What I learned about Windows Phone 7 from Android

While I have been exceptionally fortunate to get a Windows Phone 7 device, I still am using my Motorola Droid as my primary phone. The primary reason is that I use Verizon and my WP7 phone uses a SIM chip (Verizon doesn’t use SIM chips). I expect you’re reading this post to gleam some information about the WP7 phone, but let’s start with the Android.

As some of you may know, the 2.2 version of the Android operating system (a.k.a. Froyo) was released and finally made it’s way to the Motorola Droid last week. Google had promised a big performance boost with Froyo (100-500% by some accounts) mostly based on the new JIT compiler. So my expectations were pretty high. I got Froyo installed and while I liked the new features and home page changes a lot, I didn’t see much performance change. In fact, the new phone felt downright sluggish.  Event swiping the home screen was slow. So what gives?

I decided to do a little digging. My installation of Froyo was over an existing 2.1 phone. So all the old apps I was using were all still installed after the update. So I pulled out my trusty OSMonitor app to see who was eating up all the cycles.  OSMonitor (unlike the extremely popular Advanced Task Killer) shows all the processes on the machine. I finally found that the replacement SMS program I was using was performing like a dog.  Uninstalling it and going back to the built-in SMS app fixed the performance problem and I am happy with how the phone behaves now.  But there is an intrinsic problem here. I had to use some spelunking to find out what background processes were killing my performance. This is a big bucket of FAIL.

Phones aren’t for geeks, they are for regular people like my mother and my sister. The fact that most Android users learn to use a task management app means there is something wrong. Arguably this was the biggest fault of Windows Mobile devices. It was too easy to kill the performance of the phone with a single bad-acting application., My mother and my sister won’t do that.  They’ll just complain and put up with it and hate their phone. I think this is what Apple got right with the iPhone.  The overall experience has been better because of the lack of true background processes.

So that brings us back to the Windows Phone 7. I’ve run into a lot of Windows Mobile developers who are angry. I empathize but most of those guys are Enterprise developers. I hope they read this because they aren’t the audience for this phone. Sure, Microsoft will certainly help those guys do what they need to do eventually, but right now its about winning back the consumer-level phone. Give Microsoft a revision cycle to get back to you. I know its hard, but its the right thing.

I am ecstatic that Microsoft is protecting the sandbox in Windows Phone 7 so carefully. Sure it makes it harder on developers, but it doesn’t make it impossible.  Arguably even with the strict sandbox and tombstoning, writing apps for the new phone is going to be much easier than Objective-C, or maybe even for the Android. This is what I think is crucial.  We (the developers) aren’t the most important customers to the phone, the consumers are. We’re all bright people, we can work around the restrictions to create better experiences for the phone users.  Working around the limitations (using Notification messages, and the lifecycle of apps) means we have to work harder, but when consumers love this phone, they’ll buy more apps…meaning we’ll have fun making more apps.

Temper your cynicism and remember that this is the first revision of the phone. Sure, Apple is ahead but as we’ve seen with the XBox, no lead is insurmountable. With Microsoft’s ability to update the OS without involving the carriers (unlike Android), additions to the OS to improve the experience for all phones (and developers) is an update away. The WP7 ecosystem is run by a similar team to the Silverlight ecosystem. Iterating quickly, frequent updates, and open source solutions to fill in the holes. Just wait for those first phones to hit the shelves, its going to be a fun ride…at least I hope so.

What do you think?