- Jun 22, 2012 at 2:14 AM
- Shawn Wildermuth
- 28 Comments
So the Windows Phone event is over and I’ve had time to digest it somewhat and read between the lines. At the time (for those who read my twitter feed), I was quite reactionary and upset at much of the news. Most of this what as a user of a Windows Phone, not as a developer of a Windows Phone. Do note that another caveat is that I am an author of a Windows Phone 7.5 book, and the thought of my book being suddenly obsolete was upsetting as well (but that happens every time one of my books passes the new car smell line). So let me talk briefly about what I think about the news from both a user and a developer on the Windows Phone platform.
Windows Phone User
The big news for most users is the fact that Windows Phone 8 won’t work on current hardware. To me this is short-sighted as it seems to punish the only fans the platform has so far. This was especially relevant since I *just* received my Nokia 900 (after having a HTC HD7 for the last 15 months). The idea that this new piece of hardware was going to be out of date in only 4-6 months upset me. But let’s think about it in broader strokes that just me. Is this a good strategy overall?
Windows Phone 7.x has a small market share right now. That’s a fact that no one who cares about the phone likes to think about. So the number of users who will be affected by the easier path of not building support for older phones is still small. When I look at the Android ecosystem of users, the core geeks care about 2.2/2.3/ICS but most day-to-day users don’t. They care about features but they don’t seem to even know what version they have. That doesn’t make the decision a nice one, but it’s one that I think the phone can stomach…especially if Windows Phone 8 can actually penetrate the two behemoths of iPhone/Android market share. I don’t like it, but I understand it.
In my ivory tower, I’d love to see Nokia step up and offer a way to 800/900 users to get new phones in a way to create some goodwill and brand loyalty, but I am not holding my breath.
As to the new start screen I think it’s a good, but busy step forward. I still think real grouping (not necessarily folders) is needed. The idea of adding up to four icons across to prevent endless scrolling helps, but it’s sandbags on a broken dam.
I think the over-the-air updating is a big win too. Not just to avoid the nastiness of the Zune experience but also because Microsoft is really taking over for the upgrading of phones. The promise (though we’ve heard this story before) is that carriers won’t be able to block upgrades for 18 months minimum. Great news if you like updated OSs!
New features like multi-core, NFC are great but as a user, I just want a great phone experience. I think Windows Phone 8 brings us closer to competing but unless we can get the app mindshare, we’re always going to feel like 2nd class citizens in the phone world. It’s nice that MS is working to get apps like Draw Something and Words with Friends on the device, but by the time they do, the next big apps will be here. Getting market share to get the app builders to have to write for Windows Phone when they write their iOS and Android versions are what I really want as a user of the platform. That’s brings us to the developer story.
Windows Phone Developer
For the developer there is quite a lot of interesting news. As you’ve probably seen, the story of moving the phone to share a common base with the Windows 8 OS is probably the biggest, scariest change. As a developer who’s ported Windows Phone 7 to Windows 8 (WinRT), I can tell you it isn’t a trivial task. But tweets from the Windows Phone team seem to indicate the programming model with XAML is pretty close to Windows Phone 7:
This tells me that skills you have now (or are getting now) to build great Windows Phone apps will carry over.
The new SDK is also going to support DirectX and C++/C native development. I think the importance of this is two fold (but I am 1/2 guessing):
- Easier to port DirectX games from Xbox (et al.) which means more and better games (don’t underestimate how important this is).
- Ability to dive deep to address app issues that the managed code doesn’t allow you to do.
They also talked about new features that fill in the capabilities to be somewhere between iOS and Android including:
- Background tasks that run all the time (I am interested in the rules here, because on Android, one bad app can ruin the user experience).
- App-to-app communication (think, I can post to rowi:// to share a link).
These two are pretty huge in my opinion, but the full breadth of the new features will be more obvious when the SDK is unveiled later this summer (not dates yet). So in the big picture I think Windows Phone 8 represents a big win for Windows Phone developers (both current and future).
The real question is how much work it will be to maintain WP8 and WP7.x versions of apps. Since the old phones can’t be upgraded, you won’t have the “You must upgrade to 7.5 to get apps” story that happened earlier this year (and was a good decision in my opinion). If it’s a lot of work to maintain two versions of every app, this will be a big problem for dev’s (though Android dev’s are used to this).
Windows Phone 7.8?
