James O'Neill's Blog

December 20, 2010

Why tablets shouldn’t take Windows Phone (in this release)

Filed under: Uncategorized — jamesone111 @ 11:41 am

The last few posts show how much Windows phone 7 has had my attention in the the last few days and I’ve been thinking about versions.

Some people say products don’t come right until version 3. Version 1 is about getting a product out and the saying goes “to ship is to choose”. Planning for Vn+1 starts before you ship Vn and with little customer feedback to work with, V2 plans start as “put back what was cut to ship V1”. It’s V3 and beyond that incorporate lessons from the field Although I’ve seen Windows Phone 7 called a V1 product it incorporates a lot of lessons from past products.

Then there are point releases. Phone 7 is a .0 release. Point zeros are the big shifts: think of Windows 2.x-3.0 , or 3.x to 95 , or 9x/ME & NT4 to  Windows 2000 or 2000/XP to Vista. Point zeros are sometimes where the wheels fall off; nearly 20 years haven’t erased the memory of DOS 4.0; and Windows 6.0 (Vista) got a bad name which it never shed. Windows 6.1 (which is what Windows 7 is technically) has people talking about Microsoft getting its mojo back; Windows 2000 (NT 5) wasn’t widely adopted but 5.1 (Windows XP) became entrenched, and so on.

The rumour mill has turned to when Windows Phone 8 will come and what it might contain and what might be in point releases of 7, how many point releases and when might they be? I don’t know the answers, but like a lot of people I have given some thought to what I’d like to see. I said in my review of my Windows 7 phone the improvements I want fall into 3 groups. 

  1. Improve support of cloud services (or the Services themselves)
  2. Make it easier to get stuff on and off the phone
  3. Allow developers to do more.

A couple of  friends of mine think it would be great to see Windows Phone 7 on slate devices, there are two blockers to that: first is Microsoft view of the world, which I described in a previous post

portable computing is carrying your computer (your office) with you – if you don’t want to lug a desktop replacement around to achieve that, then a tablet PC or a netbook is a better way. …  the iPad has proved the market exists for something that is neither personal computer (and a Mac is a personal computer in this context)  nor pocket sized.

It’s wrong to say Microsoft say anything bigger than a Phone must absolutely, non-negotiably must run full Windows, because there have long been Windows CE devices in the not-quite-a-PC part of the market – Microsoft seems to take the lack of success enjoyed by these devices as supporting their view that above a certain size full Windows is better. Engineers at HTC (or LG or Samsung) could easily mate the main board of a smart phone with an 8” display (instead of a 4” one) doubling the diagonal quadruples the area,  so battery space increases four-fold (without making it any thicker) allowing enough capacity to match the iPad. I haven’t investigated Samsung’s Android-based Galaxy tab enough to know if Samsung have done much more than that; but I if device makers told Microsoft they wanted to use Windows phone in slates I don’t believe they’d be told “You can’t. You know where to get Android.”

Here’s a thought: the second blocker is that shortcomings in Windows Phones 7.0 – which might be fixed in 7.1 or 7.5 or whatever it ends up being called – are more painful on a tablet.

To see what I mean look at Office. On my HTC trophy I can sync my One-Note notes via Windows-Live SkyDrive so all my notes come out with me and new ones I jot down while I’m out and about get back to my PC. It’s what I want in my pocket.  But what about PowerPoint – do we really want to take lots of slide decks out on our phones ? Microsoft must hope not because the Zune software which owns all transfers only syncs media files , not documents.  I can open a slide deck from SkyDrive, but I can’t save it back there much less sync it. The only sync option is to have internet-facing SharePoint (and unless it has changed very recently Microsoft itself doesn’t have that for its own staff).  If SharePoint lives on the corporate network it’s accessed remotely from a PC with VPN or Windows 7’s fabulous direct access, but there is no VPN or direct access client in Windows Phone 7.o. Take the phone to the office and if the WiFi there uses certificate based authentication you can’t connect (that was in Pocket PC and Windows mobile but gone from WP7).  Plug in a memory card ? Nope: there’s no socket for one.

The main way PPTx , XLSx and DOCx files will reach the phone, and the only way they will leave is via email, but the limitations don’t matter much. The phone gives the functional equivalent of having a printed copy. It’s no accident that “Comment” is one of only 3 or 4 buttons on the App bar in Word and Excel; a major use to receive documents by mail, comment on them and send a copy back (Third party apps can’t access mail to send their files, but office ones can.)  But using the 4” screen to  show a slide deck to a client or put together a complex document or spreadsheet, aren’t things I expect to often (or at all).

Limitations which are acceptable on a phone aren’t on a slate: lack of cut and paste changes from an occasional and minor inconvenience to a complete disaster. Anyone who wants a keyboard will soon discover the phone’s Bluetooth stack doesn’t support one.  I might not want to take my whole office with me, but I’d want more documents on the device and sync’d back to the cloud or the office than I would with a phone.

A handful of changes to WP7 which are desirable for phones are essential for slates:

  • Shared storage. Today developers can write files only to their app’s Isolated Storage area. Those files are invisible when composing a new mail message – and there is no “attach file to message” API.  A parallel set of file calls to open / read / write files in shared storage would solve a lot of problems, especially if an additional storage device and Windows Live Skydrive both appeared in “shared storage”. A Live mesh client syncing all or part of shared storage would be useful too. 
  • Corporate network support (VPN and certificate based authentication) at least on a par with Mobile 6.5
  • Extensible sync. An option to enable sync of an app’s Isolated Storage at the phone, and a popup in the Zune software which says “Would you like to sync TypeX files to and from your phone ? Select a (PC) folder”. Certificates for logging on to corporate networks (and the requests to generate them) could be sent this way, so could ring tones.

I think the tablet market is going to get more diverse, with different form factors, price points and capabilities. There are some cheap (and frankly quite nasty) Android tablets, the iPad as a premium device, Windows 7 devices (this one from RM looks nice and  Dell’s Inspiron Duo is getting a lot of attention) when Windows Phone 7.x is ready I won’t be surprised to see it on a tablet either.


  1. Hi James – I would say that Windows (full Windows) is just too heavy for slates – at least in it’s current form. You appear to say that Windows Phone is too immature – at least in it’s current form.

    You make some interesting points but I think the issue is bigger than devices/operating systems. The real issues here are about how people use devices to access data – OS and device are just commodities – the apps and the data are the important part. If you listen to any of the analysts talking about curated computing, or about bring your own computer (BYOC) models there are some key themes: enterprise application stores and device independance are two of them (independance can be addressed in browser, or with multiple apps for different platforms). Offline access and on device security are other issues to address.

    The answer that Windows works with everything doesn’t really help – Windows doesn’t give me long battery life and instant on capabilities. What Microsoft needs is to evolve Windows (quickly – last April would have been about the right timeframe…) or embrace a new cross-platform application delivery model (ha! Unlikely – Silverlight is “cross platform”, until you get to mobile devices… then it’s Windows only).

    You may think these are the ramblings of a mad man, but you’ve seen my take on how tablets will disrupt desktop managed service delivery before!


    Comment by Mark Wilson — December 20, 2010 @ 3:10 pm

    • Good points and they desrve their own post 🙂

      Comment by jamesone111 — December 22, 2010 @ 1:34 pm

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