Tag Archives: windows phone 7

Nokia Lumia 800 review: beautiful phone, some annoyances

I have been trying Nokia’s Lumia 800 for the last week or so, the first Windows Phone from the company. It is a significant device, since Microsoft is relying on Nokia to revive its Windows Phone 7 platform which has won only a tiny market share since its launch in late 2010, while Nokia is betting its business on Windows Phone after selecting it in preference to Google Android or its own MeeGo operating system. No pressure then.

The phone is nicely packaged and comes with a free protective skin as well as a fake railway ticket stating “Your one way ticket to amazing.” This is a UK ticket so I presume it is suitably regionalised elsewhere. A small detail, but it formed part of my impression that Nokia has thought carefully about the unwrapping experience, whereas previous HTC Windows Phones have felt like just another phone in a box.


The Lumia takes a micro-SIM, as used in the iPhone 4.x, and the only one I had available was in my iPhone, so I removed it and popped it in the Lumia. Everything worked, the switch-on and initial setup was good, and I was soon up and running with Exchange email. I did have to install my self-signed certificates for Exchange, but this is not an issue that will affect most users.

This phone has a polycarbonate body and a Gorilla Glass front and feels solid and well-made. The 480×800 screen is bright, clear and responsive to touch. I have not had any issues of laggy or uncertain response to taps.

What counts here is that the Lumia feels like a high quality device; the design has something extra that sets it apart from most smartphones out there.

In terms of hardware features, the Lumia is unexceptional, with volume, on-off and camera buttons on its right edge, speaker at the bottom, standard headset socket on top, and rear-facing camera lens and flash.

I rate the sound through the supplied ear buds as decent, but the speaker is tinny, much worse than that on the iPhone 4. Fortunately you rarely want to play music through the built-in speaker.

The USB connector (also used for charging) is behind a flap. You have to push a small protrusion to swing it open. It is a little awkward at first and a slight annoyance, but I can also see how it improves the appearance and protects the socket.

Although I like the hardware overall, there are a few issues. One is battery life; it is barely adequate, though Nokia says a future update will improve it:

A software update in early December will include improvements to power efficiency, while a second update in early January introduces further enhancements to battery life and battery charging.

How bad is it? Here is a screenshot:


Do the maths … if 23% is 1 hour then 100% is just over 4.5 hours, not good. Of course this is with active use, mostly email and web browsing. Do not panic about the “Time since last charge” – it was not a full charge!

The Lumia does have a neat feature whereby it goes into a “battery saver” mode which turns off non-essential services to prolong battery life when it is low. Curiously this was off by default, but I enabled it and it works.

Lumia Software

Physically the phone is above average; but what about the software? This bit is mostly Microsoft’s responsibility, though Nokia has done what it takes to make it run sweetly on the Lumia; the user interface flows smoothly and the chunky tiles are easy to tap.


On an iPhone you get four favourite shortcuts at the bottom of the screen and page through the others by swiping through pages (or you can create groups). On Windows Phone you get eight favourites above the fold, scroll down for more favourites or tap the arrow at top right for the complete alphabetical list which scrolls vertically. It is different but equally easy to use.

You have to tap at the top to see network and battery status; I would prefer to have this always visible but it is a minor point once you know how.

Nokia does supply several apps. Nokia Music is radio without the ads or commentary; you choose a genre and it plays continuous tracks. A decent app.


Nokia Maps is an alternative to the standard Bing Maps, which is also installed, and seems redundant to me, since it has fewer features. I also noticed several cafes wrongly positioned in my local area, which does not inspire confidence.

Nokia Drive though is worthwhile, offering turn by turn directions and its own set of road maps – though I am not sure how practical it is if you are driving on your own.

The Lumia comes with a mobile build of Internet Explorer 9, and I have found it pretty good in general though of course neither Adobe Flash nor even Silverlight is supported.

Office Hub

The Office Hub is one good reason to get a Windows Phone – provided you use Exchange and SharePoint (though note the annoyance below), or the free SkyDrive, or Office 365. I like the way Outlook on the phone easily handles multiple Exchange accounts, which appear as separate instances.

The Office Hub gives you read-write access to Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote documents, which I personally find useful, even though the editing features are limited.

Me and People Hubs

The Windows Phone 7 OS aggregates a number of social media accounts: Windows Live, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn though not Google+. I find this works fairly well, though I found the slightly different roles of the Me tile and the People tile confusing at first. Personally I use Twitter more than Facebook; and I find tweets of people I follow listed in the People app, while my own recent tweets and notifications of tweets mentioning me are in the Me app. I wonder if these two apps could usefully be merged?

That said, Windows Phone does a great job of surfacing your social network interactions and I would guess that this is one of its foremost attractions in the consumer market.