Since the upgrading of existing phones isn’t supported, Microsoft is trying to mollify the existing users. The new start screen is the only feature they’re promising, but I think that it will have to be more than that to make people happy.
My real problem is that (unless I heard wrong) that 7.8 will ship 3 months after Windows Phone 8. I think they need to reverse the order if they are going to really make those users happy.
The dates are all in flux I believe. Some of the handset manufacturers are promising WP8 phones by late 4th quarter. If that’s the fact, then they are going to miss the holiday. That’s a big problem. And with the no-upgrade story, Windows Phone sales will slow down even more. This is a big missed opportunity. I think the get a Nokia 900 and we’ll get you a Nokia 950 phone (yeah, I made this phone up for an example, don’t go crazy) when they ship is one possibly but don’t hold your breath.
Microsoft Branded Phone?
One rumor that many people are whispering is whether Microsoft will pull a Surface and release a phone too. I am mixed on this unless it’s clearly a win for a partner (e.g. Nokia). Because Microsoft has experience with tablets (they’ve been building them or reference designs a long time), but the phone would be easier to screw up. I just don’t see this happening, but who knows at this point. Microsoft has been surprising me all year.
What do you think?
Shawn! I agree with you on most of your points. And, if people feel the Start screen is a new refreshing from the previous ones, i still dont get it. The start screen looks more like a colorful wallpaper, and with tiles of different sizes it's more likely that i may miss important messages, calls etc. They are deviating from the "Keep it uncluttered and Simple" design.
Up until yesterday, I had been recommending that people get a Nokia; I even had some banner ads on my site.
After the announcement I took them down. I can't recommend it to anyone now, if they're going to be obsolete. 7.8 not coming out until after 8 is also bad news; even more delays.
I bought into the Windows Mobile game at 6.5, when it looked like they had some momentum, but was disappointed and angered when they dumped it about a year after I began. Now they've done it again with 7.5, with another reskilling required for targetting 8. I wouldn't mind so much if there were any way to make money off the platform, but there doesn't appear to be.
With this uncertainty, I see sales remaining terrible, as no-one will buy into the platform now.
One thing that hasn't been mentioned though is what's going to happen with all of those Tango devices that they've brought out for China, etc. Will we still have to target those, or is there going to be a low end WP8 device? Will Tango get 7.8
And how exactly are WP7 apps going to continue to run on 7.8? It looks like the tiles are a new size, so if we've gone to the trouble of building live tile apps (like I have) are they just going to be stretched to the new size?
Personally, I'm worried they've blown it by annoying all of the enthusiasts. I'm beginning to doubt there will ever be a viable WP ecosystem.
I just hope Microsoft knows what it is doing.
The way they chose to do WP8 doesn't look OK.
I think there was a reason why Surface was announced near the WP8 announcement :)
Obviously, lots of people look very skeptical right now. Without the Surface, they would have been very unhappy.
To be honest, ever since the previews of Windows 8 I have been hoping that Microsoft would simply create phones with Windows 8 ARM. To the user and developer a great win: use exactly the same Metro app on your desktop as on your phone. If the Phone 8 contains yet another version of WinRT it will feel like the compact framework all over again. To me there is no difference between a tablet/pad and a phone except for their sizes.
I think it's great timing by MS: my current Windows Phone 2-year contract is up for renewal in October, so I hope for clean transition to WP8.
I am taking my lumia back to the dealer. I only had it for 15 days. It is unacceptable not to offer a path to upgrade the phone...
As always Shawn, your thoughts and skepticism are well thought out.
Personally, I have more excitement around the next generation of phones than disappointment. I will agree that it's somewhat upsetting that my current HTC Titan (v1) will not be able to run WP8 but I'm not really all that bothered by it. By this time next year I'll be running a new phone anyway and I can be patient.
To be honest, the recent Surface announcement has been a giant pacifier for me. To me this shows how committed and serious Microsoft is to a single vision (going all the way to the top). The risks they are taking with that plan are pretty extreme and underscore what I believe to be a change in mindset where it counts (in a good way).
In combination of retrospective and predictive thinking, I think WP7 was/is a stop-gap for WP8. It's part of a much larger process of the behemoth of a ship that is Microsoft being turned away from a giant (slow) whirlpool of insignificance. I think they are in the middle of a very awkward period of change where many decisions are going to hurt them in the short term but prove to be strategically smart moves in the long term.
Some good thoughts. My questions are:
How will the market place submissions work for WP8 apps? Will users need to buy the app again because a WP8 will be classed as a new app?
