It has been 4 months since Windows Phone’s running the Windows Phone 7 operating system launched in the UK on the 21st October 2010 and shortly after taking delivery of my Samsung Omnia 7 I posted my Thoughts on Windows Phone 7. As any enthusiast will tell you, technology moves fast and so 4 months is a long time and so far things haven’t changed so I thought I’d take a look at this from my own perspective as both an owner and enthusiast of Windows Phone 7.
The Glass is Half Empty
I had already used a number of Windows Mobile devices before owning an HD2 (which I believe to be the best Windows Mobile device) but all of these devices suffered from one massive limitation. Although Microsoft released new versions of the operating system it was down to the carriers and OEM’s to release them to existing devices. In most cases these releases were never made available and I even had one experience where an update wasn’t available but yet when I damaged my device and was sent a direct replacement (this was a corporate contract) it was running a newer version.
In an age of 18 and sometimes even 24 month contracts, and with the advent of the iPhone, this was no longer acceptable and Windows Phone needed to offer an iOS type experience. Microsoft pledged to not only update the operating system but that with the rigid hardware requirements these updates would be sent to all devices. This was excellent news but not long after details started emerging that carriers could in fact block updates (The truth about Windows Phone 7, software updates, and carriers’ ability to block those updates) although on the positive side the updates would come directly from Microsoft via the Zune desktop software not through the carriers and/or OEM’s (the carriers control the signal that tells the device that an update is available which in turn allows the device to download and install it).
Since the launch of the new Windows Phones 4 months ago nothing has changed which is a complete contrast to the iPhone (Software updates- Windows Phone vs. iPhone) despite the details of the first update (Microsoft finally posts information about coming updates) being announced in January 2011 which is over a month ago. Indeed it has been rumoured that this first update has been ready since late 2010 and that the carriers were delaying this being sent out to handsets (Microsoft ‘NoDo’ Windows Phone 7 update to be a no-show until early March).
Although an update is now shipping this doesn’t bring any new functionality and is in fact only to improve the update mechanism itself (Our first Windows Phone update—and how to get it). Even with this first non-update now being sent to some handsets (First Windows Phone 7 Update Ships) there are reports that some carriers are still preventing the update being sent to customer devices (Microsoft confirms some carriers are blocking Windows Phone 7 update). What is even more confusing is that carriers can only block one update, they must let the next one through according to previous articles I’ve linked to above, but if this first update is to improve the update process in readiness for the full “NoDo” update how does that make any sense? There are even reports that this first pre-update is causing issues with Samsung devices (MS disabling latest WP7 update from Samsung devices) and since I have an Omnia 7 I’m avoiding it for now.
So where does this leave Windows Phone 7? Microsoft is way behind in the smartphone market and it needs to not only compete with iPhone and Android it needs to be better. That means an update process that matches iPhone with an accelerated roll out of new features and one that differentiates itself from Android that has an update experience similar to Windows Mobile. It seems that so far it has failed to compete due to carrier intervention, snail like progress, and a problematic update experience. When you consider that Windows Phone 7 has some fundamental features missing (copy-and-paste, multitasking, etc) this pace might be considered way too slow.
The Glass is Half Full
It’s so easy to get caught up with the negative aspects but when you analyse it the user experience of a version 1 platform like Windows Phone 7 things are not as gloomy as they might appear. Looking at the platform that launched only 4 months ago the reception has been good (Accelerating the Windows Phone Ecosystem):
The feedback from our customers has demonstrated we are on the right path. Today, 93% of Windows Phone customers worldwide are delighted with their phones. And perhaps even more importantly, customers are spreading the word. For example, 9 out of 10 people who purchase a Windows Phone tell their friends, family and coworkers that they should buy one too.
The experience of a Windows Phone 7 device can be amazing and completely seamless with the Shazam application being a great example (Living with Windows Phone). If applications follow this design principle of integrating applications then concepts like copy-and-paste seem redundant (why should I have to copy text from one application and then paste it into another to search) although I accept there are still circumstances where it is needed.