I found a few bugs and annoyances, though I suspect for most of these Microsoft is more to blame than Nokia.

First, there seems to be a bug in the interaction between the maps, the GPS and the direction finding and “Local Scout”, which is meant to find local attractions and facilities.

I saw this today. I was in London and the GPS was working fine, I could tap the “me” button and it correctly located me on the map. But when I asked for directions to a street nearby I got this:


“No location information”. Something not right there – and yes, I tried again. I also get this sometimes with Local Scout.

Second annoyance: on my Android phone I can connect to my laptop and use the mobile as a 3G modem. Windows Phone has a Mobile Hotspot feature, though it does not work on my O2 connection; I assume that is a carrier issue, but I miss the feature and the direct USB connection works well for me on Android.

Third annoyance: Zune. I do not know why Microsoft persists with the tarnished Zune brand, and it is a mistake to build in this dependency on Windows only desktop software – yes, I know there is also Windows Phone 7 Connector for the Mac. I would prefer to be able to connect the phone to any PC or Mac and have the ability to copy documents and music to and from device storage.

Zune is not too bad when everything is working, though I had a specific issue on the train recently. I had written some notes in a Word document on my laptop and wanted to transfer them to the phone. Zune only syncs music. The only way to get the document from the laptop to the phone would have been via the internet, and that was impossible because the laptop was offline.

Fourth annoyance: SharePoint. I run my own SharePoint server, and while I can easily access it on the internal network, if I try using it from Office Hub over the Internet I get the message “SharePoint doesn’t support this authentication scheme.”

This turns out to be documented:

Unless your organization uses a Microsoft Forefront Unified Access Gateway (UAG) server, you can only access a SharePoint 2010 site if you’re in the office and connected to your organization’s Wi-Fi network.

That is not what I consider a detailed technical explanation and maybe there is a workaround; but it is annoying when Microsoft cannot get its own products to work together properly. Note though that SharePoint in Office 365 works fine.

Fifth, I had to sign up for a paid developer account in order to install a screen capture application. This is why many Windows Phone reviews have no screenshots. How difficult would this be for Microsoft to build in?

Sixth, I have found Local Scout near-useless. This is mainly because of lack of momentum; it needs more data and user reviews to be useful. However I have also noticed that a restaurant near me which closed a while back is still listed even though I have twice reported it closed through the “Tell us this place is closed” link, the first time two months ago. It makes me wonder to what extent this database is actively maintained; inaccurate information can be worse than useless.

Windows Phone Apps: still a disappointment

The biggest disappointment deserves its own heading. This is the apps available in the marketplace. When I go to the Apple or Android stores I see dozens of apps that look interesting; in the Windows Phone store on the other hand I struggle to find excellent apps. The number of apps in the marketplace is less important than the quality, and here Windows Phone 7 still seems to fall short.

If I go to the marketplace, choose the category of All apps, and then select Top (which I presume ranks according to popularity and rating) it is interesting that they are all games and mostly from Microsoft Studios:


Games are important, but that does not look like a healthy ecosystem to me.

Could this be an opportunity for developers? Since Nokia World in London at the end of October I have seen a dramatic increase in profile for Windows Phone; it is what Microsoft should have achieved at the original launch a year earlier. We will not know numbers for a while, but there must be more of these things going out, with new users looking for apps.

The Camera

I am not reviewing the camera in detail here. The quality is good though the images seem a little “cold” to me, which means I suppose that the colours are not as vibrant as they should be. I will not press the point though; it is a decent camera and good enough.


This is a beautiful phone and the only showstopper problem is the poor battery life. If Nokia fixes this, we are left with what seems to me the best Windows Phone 7 implementation yet, despite a few annoyances which are mostly in the Windows Phone 7 OS and its core apps rather than being the fault of Nokia.

There are a number of things to like: social network integration, the Office Hub, Mix Radio

Nokia’s Windows Phone launch has made more impact than I had expected. Microsoft and its partners need to follow through with faster updates, and to work on quality rather than quantity in populating the app Marketplace.

Nokia’s Windows Phone gamble

At Nokia World in London on Wednesday, CEO Stephen Elop presented the new Lumia range of Windows Phones. You can watch the keynote here – I was impressed by Elop’s clarity and conviction, and also by VP Blanca Juti who talked about the Asha range of nearly-smartphone feature phones.


The demonstration of the Windows Phone OS and apps seemed to me weaker and you could sense a struggle in energising the audience. I suspect this is because Windows Phone has already been out for a year and has failed to meet expectations; clearly it takes more than live tiles to make a success of a new Smartphone.

Elop is aware of this which is why he made the following widely quoted remark:

[Lumia is] the first ever instantiation of the windows phone platform that properly embodies, complements and amplifies the design sensibilities of windows phone … more simply stated, Lumia is the first real Windows Phone.

