It has been 12 months since the first Windows Phone devices, running the Windows Phone 7 operating system, were officially launched so I thought I’d take a look back over what has been a tough first year in the market. Anyone that follows me on twitter or listens to the TDL Mobile podcast will know how much I love Windows Phone 7, and am more than happy to promote the devices to anyone that will listen, but I can also be a harsh critic when needed.
It was at Mobile World Congress in 2010 that Microsoft unveiled Windows Phone 7 Series to the world and for me at least this was a complete surprise as I had simply been expecting an evolution of Windows Mobile. At the time the operating system was still under development but we did get to see Joe Belfiore (twitter) demonstrate some of the new operating system.
The two most exciting aspects for me was that finally Microsoft had realised shrinking the Windows UI onto a small handheld device wasn’t working and that they had taken a totally fresh approach. While Google, with the Android operating system, had followed the application centric approach of Apple’s iOS there was something different about Windows Phone 7 (WP7). Instead of a “home” screen with rows upon rows of mainly static icons used to launch applications, WP7 used large bold tiles that not only launched applications but were also alive with information that underlined the “glance-and-go” marketing tagline. These “live tiles” meant you could often see without even opening an application if it had something new to tell you; a twitter client for example could show the number of new mentions.
Another feature of WP7 was demonstrated to show how applications could seamlessly integrate with the core operating system through the use of “hubs” which not only allowed applications to be more discoverable but meant you could flow through different applications to accomplish a task. Just taken a photo with the camera that you want to share? Instead of closing the camera application, opening your email client, composing a new email and attaching the photo (after finding it) you simply tapped a “share” menu and a list of ways to do so appeared.
There was one more element of Windows Phone to set it apart from the competition and that was the “Metro UI” that bound the whole experience together. Anyone familiar with Windows Media Center or the Xbox 360 Dashboard would feel at home using a Windows Phone device and anyone new should soon pick up the simple gestures required to navigate the operating system. Gone were the small fiddly controls from Windows Mobile and applications written for WP7 should follow the Metro UI design principles as legacy applications, without exception, would need to be rewritten for the new operating system. Microsoft would also ensure that applications met a certain quality bar as developers would need to submit them for approval after which they would be published to the Marketplace (this was the only way to install applications onto a retail device, no side-loading of applications like in the days of Windows Mobile) and I feel this was a good move.
Microsoft also committed to keeping devices updated with new features via a “Windows Update” style servicing of the operating system meaning the old days of Windows Mobile, where in almost all cases a new device was needed to get a new version of that operating system, were being put to rest in favour of a more iOS approach. That “promise” was to be watered down in later announcements/interviews but it was still better than what us Windows Mobile users had been accustomed to.
The biggest disappointment for me was the fact that the operating system was still under development and no details were given for a launch date. I was really excited about Windows Phone and devoured any new information that came to light and with the exception of the back peddling on updates nothing could dent my enthusiasm.
In the end it was about a 9 month wait until the official launch and as any expectant parent will tell you that feels like a long time to wait.
Microsoft announced the launch of Windows Phone on the 11th October
2011 (oops!) 2010 although devices weren’t available in Europe until 21st October and even later for the US on 8th November. The problem was the launch failed to match the excitement that had been built up and fell flat due to very limited availability of devices, the only real opportunity to get a device on launch day in the UK was an Orange (the official launch partner in the UK) store on Oxford Street, London. As many first time parents will tell you; the birth plan doesn’t always go smoothly.
This was really frustrating and even calls to T-Mobile UK, my carrier, didn’t help to raise my hopes with a mixture of agents that didn’t even know there were new Windows Phones to being told they were still in “testing” and could be weeks away from availability. Finally, on October 27th, I got a call from T-Mobile offering me a “free” Samsung Omnia 7 (since I’d been due an upgrade since early October) so long as I committed to a 2 year contract. As it happens October 28th is my birthday and that was the day my new Omnia 7 arrived.
