Microsoft’s making a new phone! Or a new phone OS, or Operating System, anyway. Just like with Google’s Android and Microsoft’s old “Windows Mobile” phones, they’ll write the software that powers the phones, while handset makers and carriers do the rest.
So, what’re the pros and cons of Microsoft’s upcoming “Windows Phone 7” series of phones?
The Good News
On the upside, Windows Phone 7 looks nothing like the old Windows Mobile. Gone is the Start button; gone is the fiddly stylus. If you’ve ever seen the Zune HD’s interface, Windows Phone 7’s “Metro” interface looks sorta like that. Very large on-screen buttons, very straightforward, very dramatic. Stylish, even!
Because Windows Phone 7 is an operating system, like Android or iOS, it could be put on a variety of different handsets, maybe including one in your price range or with your preferred features. And speaking as a hobbyist programmer, it looks like they’re doing a good job with their developer tools … which is important, since in this day and age the apps sell the phone.
Windows Phone 7 apps are modified Silverlight apps — Silverlight is like Microsoft’s version of Flash, and there are already a bunch of people who know it. And Windows Phone 7 games are done using XNA, Microsoft’s game development framework, so it should theoretically be easy to port PC and XBox 360 games made using XNA to Windows Phone 7. That means a head start in Windows Phone 7 gaming.
The Bad News
The bad news is that Windows Phone 7 is not Android or the iPhone’s iOS. And I mean that, seriously. The reason why programmers write apps for Android and iOS is because they can make money at it, because there are a lot of people already using Android and iOS phones and buying apps for them. Windows Phone 7 starts with an installed base of 0, years behind its competitors.
It’s true that there are thousands of Windows Mobile apps already. The problem is, those are Windows Mobile apps … and Windows Mobile stopped at 6.5. None of the old Windows Mobile apps will run on Windows Phone 7. There are good reasons for this, both from the technical side of things and from the user experience side of things … Windows Mobile apps are designed for phones that use styluses, to start with. But starting over like Microsoft’s doing still means throwing away the huge lead they had. Just like Palm did when they switched their phones to WebOS.
So what’s the upshot of all this technobabble? Well, you know how there are “Over such-and-such thousand apps for the iPhone?” There will be hardly any apps for Windows Phone 7, and it will probably be that way for awhile.
Personally, I’d love to be surprised … Windows Phone 7 looks neat, from all the previews I’ve seen. But part of me asks why Microsoft didn’t simply take Android’s open-source code and revise and re-brand it, the way Chinese handset makers did with OPhone. That way “Windows” phones would’ve been able to run all the thousands of apps in the Android Market. I know there are probably technical reasons, but given the bad blood between Google and Microsoft I suspect there were personal reasons also.
Was it worth it, then, to create Windows Phone 7 from scratch? I guess we’ll find out when it’s finally released! And I guess Microsoft will, too. I hope you enjoyed this preview … and whatever phone you’re using in a year or two, I hope you have fun with it!