I have yet to handle a Lumia but I believe Elop, in that the other Windows Phone 7 devices are no more than ordinary in their design, whereas Nokia has done something distinctive.

I was impressed by the demo of turn by turn navigation; this does look like an attractive and useful app.


I was also impressed when Elop talked about the marketing effort which Nokia and its retail partners are putting behind Lumia. He said that there are 31 operators and retailers in size countries which:

…have each committed to significant levels of marketing investment which includes unprecedented retail exposure and three times the level of total marketing investment compared to any other single Nokia launch.

He added that Nokia will be distributing seed devices widely among retailers so that they really know (and, Elop claims, love) the Lumia Windows Phones.

My immediate reflection is that Microsoft needed Nokia a year ago; Windows Phone has never before received this kind of backing. I am not sure that I have ever seen a Windows Phone for sale in my local small town centre, which has several mobile phone shops.

The tough question: is the OS good enough to compete with Apple and Android? I think it is a reasonable alternative, though I personally find the 20 beautifully designed icons I see on the first screen of the iPhone 4 more appealing than the seven chunky, flickering tiles I see on a Windows Phone. That said, I can see that the Windows Phone makes a good Facebook phone. I also like the Office apps and their read-write support for SharePoint, which is useful to me as a SharePoint user.

Where Windows Phone falls short is in the quality and availability of apps. There may be 30,000 in the Marketplace, but most of them are rubbish, and if you have a niche interest it is less likely to be represented than on an iPhone. I play Bridge, and on the iPhone I can enjoy FunBridge among others; on Windows Phone, nothing yet.

I have also found the data in Local Scout, a location-based index of places to see, shop or eat, too poor to be of much use where I am, though it may be better in London or other big cities.

If Nokia can win significant market share through its new range, problems like these will solve themselves as more people will care about them, and more apps will be developed.

It does need early success though, and this will not be easy bearing in mind that the general public are not really discontented with what is already on offer from others.

Nokia seems to have the right marketing ideas though, and the prices look reasonable. Watch this space.

The Adobe Flash and Windows Phone 7 mystery

I attended Microsoft’s Mix event in March 2010, where Microsoft gave us the first detailed preview of Windows Phone 7 from the developer perspective. At that time, Microsoft made it clear that the Adobe Flash plug-in would not be supported in the first release, but implied that it would follow.

Did Microsoft ever announce that Flash support would definitely come? I am not sure that it was quite promised, though I do recall Microsoft spokespersons including Charlie Kindel explaining that native code development would not be possible for developers, other than for operators customising the device – the HTC Hub is an example – and for Adobe building Flash.

Adobe’s Mike Chambers did state that:

Adobe and Microsoft are working together to bring Flash Player 10.1 to Internet Explorer Mobile on Windows Phone 7 Series

In June, still pre-release, I spoke to Adobe’s Michael Chaize who told me that work on Flash for Windows Phone 7 was well advanced and that it would follow “within months” of the initial release.

There has also been contrary evidence. Microsoft’s Andy Lees explained to Mary Branscombe:

There is no ActiveX plug-in extensibility [in the browser] because of the security model; we’re not going to do that. And with no ActiveX plug-in model, how would we do Flash?

Fair enough and even sensible, but why did Microsoft imply earlier that Flash was on the way if in fact the security architecture made it impossible? Plans change of course, but I have never been able to get a clear statement on the matter other than vague expressions of cooperation between Adobe and Microsoft. Like this one from Microsoft’s Joe Marini:

We are working with Adobe, but it has not yet been decided the last time I checked – part of that is Adobe is doing what they have to do and we’re doing what we have to do. The last I checked the team is working with them but I don’t think they have any announcement whether it’s going to definitely work or not.

Now Microsoft has just released Windows Phone 7.5 “Mango”, the first major update to the the Phone OS, and Flash is still not supported. Either because Adobe has not yet done “what they have to do”, or because Microsoft has not done “what we have to do”, or because the architecture prevents it, who knows?

You can debate of course whether Flash support is a selling point or a burden for a smartphone – but it would be good to have clarity on the matter.

My own best guess is that if it has not come by now, it never will. Although Microsoft will not say so, for obvious reasons, I also think it is inevitable that the Windows Runtime and the Metro-style development model found in Windows 8 will form the operating system for a future Windows Phone, though I am not sure if it will be Windows Phone 8 or later, but that will change the rules. Currently IE in Metro does not support plug-ins, so I would say the prospects for Flash in the browser on Microsoft’s phone are not good.

What about Adobe AIR for Windows Phone? Interesting question, though it might be difficult given that Adobe would have to in effect create a Flash to Silverlight conversion tool which might hurt a bit. This would be easier on Metro since native code development is supported.

