Windows Phone 7 development hits the big screen

I spent yesterday in the dim light of a Manchester cinema, attending the Windows Phone 7 developer day.

The event was organised by DeveloperDeveloperDeveloper, which is a .NET community group run, as far as I can tell, by a group of Microsoft MVPs. The sponsors were Microsoft, Appa Mundi, and NxtGenUG. Towards the end of the day, Andy Wigley (from Appa Mundi) made a statement that this was a community event and not an official Microsoft event. It was true up to a point, though as far as I can tell Microsoft paid for most of it -“Microsoft UK very kindly provided the venue and logistic support.” says the event description. Microsoft was present showing real Windows Phone 7 devices, and the presenters included Andy Wigley (from Appa Mundi) and Rob Miles, who have also presented the official Jump Start training for Windows Phone 7, and regular TechEd speaker Maarten Struys who is a Windows embedded and Windows Phone evangelist working for Alten PTS in the Netherlands. Community, or Microsoft PR?

Regardless, they were excellent speakers and well informed on all things Windows Phone 7. The community aspect did come to the fore when it came to the catering – there was none – and the venue itself which felt as you would expect a cinema out of hours to feel. I’m guessing Microsoft the community was disappointed with the attendance, around 100 in a venue that seats 330.

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There is one significant benefit to presenting in a cinema. The screen and projection was first-rate.

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The sessions themselves were introductory but struck me as useful for anyone getting started with Windows Phone 7 development – which given the devices are not yet available, is probably most of us. Andrej Radinger’s session on creating apps that work offline was particularly interesting to me. I had previously seen the Jump Start course so some of the material was already familiar, though the refresher did no harm.

Much of the challenge of Windows Phone 7 development is coping with the fact that your app will frequently get killed and have to resume later as if nothing happened. We got a lot of input on this topic.

Another challenge is coping with Expression Blend. Designer Tricky Bassett gave a short but insightful view of the design process for a Windows Phone 7 app, with some intriguing asides along the way. He is a design professional, and said that his team had been excited about SketchFlow, the prototyping tool in Blend, but in practice found it little use because they only need sketches, rather then the working controls which SketchFlow gives you. He also commented on Blend, saying that Blend with Windows Phone 7 projects was more stable than it had been before, in his experience with other projects. In previous work with Blend, solutions that did not load have been a recurring problem – I take it that either they loaded in Visual Studio but not in Blend, or vice versa.

Bassett also said that Blend takes some effort to learn, and this was confirmed by the way some of the presenters struggled to do basic operations with the tool. The Blend UI is perplexing and at events like this one I’d suggest that a Blend Basics piece would go down well.

The Silverlight and XNA platforms strike me as pretty good, though I think that lack of native code development will be a problem among the best developers – there are interesting rumours about certain developers getting special privileges.

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My overriding impression though is that the phone is good, the tools are good, but the demand is lacking. One developer told me that he has been trying to sell an idea for a custom Windows Mobile application to a small business client with 12 employees. They are keen but their employees want either Apple iPhone or Google Android phones. Windows Phone 7 may help by being a better and more attractive device, but getting past the perception that Windows phones are not much good is going to be a problem.

But what can Microsoft do? It is going to take devices that deliver on the promise, a stunning marketing campaign, and aggressive pricing, for this thing to flourish.

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10 comments to Windows Phone 7 development hits the big screen

  • In order to gain mind/marketshare/momentum, Windows Phone 7 has to be MUCH better than Android and iPhone… It’s got to be better than free (it’s not – MS is humiliating itself with its patent infringement gambit – ever hear of “competing on merits”?), and/or it’s got to be more appealing to the self-described “high end” market who have always gravitated towards Apple.

    Hot on the heels of successes like Vista, Zune, and Kin, the market has no reason to be confident in Microsoft pulling something amazing out of the hat. Plus it’s expecting devs to learn a whole new ecosystem just to develop for this very shaky, totally unproven platform without even a hint of momentum.

    I’m amazed by the pundits who are even giving it a chance – I suspect they’re not entirely unbiased in their reviews… from where I’m looking, one thing’s increasingly clear: Windows Phone 7 is a dog that won’t hunt.

  • Phil Winstanley

    Tim,

    Had you made any attempt to speak to us at the event I’d have gladly given you a full run down of what DDD is all about. DeveloperDeveloperDeveloper has a few goals and we’ve been going for years with these goals.