In those first few hours with my new device I couldn’t stop smiling and using Windows Phone was an absolute delight. The “live tiles” were addictive to watch and proved to be useful and not just a gimmick. It was also nice to discover that you could pin almost anything; applications, a person (the Windows Phone term for a contact), favourite playlist/artist/album/song, a web page (this even shows a preview of the page), a place from Bing Maps.
I did find some negative aspects and I posted here about my Thoughts on Windows Phone 7 (there is also a great post by another TDL Mobile host SheldonW entitled My First Few Days With Windows Phone 7 which gives his opinions on both the new mobile OS and also the HTC HD7). As with any version 1 product, and let’s not forget that despite the operating system being labelled as “Windows Phone 7” this was a v1 release, there are some missing features and there is no denying Microsoft rushed WP7 to market in order to stem the flow of people abandoning Windows Mobile.
The main two features missing were copy-and-paste support and multitasking (the ability for applications to carry on running in the background). Microsoft were quick to announce the first update to WP7 and this was codenamed “NoDo” (short for No Doughnuts apparently as a poke at Android who had used the codename “Doughnuts” in the past). This first update would add the missing copy-and-paste, along with faster loading times for 3rd party applications and some smaller improvements. This update should have followed relatively soon after launch but while no official date was ever given it felt like something was delaying it; were the carriers standing in the way?
Just when you feel like your getting to grips with the new arrival they reach the next stage in their development. Microsoft had said, during the announcement of Windows Phone, that updates would be pushed out to all devices to enable new features and fix any bugs that might be discovered. The problem was this wasn’t entirely true because the carriers needed to “test and approve” any updates.
I was very uneasy about this because while Windows Mobile did allow new versions of the operating system to run on old hardware it was down to the carriers to make these available to the consumer. This rarely happened and so it was my belief that carriers would also be unwilling to commit time and resources to testing these updates.
Finally on 21st February in a blog posting Microsoft announced Our first Windows Phone update—and how to get it. Excitement followed that “NoDo” was finally rolling out but soon disappeared when it was realised this was a “pre-NoDo” update required to fix some issues with the update process that had been discovered.
This situation was made worse as it became obvious that not all carriers were allowing even this small update through to consumers and so the Where’s my phone update? page was born. While informative this also confirmed our fears as many carriers showed a status of “testing” with no indication of when that would be completed.
Then the real problems started flooding the social networks as people were unable to install the “pre-NoDo” update due to an error and even some people with Samsung devices that were becoming unusable due to an aborted update. I posted A View on the Windows Phone 7 Update Situation as while it was bad news that people were having issues I felt I wanted to give my perspective.
Since T-Mobile UK were months late in approving the “pre-NoDo” update I didn’t experience any of this first hand. Microsoft did place a hold on updating Samsung devices until the issues had been resolved and resumed them again once that had happened. Eventually I got frustrated with this snails pace and so I chose to use a tool that allowed people to Bypass the Carriers and update your Windows Phone 7.
So while this new child was able to bring great joy day-to-day there were some sleepless nights. As with any first time parent will tell you it’s a steep learning curve and mistakes happen along the way; you just dig deep and vow not to make them again. I outlined what I thought when I posted Microsoft Must Do Better With Windows Phone Updates.
As Windows Phone grew with new features, like copy-and-paste added through the “NoDo” (No Doughnuts) update, it was time to move onto solid food and an update that would be a major release when Microsoft officially unveils Mango; Hundreds of improvements on the way (moving the WP7 version number to 7.5 although the developer tools are confusingly labelled 7.1).
Until this point my overall impression of Windows Phone was that I enjoyed using it and more importantly there wasn’t anything about the device that annoyed me. This update would bring Windows Phone inline with the other mobile operating systems like Android and iOS. Although I hadn’t found the lack of multitasking to be a problem I know many consider this a must have feature.