Adobe’s MAX conference is on next week so there may be further information on this long-running topic then.

PhoneGap comes to Windows Phone

Nitobi has announced PhoneGap for Windows Phone 7, nicely timed just before the Microsoft BUILD conference next week.

PhoneGap is a cross-platform mobile development tool that uses the HTML and JavaScript engine on the phone as its runtime, supplemented by extensions which give access to other device features:

After unpackaging the contents of the www folder, your www/index.html file is loaded into an embedded headless browser control. This is essentially the same paradigm as other platforms, except here it is an IE9 browser and not a webkit variant. IE9 is a much more standards-compliant browser than previous IEs, and implements commonly used html5 features like DOMContentLoaded events, addEventListener interfaces, and CSS3. Be sure to use to get the html5 implementation otherwise the browser may fallback to a compatibility mode, and your code will likely choke and die.

The version for Windows Phone 7, just released in preview, is extended to support features including the camera, accelerometer, contacts, and notifications. There is also support for plugins:

PhoneGap-WP7 maintains the plugability of other platforms via a command pattern, to allow developers to add functionality with minimal fuss, simply define your C# class in the WP7GapClassLib.PhoneGap.Commands namespace and derive your class from BaseCommand.

In general Windows Phone 7 is not well supported by cross-platform toolkits, so PhoneGap support is an interesting development. PhoneGap has a high profile currently, and is being integrated into a diverse range of tools ranging from Adobe Dreamweaver to Embarcadero RadPHP, as well as the standard PhoneGap tools based on Eclipse.

Windows Phone 7 apps, stats and future

Justin Angel, a former Microsoft employee who worked on Silverlight, has posted his analysis of the 24,505 apps he found in the Windows Phone 7 marketplace, exploiting a loophole that lets you get the download links. A few highlights:

  • 97% of the apps are not obfuscated, meaning that it is trivial (with easily available tools) to decompile the source.
  • 90% are Silverlight vs 10% XNA. This is not so much an indicator of the popularity of the two frameworks, but more an indicator of how many apps are graphic-rich games rather than some other kind of utility. Of course if you are making a very simple app, Silverlight is easier than XNA, so that may be a factor too.
  • 99% are C# vs 1% Visual Basic and a smattering of F#. A fascinating stat that makes me wonder what is the future of Visual Basic.

There are more interesting stats about libraries and components used, for which I refer you to the original post.

Does it matter? Well, Windows Phone 7 has not been a big success so far, though the reasons for that are not so much the quality of the OS or the ease of developing apps, but rather its low profile at retail and the fact that most operators and manufacturers don’t really need it: Apple and Android between them pretty much have the market.

That said, there are a few reasons why Windows Phone or some evolution of it may yet be significant. Nokia is betting on it, and while Nokia is undoubtedly in difficulties, this must work in Microsoft’s favour. Further, fear uncertainty and doubt surrounding Android patent and copyright issues may persuade some industry players to give Windows Phone another look.

Perhaps more significantly, when Microsoft unveils its developer strategy at the BUILD conference next week, it is likely that the application model in Windows Phone, or some evolution of it, will integrate with what is planned for Windows 8. NVIDIA is already talking about how Windows 8 will run Windows Phone apps.

For these reasons I believe there is at least a glimmer of hope for Microsoft in the mobile world; certainly the developer story to be officially told next week will be an interesting one.

Mobile development research shows complex picture

Vision Mobile has published its report on mobile development. It is a detailed report and worth reading, though I would be wary about taking it too seriously since some of the results are puzzling. This is what the report is based on:

We spent the last few months quizzing developers and industry executives about the future of mobile. Our research included 20+ industry executives, along with 900+ developers from 75+ countries working on 8+ major platforms.

There are a few surprises. Android fragmentation is generally regarded as a problem, particularly since operators are slow or reluctant to release updates, but according to the report Android is the least fragmented platform after Apple iOS; the worst is Java ME.

Here are a couple of charts I found interesting. What kinds of apps are people paying for?


Source: Developer Economics 2011

It is games that dominate, but at 45% they are still less than half of the whole. Note that these stats are based on iOS sales tracked by App Annie.

In terms of monetisation, iOS is the most revenue-generating platform according to the report, and Android well down.


Source: Developer Economics 2011

Windows Phone is too small to make this list, but the report notes:

Windows Marketplace offers a trial version for applications, which doesn’t help developers monetise from impulse purchases – a
naive differentiation move on the part of Microsoft.

There is a fascinating section on winners and losers in the mobile platform race. There is almost no correlation between number of devices shipped and the number of apps published.


Source: Developer Economics 2011

Java ME is way ahead on devices shipped; but these are feature phones for a market that buys relatively few apps.

