James O'Neill's Blog

December 6, 2010

Bye bye Windows mobile, hello Windows Phone 7

Filed under: Mobility,Windows Phone 7 — jamesone111 @ 2:45 pm

The postman delivered my new Windows 7 phone on Thursday. My choice of the HTC trophy was coloured by: what’s available now, which carrier give a good signal at home  (I can only get a usable Orange signal upstairs) and price. I got the phone, free on a £30 x 18 month contract with an allowance of 500MB data 100 voice minutes, and 500 texts but the first 10 months are half price. A Total of £330 over 18 months seemed a good deal: the process gave me enough for another post.

The first impression of the phone is fantastic and the upside will also get it’s own post – here I want to talk about the change: I liked Windows Mobile 6.5, on my HTC Touch Pro2. That’s not surprising, in 2000, got the first “Pocket PC”, an iPAQ 3630 (actually made by HTC) which followed by Orange-supplied SPV (the HTC “Canary”)  C500 (HTC typhoon), E650 ( HTC Vox).  The Touch pro 2 ran old Pocket PC apps and with a few things turned off it looked like Pocket PC 2002. but that’s not an automatic condemnation, its still a darned good phone.

Microsoft is sometimes accused of putting compatibility before progress in desktop and server OSes: but that’s OK if the original design assumptions still hold. Xbox 360 runs games written for the original Xbox even though the processor changed from a Pentium chip to PowerPC . Window phone 7 is unique among Microsoft platforms in not running applications from its predecessor: assumptions from the early 2000s don’t work today.

  1. Personal Digital Assistants are a PC in your Pocket. I wrote about that before. The iPhone is closer to the iPod than an iMac. When Microsoft people were asked about a “Zune-phone” they always said “We’re not going to make one” – the new phones are Zunes made by other companies. 
  2. Greater choice must be better. Microsoft  has been selling operating systems to OEMs since the early 1980s, so that was the natural way to sell a mobile OS. But the freedom of specification that PC makers enjoy causes fragmentation in mobile devices – a common OS doesn’t iron out the differences to the degree it does in PCs.  Apple’s attitude of “We will have one consistent platform, and if you don’t like it, buy from someone else” worked. Microsoft didn’t dictate specs to Windows Mobile device makers – perhaps as a legacy of the DOJ experience, and got an consistent platform. For example the my 2 previous HTC phones fed audio out through the USB connector; you needed an adapter to use your own headphones. Windows phone 7 audio uses a standard jack.  It also standardizes the USB connector as Micro USB (I would have preferred Mini USB).
  3. The phone companies rule. I remember asking back in about 2001 “Why not have a Microsoft branded phone, manufactured by, say, HTC”  the answer was “Carriers wouldn’t take it”.  When Orange launched the SPV I defended their right to determine what could run on it, but carriers testing and signing apps was a horrible model.  They dread being “dumb pipes”, but when carriers change software in the name of differentiation it is usually for the worse. Use the iPhone as a way of thinking customer views of carriers “added value; when it was exclusive to 02, did people ask “What shall I buy to exploit O2’s differentiated network ?” and end up with an iPhone or was it “Which carrier can sell me an iPhone ?”.
  4. The world of 2002 wouldn’t let Microsoft say “Applications for devices running our OS will all be approved by and bought through us” which is what Apple did, and the model is accepted now, people are even talking about desktop Windows or Mac OS having an “App store” in future versions; I can’t see either being closed to non-validated programs (that’s all ones you use now), or regulators allowing Microsoft to take a cut of all sales onto Windows PCs. But why shouldn’t Microsoft (or Apple) sell third party applications they’ve validated for their platform ? Small vendors might prefer that to handling distribution themselves.

Windows Phone 7, then, comes from a recognition that the world has changed (how much of that change would have happened without Apple is unknowable): a panic reaction to iPhone as device would have been quicker, but doomed to fail . But some things I’ve grown used to were lost in the change.

Not a “Storage device”
Active sync exposed the whole file system of a Windows Mobile device to a PC, so copying files in either direction was easy. The  Touch pro 2 could act as a USB drive and plug into the  Xbox 360 (or an in-car device) to play music; I even used it as installation media. The Xbox didn’t recognise the Trophy: the Zune software syncs music, pictures and video (but not Calendar and Contacts from Outlook on the PC) without exposing the file system. A known hack for Zune devices works on WP7 , but it doesn’t show everything all of which means, among other things, there is No method to install ring tones, so much for personalization.

No Internet connection sharing: this in Windows Mobile 6.0 and possibly earlier. The Trophy is the first Bluetooth phone I’ve had which doesn’t support the “dial up networking” profile where dialling *99# on a pseudo modem brought up an internet connection. That means sorting out a dongle for the handful of times I need to connect my laptop over 3G.

Still on Bluetooth profiles there is no keyboard profile support, and no keyboarded devices have arrived yet, one must use the on-screen keyboard. that’s step into the unknown; I loved the built in keyboard on the last two Windows mobile devices, and through Ctrl + X,C & V combinations it provided cut and paste – missing for now from Windows Phone 7, not that I used it much.

Voice command.  was an add-on for windows Mobile, Voice control is built in to Windows 7 but with less functionality – in particular it won’t read the calendar or play music from a voice command, and the Internet and map searches use TellMe which is a US only service – at least for now.

Even without Tellme, the mapping application is nice but it is a route planner with GPS assistance but there’s no true satnav – third parties haven’t launched yet.

Finally Microsoft MyPhone backed up various bits of my old phone, and the new  WindowsPhone.live.com does extra things (like remotely locking the device),  but currently backup and restore are missing.

In short – and after more than 1000 words, that might seem ironic – everything I liked about Windows mobile has gone (along with the stuff everyone else hated) – so why on earth do I like this device ? And that’s what the next post will be about. 

1 Comment

  1. Great summary of the situation.

    I think that some of the things that are MIA will be there in a year. With change as radical as 6.5 → 7, they needed to get the important stuff done right. They’re making decisions they may end up living with for several years (think of how long some decisions from DOS lasted!). Once they have the basics done, then they can go back and figure out how to do some of the other things that aren’t first priority. Remember, when Apple launched the iPhone, they didn’t even have third party apps, and the phone still did well, and I think a lot of that came from thinking carefully about what the overall user experience was going to be — they wanted it to feel right. I think Microsoft is doing the same with Windows Phone 7.

    I’ll be intrigued to see your next post about how you’re getting on with your new phone. I’ve got to say, that I did I double take when I saw you’d got yourself a phone without a hardware keyboard — almost to the point of wondering “Who is this guy and what has he done with the real James O’Neill?!?”.

    (FWIW, I think you could do another phone-based post on why Windows Phone 7 will do just fine despite being late to the party. My own take on this is three points: First, hello, why should anyone assume doom and gloom from not being first? You do remember that Xbox wasn’t exactly first either, right? Second, as with Xbox, they get to learn from the what has worked and not worked for the other players. But thirdly, and most importantly, this market is huge. I think it’s like it’s like cars, TVs, VCRs, etc. — they begin as something for a privileged few but as the years pass, they become just the stuff everyone has.)

    Comment by M.E.O. — December 10, 2010 @ 10:14 am

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