What about HTML/JS support for app development? No word on this and it would be a shame if there was no compatibility with Win8 for this model. It would also target the PhoneGap like framework based applications.
What about XNA? There's no support in Win8 AFAIK. Will XNA apps work in WP8, if so will we see XNA support in Win8 too?
What about 'contracts' support. Rumor is that there is support for contracts. Will this be used for better Hub integration? What about universal search?
What about a unified app store? If I purchase a Win8 app will I get the WP8 also? iOS does this (to some extent).
Will there be any compat layer between WinRTP and WP7.5 SL API? To make dual code maintenance easier? I still don't understand why some effort wasn't made to port some aspects of the API to WP7.8.
Generally speaking, it strikes me as odd that MS had the event. The SDK is not ready and there's so much information being held back. What was the goal of the announcement? Was it a warning to current phone purchasers? Was it a call to invest in Win8 development? After the amazing news over the last month (Azure, Surface, SmartGlass etc) the messaging on this one seemed rushed and unprepared.
Joe, the compatibility is my biggest concern too. If we are building an app that we want to target at WP7, WP8 and Win 8 what is the path of least resistance? Ideally we can share the Models, ViewModels, and Service/Business layers without having a ton of #if/#endif constructs for each platform. If we can reuse that code and define views for each that would be great.
Re: Brian's "In combination of retrospective and predictive thinking, I think WP7 was/is a stop-gap for WP8. It's part of a much larger process of the behemoth of a ship that is Microsoft being turned away from a giant (slow) whirlpool of insignificance. I think they are in the middle of a very awkward period of change where many decisions are going to hurt them in the short term but prove to be strategically smart moves in the long term." - Sadly, the same paragraph has been written at least once every year for the last ten years or more, for every version of Windows Phone and every version of Windows Mobile before it.
I have largely enjoyed developing for Windows during the last 18 years now but the entire time I have been pulling out what little hair remains on account of speaking with folks who have drunk so much of the kool-aid that they can't see us pattern repeating over and over and over for Microsoft. "Hey guys, our next tablet is going to be great. You can't buy it yet, but you should wait. It'll be great." It ends up not being great. "Hey guys, our next mobile OS is going to be great. You can't buy it yet, and we've just end-of-lined the most recent version we literally just got you ramping up on, but you shouldn't jump ship yet. Wait. It'll be great." It won't, and they'll do to it in a year or two exactly what they have done to 7.5 this week, just as they did to 6.5 before it.
I wonder if Microsoft doesn't understand that even if the average user replaces their phone every two years (and believe me when I tell you that the average user does not do this; the average might be two years but that is largely driven by early adopters who replace their phone every year or every six months) that does not justify nuking their own ecosystem from orbit every other year. Apple, for all of their faults and there are many, appear to have figured this out and their rolling window of support seems to work quite well.
There is no excuse to keep nuking from orbit unless you are changing out the foundation every two years and, if so, what does that say about your engineering?
The tweets seem to indicate that it should be mostly additive (which is a relief to me) and just be WinRT under the covers and not the Win8 dev model...but that's a guess ATM.
I agree with much that has been said. On xna I've been told yes for wp8 unsure for winrt. As supporting multiple os' this was a question I had before mango. From what i remember iOS has an ok story for this (before ios6 at least). Basically if you want to use the latest greatest sdk call, you test for its availability, much like you might do with html5/css3. You have one code base but it has a chunk of 'litter' around, if you don't care about the little guys you change the base line of the project to 'only os xyz' and the app just won't run on older kit. You've got a Nokia 900, how's the forward facing camera? How's the compass? We already have these fragmentation problems today and we workaround/abstract them away. Basically it doesn't sound that bad to me. I would also like a trade-in route but that's life when you buy kit. What does worry me is that I think metro on wp7 is much better than on winrt. As someone mentioned, noisy. It does worry me the baby is going out with the bath water. And why xna isn't on winrt is beyond me when I can run it on ios via toolsets.
Overall I feel really happy with this transition. To me it is much more important to be compatible with Windows 8 than with Windows Phone 7.5. But really they are doing both with Windows 7.5 apps running just fine on Windows Phone 7.5 and Windows Phone 8.
The development story still needs a lot of clarification but for me personally I am focused on Windows 8 development so more than anything I think they need to get that right first and then make the porting to Windows Phone a pleasant experience.