Finally, a look at the platforms developers are planning to use, and the ones that plan to abandon. Here is the first:


Source: Developer Economics 2011

I am not sure what to  make of this one. 621 developers were surveyed, and placed Android top, Windows Phone 2nd, Chrome OS third, and iOS level pegging with MeeGo in fourth place. I could almost believe it if it means which additional platforms, since many will already be developing for iOS. I wonder if the question was clearly put?

Next comes a chart of platforms developers are planning to abandon:


Source: Developer Economics 2011

Bad news for Symbian and Java ME, and also uncomfortable reading for HP with webOS and Adobe with Flash. However, only 285 respondents for this part of the survey.

There are harsh words for Adobe. The report gives several reasons why Flash is losing the battle for developer mindshare, including the abandonment of Flash Lite and the perception that “by focusing on large business partners, Adobe has been unable to cultivate momentum among developers in the long-tail.”

Microsoft is praised for its developer tools, but the decline of Windows Mobile and “lacklustre sales” for Windows Phone raise questions over whether it can create a viable market for mobile developer. The report is not always clear about when it means Windows phones of all kinds, and when it means the new Windows Phone 7+ platform.

The report shows that actual usage of Windows Mobile and Windows Phone by developers has gone down from 39% to 36% between 2010 and 2011, while Flash/Flash Lite has increased from 22% to 34%. It is rather hard to make sense of this alongside the other figures showing platform intent and abandonment intent and again it makes me wary of the report’s accuracy.

Frankly, it is hard to discern any safe bets in such a complex market, though Apple seems to be a consistent platform from a developer perspective – provide that the company does not decide to absorb the functionality of your app into iOS itself.

A pivotal moment for Microsoft as it attempts to escape its Windows legacy


Last year I wrote a piece for The Register on 25 years of Windows. I even ran up Windows 1.0 in a DOS box to have a look.

The surprising thing about Windows is not how much has changed in 25 years, but how little. The WIMP model (Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointer) has stayed the same. Inevitably, Windows was completely rebuilt during that period, in the form of Windows NT, but Microsoft was careful to make the user interface reassuringly familiar. Windows NT 3.1 looked the same as Windows 3.1, but did not crash so often. Windows NT 4.0 used the Windows 95 user interface. Further, as far as possible old applications still ran. In fact, Notepad on Windows 1.0 looks very like Notepad on Windows 7.

Then Apple releases the iPhone in 2007, and suddenly Microsoft has a problem. Apple demonstrates that it is possible to create a touch user interface, without a stylus, that really works. Apple does this by creating a new operating system, iOS, which is incompatible with its existing OS X used for desktops and laptops. Yes, much of the underlying code is the same, but OS X applications do not run. Nobody would expect them to on a phone; but then Apple does the iPad, approaching the screen size of a laptop, but still iOS, touch-centric, and incompatible with Mac OS X.

The advantage of Apple’s clean-room approach is that there are no compromises or fudges to make applications built for keyboard and mouse somehow work. iPhone and iPad are huge hits, and users seemingly do not mind sticking with OS X for their productivity applications like Microsoft Office and Adobe PhotoShop, and using the iPad and iPhone for web browsing and for apps that are more about consuming than creating – except that productivity apps like the iWork suite are now creeping onto iOS, and this together with the web application/cloud computing model may mean that OS X gets used less and iOS more over time; but OS X is not going away.

What about Microsoft? It has a big hit with Windows 7, but suddenly it all feels rather legacy. What about the new computing model which is mobile, touch-centric, and enjoyable to use in a way previously unknown in computing? One thing is sure: Microsoft cannot continue with WIMP. It has to break with 25 years of Windows and find a different user interface model.

2010, and Microsoft does Windows Phone 7. This is Microsoft’s iOS: same old Windows underneath, though based on the cut-down Windows CE, but otherwise a complete break from the past. The user interface is a new touch-centric effort called Metro and based on sliding tiles. The main thread of continuity for developers is its app platform based on Silverlight, which runs .NET code written in C# and Visual Basic.

You might have thought that Microsoft would follow Apple by using the phone OS for other form factors as well, and making Silverlight its core app platform for Windows (the cross-platform dream is long gone).

Instead, Microsoft embarked on a third strategy.

“We introduced a new platform based on standard web technologies”, says program manager Jensen Harris in his preview video. Windows 8 uses elements from the Windows Phone 7 UI, but driven by HTML and JavaScript rather than by Silverlight. Well, maybe you can use Silverlight instead; or maybe native code. Not everything is clear yet; but what Microsoft is choosing to focus on is its use of web technology.

Who will buy touch-centric Windows 8 devices? Microsoft’s problem: there is already a touch-centric OS out in the market, supported by countless third-party apps. As it has discovered with Windows Phone 7, it is not enough to do a decent alternative. So what, says the market, we already have iOS, and if we want something non-Apple, there’s Android. And WebOS. And Blackberry PlayBook.