    We aim to encourage the UK Developer Community to speak, participate, learn, grow and improve. We’ve had well over 100 new speakers talk at DDD events.

    We aim to deliver these events free of charge so they’re accessible to all. We’ve NEVER charged anyone a penny to attend any of them.

    We aim to deliver events in regions where they’re not normally found. These have included Events from Glasgow to Bristol.

    We aim to deliver REAL technical content, not marketing. To my knowledge this has always happened at every event we’ve run.

    DDD is by the community, for the community, we all do this out of our own pockets and in our own time because we care about this.

    So now I’ve talked a bit about what DDD is all about let’s talk a little about yesterdays event.

    The Phone event we put on because we wanted to give the early adopters in the community a bit of up front training. The technical level was picked to cater for beginners and it worked very well by all the accounts I’ve read and that people who’ve spoken to be have said.

    The guys from appamundi gave up masses of time and effort to deliver this event for which I am personally very grateful.

    We will continue to support the community because it’s the right thing to do. We’re not Microsoft lackies and we never will be, they paid for the event and that’s it – your assessment on that is bang out of order and I would like an apology from you on that point. Oh and if you think complaining that you got a full day of deep training from experts and we didn’t buy you a coffee I think perhaps you should reassess your levels of appreciation.

    Microsoft have no say in the sessions, speakers, agenda – anything. They’re cool wi us looking after it all because were giving their community what they want and sometimes that means things that Microsoft as a company can’t say and certainly that their PR won’t let them say. We’re honest and vocal.

    I was there yesterday at the event, and I’m now waiting for a ferry to take me to Dublin as we’re running an event there tomorrow.

    Thanks,

    Phil.

  • tim

    Hi Phil

    Thanks for the comment, and I’m sorry you are unhappy with something I said.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “Had you made any attempt to speak to us at the event.” I sat in the front row, I asked several questions, I spoke to Andy a couple of times.

    I got up at 5.00am to get to the event; I didn’t mind having to buy my own coffee but it was annoying to troop down three floors to get it; however maybe the venue would have objected if you had made refreshments available; it is no big deal.

    Anyway it was a good event and the content was excellent as I stated above – thank you for your part in making it happen.

    I think the whole community vs PR thing is more nuanced than perhaps you recognise. If a company with a direct interest in the topic under discussion finances an event it is not fully independent. However I don’t mean to undervalue your own hard work and commitment, and I apologise if I gave that impression.

    I think you could give a better impression of the community aspect if it were a bit more noticeable on the site at http://developerdeveloperdeveloper.com. At the time of writing, it does not show who is in the team; in fact as far as I can tell there are no contact details, no link to a forum, no way to provide feedback or offer suggestions. I am sure that does not reflect the real community behind it, but does give the impression of being rather closed.

    Thanks again for the event

    Tim

  • Nathan Gloyn

    Tim,

    As somebody who has attempted several Developer! Developer! Developer! (DDD) events I can tell you that the people in the community who look to attend these events generally know exactly who is involved.

    As to the DDD site its a site with a specific function : list upcoming events, provide information on those events and allow people to register for the events.

    I don’t see the need for anything else but hey I’m a techie.

    Cheers

    Nathan

  • Your points are, in my view, fair Tim although it’s interesting that it’s been pointed out most DDD attendees usually know precisely who/what is behind an event like this. How did you hear about the event?

    It’s hardly surprising there is confusion since the blurring of lines between genuine Microsoft events and community ones has become extremely blurred.

    A few months back I attended the inaugural meeting of the Windows Phone 7 user group. This was definitely a community event, not a Microsoft one. It was held on non-MS premises through the generosity of EMC Consulting, and the group, as I understand it, was formed primarily because one very enthusiastic developer felt there was demand for such a thing. Nevertheless the inaugural presentation, featuring a speaker from Microsoft, had the speaker continually telling the attendees “You can’t tweet this”, “You can’t blog this” or “You can’t take a photograph of this”. I had to keep pinching myself to remind myself this was a user group, not a Microsoft organised event which had required me to sign some non-disclosure agreement before attending!