As for current WP7 owners like myself, it is tough.. You will definitely want to update but the current experience is also really great. Missing new games and features will hurt but that happens to me every year with every tech I own.
Umm so what about the issue of Silverlight? No feelings on that? I know what can you do, but surprised you didn't mention it.
Michael (as mentioned on Twitter):
Silverlight is just brand. It's all XAML (WPF, Silverlight, WPDev, WinRT)
In the meantime, sun is shining here in IOS Land... IOS6 will work fine on the (old) 3gs for at least another year.... yawn.... nothing to discuss.... nothing to be angry with.... boring... Objective-C... always the same technology.... so insanely efficient from the very beginning... :-)
So when you have an iPhone and the new iPhone comes out a year, or perhaps a few months, later do you moan that the update can't support the new hardware specific stuff? No. Why? Because there will always be progress and it may be impossible for backwards compatibility.
Windows 7.8 will support WP 8 features that aren't hardware reliant. I doubt the new screen is the only thing you'll get, has the feature list been submitted yet?
I also doubt you're going to have to change code to update your app. Maybe MS will handle the different binaries.
The only reason why, I can see, is that they probably cannot support "Compiling in the Cloud" which they now feel is obligatory for phone apps.
DO NOT QUESTION MICROSFT's JUDGEMENT!
Get in line with the rest of us MS
Gurus. No bad talk about our master.
We will prevail...we will prevail!
Interesting that Brownish and Biff (obvious fanboys of other phones) even bother to post about this. Why do they care so much? Maybe it just looks too good? (Doubt it but it is curious ;)
Off topic. What the fuss. A phone is for phoning. I'm very happy to program a controller with Windows XP. MS should have stick with that one. Improve it a bit but it is still a great platform. Windows 7 is rubbish so I presume Windows 8 (never go for even numbers with MS) is even more rubbish. Back to the future (by the way Windows XP controls a high temperature furnace with some interesting gases inside).
Wow Marcel...I understand your opinion about phones. But Windows 7 is rubbish and XP is a great platform? Just wow.
It sucks getting left behind, but this isn't uncommon. I bought my Galaxy S phone a few years ago, and it came with 2.2. Since then I've had 1 firmware upgrade to 2.3. And that's it. I could have bought a Samsung Focus instead. It would have come with WP7, then upgraded to 7.5, and soon to 7.8. That's a bit better track record of upgrades than what I've gotten from Android OEMs. It's like my phone never existed at all, at least WP7 users get a consolation prize. Google/Samsung won't even fix the bugs on my phone (and there are a lot).
I saw a posting somewhere that asked whether MS thought we were 'Stupid', the idea being that the lack of WP8 features on existing handsets was a really big issue.
As a WP7 user I see 7.8 as appropriate, sensible, and in my best interests - I want them to put their efforts into a decent modern OS that can compete . I'd also like an upgrade process that lets me move seamlessly from my current handset to a new WP8 one.
.. back to the 'Stupid' suggestion. Stupid is wasting resources. Stupid is buying another phone that has a multi-cpu environment it doesn't use. Stupid is asking others to support petitions for MS to do dumb things. Stupid is being stuck in the past.
Yes XP is a great platform and ask the many, many users who are just forced by the same company (MS) to switch. But do they really want to? Do the programs run better is the interface better (I'm always trying to find the tools which were easy to dind in XP or maybe I was used to XP too much).
On that bombshell I would love to have a slightly upgraded Atari ST instead of all the Apple's and Windows machines. Just switch it on and work within 5 seconds on a word document.
Progress is nice but hiding easy to program interfaces under layer of layer of layer stopped me from using Visual Studio and the rest of MS 'tools'. Programmers have to relearn 'old' tricks over and over again. How productive is that and how much progress is that.
Back to a phone I would love to use the 'old' Nokia with a battery life of a week. How handy is that (and energy saving).
Shawn, question. I'm new at windows dev, on any h/w platform, and it's weird I keep hearing about XAML, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of books available on it.. the few that I've seen don't seem to be well-liked on amazon. Is XAML something that is easy to learn with online tutorials?
There are quite a lot of books on XAML, they're just called "Silverlight" or "WPF" books. My Windows Phone 7.5 book covers it too. There are a lot of online tutorials as well. Not sure why you're not finding them.
Yeah, i was just trying to avoid the silverlight or wpf books due to announcements that those specifically will be phased out eventually, and heard that WP8 apps would be either html/js or c#/xaml.