The one thing Microsoft can do that others cannot is run Windows. Not new Windows, but old Windows. There is a reason why Windows 7 was the fastest-selling operating system of all time – most of the business world runs on Windows.

Therefore Windows 8 does both. There’s the new platform, and there’s the old platform, and you just swipe between them.


Windows 8 is a migration strategy. Is a mobile, touch-centric UI the future of client computing? Quite possibly, but in the meantime you have all this old stuff to run, not least Microsoft Office. Here is the answer: run both.

There are a few problems with this strategy.

First, while Microsoft will focus on the new HTML-based platform, in the real world people will buy Windows to run their existing Windows apps. That means they will need keyboard and mouse. Windows 8 OEMs will be fighting an old battle: how to make devices that run well as tablets, but also have keyboard and trackpad, and a competitive price. We have seen that approach fail with the old Tablet PC line and its swivel screens.

Alternatively, we will see touch-only devices and users will curse as they try to run Excel.

Second problem: Microsoft’s Windows team is focused on the new UI. The old one will likely be pretty much Windows 7. The success of Windows 7 was driven by innovations and improvements that matter whatever you run, rather than ones that you can only use if you are running apps built for the new platform.

A split personality means divided attention, and one or other or both will suffer. Is Windows 7 now frozen in time as the last of its line? That does look possible.

Third, what is the developer story? Hitherto, the Windows developer story has been pretty simple and single-minded. There is native code and the Windows API, or for the last decade or so there has been .NET. All-conquering C# has been the unifying language from desktop to server, with Silverlight bringing it to the browser.

Now Microsoft is saying HTML and JavaScript. Plaudits from the standards folk – who mostly do not run Windows and still will not – but confusion for the Microsoft-platform community.

That said, I will be surprised if Silverlight is not also an option for new-style apps, enabling Windows Phone apps to be ported easily.

Even so, there must be a reason for Microsoft’s emphasis on HTML and JavaScript for local apps as well as web applications. It does feel as if the one common thread to the company’s developer story has suddenly been cut, and for no good reason given that Silverlight fits perfectly with the new UI model.

Let me add, it is hard to see a future for the Windows Phone 7 OS, given what we have seen in Windows 8. It seems plausible that Windows Phone 8+ will use the same code as Windows 8, which is another reason to suppose that Silverlight will be fully supported.

I can see where Microsoft wants to get to. It wants to succeed in mobile and in the new touch-centric world, as the alternative is gradual erosion of its entire market and Windows ecosystem. Is this the best way, and will it work? Open questions; and the company has some tricky positioning to do, especially to its developers. The forthcoming Build conference will be critical.

Infragistics: upbeat on Windows Phone but also building for Apple iOS, Google Android

I spoke to Dean Guida, CEO and co-founder of Infragistics, at TechEd in Atlanta earlier this week. Infragistics makes components, mainly for Windows but now beginning to support non-Windows clients. There is a set of jQuery controls in preparation, and “Our roadmaps are also going to deliver native on Android and iPhone,” Guida told me. “We have a lot of software companies that use our tools in their commercial apps, and a lot of enterprises, and we feel that we need to do it,” though he adds, “we feel that the best and the smartest business solution is to go mobile web.”


Infragistics has a focus on data visualization, and Guida showed me some great-looking components that show animated charts, with a huge range of customisation options, and including geo-spatial and timeline controls.

I was intrigued to find Guida more upbeat about Windows Phone than most commentators, though I make allowance for the fact that his company has a component suite for the platform. “More than half of our customers told us that they’re either building or they will build for Windows Phone in the next 12 months,” he told me.

His view, which I share, is that they key advantage of Windows Phone is to Microsoft-platform enterprises rather than to consumers. “It’s so easy to extend their knowledge of Silverlight and extend apps, that they’ll be able to extend the data and the access to information this way. I think that’s going to be a beachhead for Microsoft.”

Of course Microsoft has marketed Windows Phone to consumers so far, and has told businesses they should continue to use Windows Mobile 6.5, clearly a dead-end. It may be easier when the company is able to move on from this mixed messaging and get behind Windows Phone as a business mobile platform.

Continuing a contrarian theme, Guida is also positive about Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF). “It’s huge, especially in the financial markets. They’ve made big bets on it. They’ve built a lot of their trading apps and a lot of their internal apps on it. We’ve been telling Microsoft this for years,” he says.

The problem I guess is that while WPF/Silverlight makes sense for data visualisation for internal apps where you control the platform, for broad reach apps that are visible to the rest of us, Adobe Flash or some other approach is a better fit.

