This is the third of five part series profiling Microsoft Windows Mobile 7.0. In the earlier posts, i had discussed hardware and software perspectives around the WinMo7. This post discusses the shortcomings in the platform and how Microsoft is wooing the developer community to earn back relevance in the apps space.
Two main problems remain with the Windows Phone 7 operating system at this stage. Firstly, there is no opportunity for manufacturers or operators to add their own interface layer (although Hubs and tiles do allow for a degree of customization). Microsoft argues that it is putting consumers first and has heavily invested in a strong and consistent interface. The implication is that there is little benefit in manufacturers undertaking further customization that will only confuse users.
Secondly, there is no multitasking. Windows Phone 7 does support some background processes, such as playing music or synchronising e-mail while using another application. However, it does not currently support flipping between live applications in the way that Symbian and Maemo users have had for a long time and Apple users have recently acquired with iOS4. Microsoft may possibly. This would be a thorn at the start and one would expect Microsoft to address the Multitasking measure in future.
Microsoft is using established strengths and resources to attract developers. It has relied on existing Silverlight and XNA development frameworks, and removed licence fees for many tools, including Visual Studio 2010 Express and XNA Game Studio 4.0. The consistent environment and tools provided by XNA Game Studio 4.0 will enable developers to port games from Windows, Xbox 360 or Zune to Windows Phone 7. Variations in hardware and screen sizes will be limiting factors, but demonstrations of ported titles reveal a rich and consistent experience. The use of common code and tools is a step forward for Microsoft, which has historically had an abundance of tools and developers but a lack of commonality across platforms. Unsurprisingly, Microsoft cites this established developer base with deep existing knowledge of its tools as a significant opportunity.
This will be important, because application developers typically develop for three or four platforms. The current pecking order for many of them is Apple, Android, Blackberry, other. The last category includes, of course, Symbian, MeeGo, Flash, Java (for Qualcomm’s BREW, Sony Ericsson’s Cappucin and Nokia’s Series 40 feature phones) and Microsoft. If Microsoft decides it needs to address these developers, the task will be to pull itself out of the “other” category.