    We live now in a world where user groups frequently arrive pre-announced by Microsoft and a “partner” who takes on the burden of organising the group and its events. This is not the “user group” that your Dad went to! Putting aside, DeveloperDeveloperDeveloper for a minute, it’s noticeable how view of these “user groups” have even the rudimentary basics of what one would expect in a genuinely independent user group, such as appraisal forms for sessions or votes on potential subjects for meetings, or even regular meeting dates posted well in advance.

    This has not been true of “Developer Developer Developer” events where feedback and appraisal is taken very seriously, and until recently has been the only driving force behind event content, albeit an event held on Microsoft premises. But it’s interesting that the organisation has expanded out from being one of members voting on possible subjects for advertised events, to one that has added pre-announced “one off” events to its repertoir. These events essentially appear to the outsider to be wired around what Microsoft want to publicise: whether that’s Scott Guthrie being (VP .NET Developer Division) in the country for a day or two, the impending launch of a new phone or whatever! If a group isn’t totally transparent about how decisions to hold events such as this are made, then of course it leaves itself open to charges of being a Microsoft rather than a community event.

    Most seem more than happy with the way these things work, but I’m one of the few (a minority of one?) who think this symbiotic relationship has risks and is the undoubted source of the sort of confusion you’ve highlighted above. The demise of several excellent user groups because of loss of funding from Microsoft over the last few months is perhaps the most obvious warning sign. Some uncertainty as to whether one is really getting an independent viewpoint is another (despite what community leaders will say publicly there is ALWAYS some sort of compromise that has to be made to ensure Microsoft support).

    Phil is entirely correct when he says that individuals put a LOT of hard work and hours into organising events like this: however while it’s hard work for which they receive no direct financial remuneration it’s naive to say they receive no reward at all. MVP awards have considerable financial value (not just the MSDN Universal license, but a whole ton of free third party software licenses automatically become available) and are re-awarded each year, based on demonstration of “community leadership” for which organisation of events like this carry considerable weight. Other benefits, such as a “good relationship with Microsoft” which tends to recommend individuals and partner companies to its clients mean that the hard work done can hardly be regarded as “unrewarded”, although I appreciate that MANY (perhaps even MOST) community “leaders” undertake such work without expecting (or even receiving) such benefits.

  • As an active member of this community (nxtgenug has 7 regions up and down the country), and a big supporter of the DDD brand, I think, Tim, you are being a little harsh. Each of the speakers spent their own money and time to present for you yesterday, Phil and the DDD crew put a lot of time and effort into finding a venue in a very central locaton in Manchester that the small budget could stretch to. Cinemas do have the advantage of a really nice screen as you say. So It might have been nice to have a room full of people, if you ever go to a DDD on a Saturday, you will find the place jam packed. This was a mid week session and was dependant of people getting out of work for the day, hence *only* 120ish attendance. I quite liked the ability to spread out;)

    Indeed, the cash Microsoft provided wasnt enough, so NxtGen also provided funds, and I assure you it wouldnt have done if there had been any attempt at influence on the content.

    For me, It was a really good day, helping developers get some free training in some really cool tools, that no matter how successfull the Windows Phone 7 is, will still be a niche market for developers, and consequently much more difficult to obtain elsewhere.

  • Ross Scott

    I’ve been an organiser and speaker at DDD South West for two years now. Microsoft are a sponsor, but so are many other organisations. There was definitely no influence from Microsoft in anything to do with the organisation of the day. The sessions were submitted by the community and then voted on by the community.

    I am very grateful to the DDD brand for giving me the opportunity to first do a 10 minute grok talk and then move on to a full 1hour presentation. Without this kind of community event it would be very difficult for people like me to get the experience of talking at technical events.

    P.S Not all of the organisers are MVPs, and Microsoft have probably never even heard of me.

  • tim

    Your points are, in my view, fair Tim although it’s interesting that it’s been pointed out most DDD attendees usually know precisely who/what is behind an event like this. How did you hear about the event?

    Good question and I can’t remember – but think I picked it up on Twitter.

    Tim

  • FredTG

    It’s kind of futile to try to pass judgement on a phone that has not been released yet. The dev tools are better than Apple/Android. The Microsoft marketplace app store policies are pretty clear. The hardware and OS feature set are good. While developing for an unreleased platform is a gamble, I think it’s worth the risk in this case.

  • Anyone else find it ironic that someone can say “it’s futile to pass judgement on a phone that’s not released yet” and then spend the next three sentences explaining why it’s so good!