It is understandable that companies like Infragistics are keen to talk up the Microsoft platform. Their business depends on it. It is true that Infragistics is now experimenting with other platforms like Apple iOS and Google Android, but historically developers on non-Microsoft platforms have not formed a strong component market.

“They don’t get it as much as Microsoft developers,” says Guida. “We used to have a ton of Java components. I was at the second JavaOne conference. We built some of the first AWT components, JavaBeans, Swing components. There’s a lot more pain developing for these platforms than on the Microsoft platform, Microsoft has done a great job with the tooling. Why have that pain? I think there is a distinction between the Microsoft and the non-Microsoft developer, that they have a higher tolerance for, pain’s probably not the right word, but a higher tolerance for taking longer to get stuff done. I can only believe that over time maturity will happen. It’s really about satisfying a business need or a consumer need. These platforms are different, but if we go in and give them the tools, why not? We’re really just this year starting to get there.”

It is a brave hope; but looking at the Infragistics site, there are currently no Java controls on offer, and even the 2008 NetAdvantage for JavaServer Faces (JSF) seems to have disappeared. If the Microsoft client platform does decline, the future will be challenging.

Windows Phone at Mix 2011: what Microsoft said and did not say

Yesterday Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore (phone VP) and Scott Guthrie (developer VP) took the stage at the Mix 2011 conference in Las Vegas to tell us what is new with Windows Phone.

The opening part of the keynote was significant. Belfiore spent some time talking about the “update situation”.


This is all to do with who controls what ends up on your phone. If you buy a Windows PC or laptop, you can get updates from Microsoft using Windows update or by downloading service packs; the process is between you and Microsoft.

Not so with Windows Phone. The operators have a say as well; and operators are not noted for delivering speedy OS updates to users. Operators seem to have difficulty with the notion that by delivering strong updates to existing devices that have already been purchased, they build user loyalty and satisfaction. They are more geared to the idea of delivering new features with new hardware. Updating existing phones can cause support calls and other hassles, or even at worst bricked devices. They would rather leave well alone.

When Microsoft launched Windows Phone it announced that there would be regular updates under Microsoft’s control; but this has not been the case with the first update, codenamed “NoDo”. The update process has been delayed and inconsistent between operators, just like the bad old days of Windows Mobile.

Belfiore went on about testing and phones being different from PCs and improvements to the process; but in the end it seems to me that Microsoft has given in:

Mobile operators have a very real and reasonable interest in testing updates and making sure they’re going to work well on their phones and on their network. Especially if you think about large operators with huge networks, they are the retailer who sells the phone, so they have to deal with returns, they take the support calls and they have to worry about whether their network will stay up and perform well for everyone … From our point of view, that’s quite reasonable, and our belief and understanding is that it’s standard practice in the industry that phones from all different vendors undergo operator testing before updates are made available.

That “testing” label can cover any amount of prevarication. It appears that Microsoft is unable to achieve what Apple has achieved: the ability to update its phone OS when it wants to. That is a disadvantage for Microsoft and there is no sign of improvement.

More positively, Microsoft announced a number of significant new features in the first major update to the OS, codenamed Mango. This is for existing devices as well as new ones, though new devices will have enhanced hardware. He focused on what matters for developers, and hinted that there will be other end user features. A few bullet points:

  • Internet Explorer 9 is on Mango – “The same exact code that has just shipped and is now getting installed on tons and tons of PCs is the code base that will be on the phone” said Belfiore. No, it is not built in Silverlight.
  • Limited multitasking for third-party apps. This is in the form of “Live agents” which run in the background. Full apps cannot multitask as I understand, though they can be suspended in memory for fast switching. Currently apps appear to do this but it is faked; now it will be for real, with the proviso that a suspended app may get shut down if its memory is needed by the OS.
  • Multiple live tiles for a single app.
  • Fixed marketplace search so that music does not appear when you search for an app.
  • Apps can register with search so that Bing searches can integrate with an app.
  • There will be a built in SQL Server CE database with programmatic access using Linq (Language Integrated Query).
  • Full TCP/IP socket support
  • Access to raw camera data for interesting imaging applications or barcode  processing
  • 1,500 new APIs in Mango
  • Performance improvements including a better garbage collector that apparently gives a significant boost
  • Improved tools with the ability to simulate GPS on the emulator, capture performance trace log from phone

It adds up to a decent update, though more Window Phone 7.5 than Windows Phone 8 (I do not know what the official name will be). Belfiore also mentioned new apps coming to Windows Phone 7, including Spotify, Skype and Angry Birds.