I managed to use one of the ways of getting the “Mango” beta onto my device after ensuring I had a backup stored safely. At first the multitasking didn’t have any benefit since it required applications to be recompiled and resubmitted to the marketplace. The features I did make use of the most were “linked inboxes” for email; this is similar to “unified inboxes” except that “Mango” would allow you to pick and choose email accounts to combine. Prefer to keep work and personal email accounts separate then you could do so but if you had multiple personal accounts (or many work accounts for contractors) then you could cherry pick which were “linked”.
Then there was the improvements to communication which combined SMS text message history with Instant Messaging (through Messenger or Facebook chat). You could literally start a chat over IM but if the person had to go offline you could switch to SMS but still see the entire history of the conversation in one place. You could also create groups within the People Hub so could easily contact everyone in a single place; I have used this with the TDL Mobile guys so I can quickly fire off an email to them all arranging to record the show.
The easiest way to tell if a child really likes new toys is their reaction when they’ve put them down somewhere and now can’t find them. I decided to rollback to the backup I’d taken of my device to see how going back to “NoDo” felt. I can honestly say that I missed the new features and so was pleased to give “Mango” another go when the release candidate became available.
This time some of the placeholder features were enabled and one of these was Twitter integration into the People Hub. Now you might panic here and say; But I don’t want all my twitter people in my address book! Well “Mango” has you covered because by default twitter contacts aren’t displayed BUT if you already have a person from another account that is also on twitter then they are linked so you can still see their updates. The “Me” tile is also really useful now, and in fact I pinned mine to the start screen, and can be used to view your mentions, post status updates, or check-ins. In fact all pinned people tiles gain new functionality with “Mango” as they now flip over to reveal more details, for example, a twitter status update or that you have a new email from them. It’s not surprising that the marketing tagline for “Mango” is “putting people first”.
I’m also pleased to say that one of my ideas for improving the WP7 application list from my original post (Thoughts on Windows Phone 7) has been implemented although in true Windows Phone fashion this only appears if you have many applications installed:
… I can see the program list becoming an annoyance for people installing lots of applications and why they haven’t implemented the same way to jump between letters of the alphabet, as is used for contacts or Zune, here is surprising. Hopefully that oversight will be quickly remedied.
As much as I was enjoying using the “Mango” beta and release candidates I couldn’t help but be concerned about how quickly carriers would allow this update to be pushed out to consumer devices. The “NoDo” update had been minor and yet took months and this was going to be a major release. There was also the feeling that new 2nd generation Windows Phones would be launching, with “Mango” pre-installed, and as we know carriers make money from pushing new devices not updating existing ones.
Microsoft had talked about how it had learned from “NoDo and during the day on 27th September 2011 the Where’s my phone update? page was updated to include details on “Mango” and showed “Scheduling” against each carrier. This meant that the carriers had signed off the testing and it was now down to Microsoft to release it. Was this possible that it would be a unified global release across all carriers and all devices?
Happy 1st Birthday
Alright so officially this would have to be classed as an early birthday present but thankfully later on the 27th September Microsoft officially announced that ‘People-Centric’ Windows Phone 7.5 Update Released and this was indeed a unified global release! As they said on Episode 036 – “Champagne and Mango” of Windows Phone Dev Podcast this has never been done before, yes Apple ship iOS updates out to every device at the same time but that is a single device where they control 100% of the hardware. Android to my knowledge have never achieved this either with any of their OS updates.
This certainly is a real turnaround from the “NoDo” experience and Microsoft deserve credit for this. There are unfortunately some dark clouds because once again the Samsung Omnia 7 is not being updated on some networks (including T-Mobile UK who where very late with “NoDo”), although Omnia 7’s from Orange in UK have been updated, and Telefonica in Spain are still in the “testing” phase. According to Microsoft though 98% of devices are able to update and although to start with only 10% of devices were being targeted (at random) this has now been increased to 50%.
I’m lucky to have received the update to the RTM release of “Mango” because I already had the release candidate installed and this seems to have bypassed the delay enforced by T-Mobile UK. The only update I’ve not received is the Samsung update that specifically targets the Omnia 7 with optimised drivers. I’m sure I’ll receive that final update once T-Mobile UK get their act together and sign-off Windows phone 7 “Mango”.
