Ever since watching the release event for Windows Phone 7 Series we’ve been internally discussing what this all means. And the more I think about it, the more I see this as a huge leap forward for the platform. I know that some people are already upset that there aren’t going to be UI replacements and it seems like there’s limited backwards compatibility, but you know what? It doesn’t matter. And I say that with a Fuze running constantly cooked software that I love to use and yet I’d give it up in a heartbeat. Why? Well let’s think about the phones we’re using. Yes, it has a super sexy and new 6.5.5 core running with Sense 2.5 with landscape support. But what’s that all come down to? The core itself is MS. The UI is Sense. That’s an HTC addition. Photos are viewed using HTC Album. The web browser default is set to Opera, but I sometimes fire up Skyfire if I want to go to a real heavy site. Facebook integration is again a part of Sense, as is Twitter. Sure there are alternative like Twikini to get Tweets and there’s a stand alone FB app (which MS actually did develop) but then there’s no integration into your contacts that way. The ability to flick to scroll first came from HTC, not MS. Even the onscreen keyboard most of us rely on is from HTC. Music is played by Media Player but of course, I have Core Player for some music and videos that WMP can’t handle. And a lot of you use Kimona or Resco for your music and streaming needs. SMS is part of HTC messaging. The phone dialer is HTC’s dialer. And my location features (like weather updates) are courtesy of Google’s location awareness. Now of course you can sub in any number of replacement apps and if you have a Samsung, Sony, or Toshiba phone then instead of Sense you’ll have their UI and their photo viewer. But you see where this is going, right? The core is Microsoft but the experience is not.
See as Windows Mobile went from a business oriented phone to a consumer phone the MS software was outpaced but the core was still good, it had native Exchange support and lots of legacy app support, so manufacturers ran with it and even though they were hardware manufacturers they were hiring software developers. And ultimately that’s how the current WM experience has come to where it is. WM in its current state is built on third party software and software created by hardware manufacturers.
Enter Windows Phone 7 Series. What are we looking at here? The UI is all Zune. All of your social networking comes right into the core of the OS. You’ll find all of your Facebook, Twitter and anything else you want right in your People hub. Your photos and movies are straight Zune. Web browser is IE rendering in desktop mode. Location awareness is thanks to the Windows API connected through Bing. Mapping and searches, all Bing. Messaging is Outlook as is calendar. Keyboard is an enhanced Zune keyboard with autocorrection reworked. Syncing is Activesync at its core but Zune at its face. And of course sprinkle in some XBox Live for good measure. Aahh, now you see where we’re headed. This is all MS. Microsoft is taking ownership of their platform. This is a fundamental shift for them and returns them to the position they should have always been in. They are a software company and they should be the face of their products. This means that hardware manufacturers gets to be manufacturers again. Of course there’s still going to be software tweaking, enhancements and customization from the manufacturer but before they had to do all of that and develop a UI. And MS has stated that they will work with manufacturers to help optimize the experience and develop the end products together.
Ultimately you’ll get the flavor phone you want. If you want a keyboard there will, 100%, be WP7 phones with keyboards. And some will be massive at 4” and some will be a lot smaller. You’ll still get the device that best fits you, but you’ll know the experience that you’ll get on that phone. Some will have extra sensors, larger cameras, faster processors, etc. And you get the one you want still. But more importantly you should get the latest hardware a lot faster now. The reason is simple: manufacturers will know that the software will be ready to go once they build the hardware and know that they have the OS developer (and their support and team) to help get optimized devices into the market. So when that new 1.5ghz chip is handed over to manufacturers they can be ready to drop it in and send it out. And this gives MS a nice niche. Manufactures return to what they do best and software engineers return to what they do best.
Compare this to Android. Yes, you can just drop the OS in but everyone is adding their flavor, like Moto Blur. The ecosystem becomes convoluted as the hardware manufacturers try to change their software to differentiate themselves and in the end that means that the end user experience from Android to Android is a moving target. That’s how MS got to where it is and this is why they are changing course now.
One other note is that this platform doesn’t hinder manufactures. Fundamentally, the hardware for Android, WP7 and other platforms (Symbian, Bada, whatever) are pretty much the same. That lets the manufacturer again focus on hardware and as the market demands one OS over another they can push that OS out the door and WM7 may, thanks to the support MS provides, be a relatively inexpensive device to build. So what you may see is the same form factor with WP7 and Android and the market (yup you guys) will decide who the winner is, just like you have done with Windows and Linux.
You see, this is a lot more like the good old PC. You can pick your Dell, HP, Fujitsu, Toshiba…you pick the one with the specs that meet your needs. You know the software experience that you’ll get from any of these devices. And yes, there are some software differences between what’s preloaded but ultimately you likely picked your PC because of the hardware and pricing. And it’s worth mentioning that on a PC MS just hands over the software to manufacturers and the minimum specs and level of hand holding MS does on the PC side is minimal. Like it or not, that means you can get a monster $2,000+ PC or a $200 PC. On the phone side you can expect similar differentiation between manufacturers of WP7, but of course the minimum specs will be fairly robust so there won’t be a ‘netbook’ quality phone. The manufacturers that hit the key hardware peaks the fastest will be the winners and ultimately those will be the phones we stand in line to be the first to own.
So yes, I love my phone. It’s almost never more than 5’ away from me. But with that said I’m ready to turn it in for WP7. Will I miss my current software? Well I’m hopeful that a lot of it will be updated to run on WP7 (and we really don’t know the entire compatibility story yet) but most of the software that we buy is no longer needed. We don’t need a new UI, another way to stream music, another photo viewer…all of these apps are taken care of. The software manufacturers that we all know and love aren’t going to leave us. They’ll be kicking out a series of new apps that we can’t even conceive of using augmented reality with location based awareness and embracing OpenGL ES 2.
There’s plenty we don’t know about WP7 but what we do know is that MS is taking their product back, making it their own and fundamentally changing the relationship between hardware manufacturers and software developers so they can both concentrate on what they do best and ultimately we’re the winners.