But what was not said? Here are a few things I would like to have heard:

  • When will get Adobe Flash on Windows Phone? Not mentioned.
  • What about Silverlight in the browser? You would think this would be easy to implement; but I have not seen it confirmed (let me know if you have news).
  • When will Nokia ship Windows Phone devices? Nokia’s Marco Argenti appeared on stage but said nothing of substance.
  • The Mango update is coming “in the fall” but when will current users get updates?
  • Will Windows Phone 8 move away from Windows CE to full Windows, so the same OS will work across phone, tablets and desktop PCs?

Above all, I would like convincing news about how Microsoft intends to get Windows Phone better exposure and fuller support from operators. I still hardly see it in retailers, and it seems a long way down the list when you talk to a salesperson about what new phone you should buy. I do not have a Windows Phone at the moment, but when I tried it for a  couple of weeks I mostly liked the user interface – I found the soft buttons on the Mozart annoying because they are easy to press accidentally – and I also like the developer tools, though I would like to see a native code development option. In the end though, it is no use developing for Windows Phone if your customers are asking for Apple iOS and Google Android.

Microsoft shared the following figures:

  • 12,000+ apps
  • 35,000 registered developers
  • 1.5 million tool downloads

It is a start, but these are not really big numbers, and the proportion of tool downloaders that end up delivering apps seems small so far.

A lot rests on the Nokia partnership and how that plays out.

It now appears that we will need to wait until September and the newly announced PDC (Professional Developers Conference) in Anaheim 13th-16th September before we learn more about the long-term mobile strategy.

Update: Microsoft’s Phil Winstanley tells me that the Windows Phone OS is just called “Windows Phone” regardless of version; but that the Mango update is referred to as “Windows Phone OS 7.5” when it is necessary to differentiate. If that sounds confusing, do not blame me!

Microsoft’s stumbling Windows Phone 7 launch – from a fan

Danny Tuppeny’s post on Why I’m Close to Giving Up on Windows Phone 7, as a User and a Developer is worth a read. He describes his experience as a Microsoft-platform developer who is a natural enthusiast for Windows Phone, except that he has been unimpressed with how its launch has been handled.

The first thing he noticed was its lack of visibility on the high street – something I have also observed:

I popped into a Carphone Warehouse over the road from the office where I work on launch day. The staff knew nothing about WP7. I called all the local Orange stores, hoping for a HTC Mozart. Nobody knew when, or if, they would be getting any Windows Phone 7 devices. Wow.

That was not necessarily Microsoft’s fault. It had to convince its operator partners to promote the phone, and they had to convince retailers. All difficult with a launch device, in a market all-but sewn up by Apple and Android between them.

Over to Microsoft then, to convince the world of the value of its device. What would it take? Microsoft needed a start-up mentality. Total commitment to its mobile platform. Regular updates and bug-fixes. Responsive support.

As time went on, cracks started to show. There were bugs. Many bugs. At one point, the SMS message store for my wife got corrupt, which meant I couldn’t send, or read, text messages to/from her. I got in touch with the UK WP7 developer advocate that had sorted out the developer phone for my company, and explained the issue. After many emails going back and forth I was told that there may be logs on my phone that would help Microsoft track down this issue but security procedures do not allow them to share a tool to get the logs off my device. I was instead, told to try a factory reset. This fixed the issue, but Microsoft were no closer to finding/fixing the bug.

So what Tuppeny experienced was the opposite of start-up mentality; rather, the frustration of dealing with a huge corporation.

Next, he was disappointed by delays to the Windows Phone 7 update, promised at launch, that would add copy and paste to the operating system:

The update was delayed. And delayed. There was zero transparency from Microsoft. Despite the rest of the company making huge strides in this area over the previous few years, Windows Phone 7 is a quiet, closed box. Nobody knew what was happening with the update, and more importantly, the bug fixes.

He is not giving up:

I’m not giving up, just yet. I truly believe Windows Phone 7 can be something brilliant, but there are definitely issues that need addressing. To show how seriously I believe Microsoft could make this work, I’ve applied to go and work for the Windows Phone team.

My own perspective on this is that Microsoft as a whole does not convey commitment to its mobile platform. How can this be, when CEO Steve Ballmer makes a point of hyping the phone at events like CES and Mobile World Congress? Well, I ask myself why Microsoft has refused to use the Windows Phone 7 OS in a tablet form factor, for which it seems well suited; and I ask myself how the phone OS can survive if Windows 8 is launched on a multitude of different form factors and device types. Paul Thurrott says it:

I can and have speculated that Sinofsky, as the dominant sub-CEO executive at Microsoft now, will simply swoop in and dismantle WP when Windows 8 is ready, but that is just an uneducated outside opinion, nothing more.

That may well not be the case; but the mere fact that some signs point towards it undermines the platform.

If I were Nokia this would worry me; except that Nokia may also in fact plan to embrace some new Windows 8 thing when the time comes, and one presumes that Microsoft has shared more of its future plans with Nokia’s executives than it has with the rest of us.