WiFi to use ? Forget it, I’ll use Bing Maps (or Google Maps or whichever other Map provider I use on my desktop computer). It will be interesting to see how the operators change their game as phones get smarter.