Thanks to the Live Tiles that you can pin to the start screen and push notifications it is possible for well written applications to appear as if they are multitasking. Microsoft relaxed it’s requirements to allow one application continue running under the lock screen (you simply turn off the device with the application active) which meant a twitter client, for example, could continue it’s refresh cycle.
This isn’t to say that these two features shouldn’t be added but I’ve happily lived with Windows Phone 7 for 4 months now without them and I really haven’t noticed that much. I think the exception might be twitter clients, and 3rd party podcasts players, which you would want running while performing other tasks. Looking at this positively, and so long as Microsoft keep pushing out updates since the carriers can only skip one update cycle, then these features will be added (copy-and-paste is coming in the first proper update which should be out in early to mid March 2011).
So this first update hasn’t gone smoothly but while initially relatively quiet on details they have started talking (More answers about our first software update) and it seems that most issues are being handled automatically by safe guards built into the update system (Installing and troubleshooting problems during the software update for Windows Phone 7). The main problems are arising from Samsung devices (Windows Phone 7 update put on hold for Samsung handsets) and this appears to be a specific firmware issue where the device is unable to recover due to the “download mode” not working which would allow the firmware to restore itself (SamFirmware World). Anyone with experience of updating firmware will I’m sure have had a bad experience and I believe this is no different but unfortunately has a much higher profile.
The future for looks really bright with the recent announcement by Nokia (Nokia Ditch Symbian for Windows Phone 7) that they will be making handsets only for Windows Phone. It is likely these will appear towards the end of the year with a possible launch waiting for the 7.x update of the operating system (Microsoft Shows New Features for Windows Phone 7).
So where does this leave Windows Phone 7? The Nokia announcement is a massive boost to Windows Phone since Nokia will not have the distraction of Android that other current OEM’s do and will be eager to turn around it’s own decline (Nokia CEO Stephen Elop rallies troops in brutally honest ‘burning platform’ memo?). The marketplace has over 8,500 applications and this is growing rapidly and that momentum could increase if the legion of developers currently writing for Symbian move over to Windows Phone. There are rumours starting to circulate that Windows Phone 7 is just a transition between Windows Mobile and Windows Phone 8 which will be built on Windows 8 for ARM processors (although the underlying operating system will change the tile based interface is here to stay). If that turns out to be true, and I hope it does, then most likely the same operating system and interface will be adapted for Microsoft’s tablet strategy (CES: Microsoft shows off Windows 8 on ARM).
The Glass is Overflowing
In the 4 months that I’ve owned my Samsung Omnia 7 and posted my original Thoughts on Windows Phone 7 I have used it every day and it still has the capacity to make me smile. The ability to pin almost anything to the start screen makes accessing information so simple while giving the phone a unique appearance. Metro UI is a joy to navigate and quite often you can move between integrated and 3rd party experiences without realising it. This is a real contrast to the in-out-in approach of other platforms where you have to manually navigate between applications. If you didn’t follow the link before then please do read Living with Windows Phone because the Shazam example really defines this. I also love the Xbox Live integration and use it to swap messages with my friends and enjoy the gaming experience with the bonus of gaining achievements.
I believe Windows Phone 7 offers a unique approach which really differentiates it compared to the iPhone and Android. I’m sure it’s easy to come up with many different ways the platform can be improved, the full potential realised, but I’m still confident that will come. There is no doubt that updates need to happen and the ability for carriers to block updates needs to be managed properly or ideally removed altogether. If the OEM’s continue to cause issues, like Samsung have done with this first pre-update, or they aren’t pushing Windows Phone devices as heavily as Android, the alliance with Nokia could end up being exclusive and that could bring many benefits.
I can honestly say that I don’t regret adopting Windows Phone 7 as my smartphone and in fact it’s quite the opposite as I’m looking forward to the journey ahead and even though I might not be travelling as fast as I’d like the destination looks really exciting.