Looking at all the new features it is odd that multitasking is the least useful for me as while it brings some advantages, applications can perform tasks using background agents for example, the only way to “fast resume” an application is to hold down the back button and select it from a set of cards (very webOS like). This is a new feature and the old habit of just starting applications from the Start screen or application list is tough to break. When you do that the application reloads instead of “fast resuming” so for me it is only useful for times when you accidentally quit an application by touching one of the capacitive buttons (something that is all too easy when playing games like Fruit Ninja!).
Overall in the year since Windows Phone launched the “NoDo” update delays and issues would have to be the low point for me but on balance I think it has been a good year. It was a huge risk for Microsoft to start over and abandon all of the legacy applications written for Windows Mobile, you only need to look at HP with the TouchPad to see how a lack of applications can kill a platform, but in the 1st year alone the Marketplace has grown rapidly and Microsoft has said Developers get MORE with Windows Phone 7.5:
In less than a year we’ve built a thriving Marketplace with MORE than 30,000 apps and already offer 90% of the most popular apps available on both leading competing platforms
I really enjoy using my Windows Phone and I can honestly say that the whole experience has improved greatly with the Windows Phone 7.5 “Mango” update. It is true that Windows Phone is still very young and like a kid starting a new school, where everyone else has already forged large social groups, it is struggling to build confidence with poor early sales (as Steve Ballmer said “we have gone from very small to very small”). I feel that Windows Phone stands out from the crowd, with it’s use of “live tiles” and integrated experience through the “hubs”, and even iOS5 borrows some features with the introduction of taking pictures without first unlocking the phone (yes, I’m sure Windows Phone has borrowed features from iOS; it’s just an example), so with time it could be the first choice when people look to pick up a new mobile phone.
I really do feel that with Windows Phone 7.5 (Mango) has enabled Microsoft to catch up with Android and iOS and now it is just down to the marketing from both carriers and Microsoft. It seems that with the lacklustre iPhone 4S Announced Coming To The UK October 14th there is a real opportunity for an outstanding device to grab the attention of the public.
The coming announcement from Nokia on the 26th October 2011 should also bring a weight of advertising and new phones and I hope people will start to at least look at Windows Phone. In my experience it is a device you really have to use with your own personal data in order to truly “get it” and maybe that is the real issue since at the moment there is no “try before you buy” schemes for mobile phones and 2 years is a long time to commit to something new.
There are product updates on the horizon that should help people feel more comfortable with Windows Phone and that is the expected dashboard update for the Xbox 360 that will use a similar style of “live tiles”. Looking further ahead into 2012 we can expect to see the release of “Windows 8” (See Windows 8 Photo Galleray [sic]) and this will also have a new touch-first Start screen built on the Metro UI design principals with “live tiles”. Also expected around October 2012 will be the next major update to Windows Phone devices with the planned release of Windows Phone 8 (codename “Apollo”) which is rumoured to be built on top of the “Windows 8” kernel and so should hopefully bring any final missing features to the platform.
Microsoft have talked for a long time about their “3 screens and a cloud” vision and we discussed this with Ed Bott (blog | twitter) during TDL Mobile Show 74. When Windows 8 reaches RTM sometime in 2012 they will have one consistent interface across all devices and I believe that is going to create an incredible ecosystem where users can transfer skills easily between devices and form factors.
Lastly, for me at least, there is one thing Microsoft needs to address and that is the naming convention around Windows Phone. I see many sites that are confused by the names and even some where they refer to it as “Windows 7” phone. Including the term “Windows” is also misleading, since there are no windows with the Metro UI, and it carries with it memories of Windows Mobile. Sorry Microsoft but you may feel that “Windows” is cool and trendy but it simply isn’t.
Are you planning on choosing Windows Phone the next time you upgrade or do you have any suggestions for how Microsoft could re-brand Windows Phone? Please let me know either using the comments below or even better why not contact the TDL Mobile team?