Windows Phone 7: Better for Developers or Consumers?

I’m still not sure what to make or think of Windows Phone 7. I thought it would be fun to look at it from a couple of different angles or viewpoints: the consumer’s, the developer’s, and the pundit’s.

The Consumer POV

As a consumer, I’ve been burned too many times with mobile devices and phones to be excited about Windows Phone 7. In fact, networking support and features (among others) in previous versions of Windows mobile phones were so idiotic that I find it hard not to be soured about Microsoft’s approach to mobile devices in general. In fact, as a consumer, I really fear that anything from Microsoft in the mobile space will be overly complicated, difficult to use, and (despite all of the available power and potential) not very viable in terms of every-day usability.

That, and sadly, I really worry about Microsoft’s hype-machine – to the point where I’m very cautious about any of the good things I’m hearing about Windows Phone 7. In other words, as a consumer, Microsoft’s hype-machine has gotten my hopes up too many times in the past – and let me down in ways that really could only be considered abusive. (UMPC anyone? Talk about not only excessive hype, but a complete failure to deliver on even a remote subset of the over-hyped promises.)

Likewise, in the past few years while Microsoft has fallen off of the face of the planet in terms of mobile phones, there have been insanely powerful advances on the part of Apple, Droid, and Blackberry – to name just a few.

So, as a consumer, it’s going to take a lot for Windows Phone 7 to really even get my attention in terms of seeing if what’s available might even be an option. And, frankly, I tend to wonder if many other consumers won’t feel the same way – especially as the tug-of-war between the iPhone and Droid devices seems to be where most consumers are placing their attention.

The Developer POV

As a developer, I’m excited about the prospects of Windows Phone 7. Even though Windows CE and Microsoft’s previous incarnations of mobile phones left the consumer in me in a very sour mood (from an overall usability standpoint), I’ve always loved the possibility of developing for mobile phones and devices. And I’ve actually spent some time developing with the Compact .NET Framework (creating medical transcription and prescription management applications) – which I just loved.

From what I can tell, other .NET developers are also very excited about Windows Phone 7 as well. And, true to form, Microsoft seems to be doing a great job of reaching out to developers to get them excited about the abilities and capabilities of Windows Phone 7 from a developer standpoint.

Furthermore, with native support for the .NET Compact Framework 4.0, Silverlight, and core components of Microsoft’s development stack, I’m assuming that businesses (or enterprises) will potentially take note of Windows Phone 7 as well – as it offers some compelling potential right out of the box.

The Web Developer POV

As a Web Developer I have a love/hate relationship with Microsoft. I love the ASP.NET team and the great tools that they keep pumping out, but have gotten to the point where I just despise Internet Explorer. Windows 7 reminds me of my growing hatred of Internet Explorer.

In terms of that hatred, here are some thoughts. In a few months, it looks like Microsoft will only control roughly 50% of the desktop browser market. The problem, however, is that Microsoft’s control of that roughly 50% of the desktop browser market is going to be split up over 4 different versions of Internet Explorer (once IE9 launches).

Sadly, Internet Explorer is a bit of a zombie-generator. It just cranks out new versions and lets the older versions live on forever – complete with putrid flesh, rotting eyeballs, and every other macabre consequence imaginable. Once IE9 releases, there will really be three different rendering approaches that developers have to worry about: IE6 (putrid/hideous/festering), IE7/IE8 (undead in the sense that they render very similarly to each other – but not identically), and IE9 (looking like it will be good/vibrant). The problem, though, is that this means that 50% of the desktop browser market will be, effectively,  split among three or four different rendering engines – which means more work, time, effort, and cost on behalf of web developers trying to create applications. All, effectively, because Microsoft won’t let various versions of their Web Browser die for fear of imposing costs on businesses.

So, while the IE team continues to talk about web standards, someone needs to remind them that the end-goal of web standards isn’t JUST some theoretical pursuit of higher scores on various CSS and HTML compatibility tests. Instead, the true purpose of web standards is to let developers and businesses spend less time dealing with rendering annoyances, bugs, issues, and implementation conflicts. Microsoft does seem to be getting this with subsequent releases of their browsers. But by allowing previous, zombie, versions of Internet Explorer to run rampant, the benefits are lost – and, in fact, are going to be swallowed whole as developers start tackling rendering considerations for 4 different versions of a browser that controls roughly half of the desktop market.

Which begs the question: what does any of this ranting and raving about Internet Explorer have to do with Windows Phone 7? Not a ton – other than the fact that Windows Phone 7’s browser won’t be based on IE9. Nor will it even be based on IE8, or even on IE7. It won’t even be based on IE6. Instead, Windows Phone 7’s browser is based off of some bastardized version of IE that’s somewhere between IE7 and IE8.

The Pundit’s POV

As a self-styled pundit, I KNEW that the Kin would be a failure – because I saw the lame commercials/marketing and instantly recognized the Microsoft hype machine at work (selling hype instead of substance). More importantly though, how could any mobile device specifically focused on being a ‘social’ tool work when it didn’t even have a calendar? (Think about it, not only is a calendar something that everyone wants on their smart phone, but calendaring is, effectively, the ROOT of ‘social’ in that it’s the ‘device’ that allows people to agree upon times and places where they can meet to socialize. Talk about a train-wreck.)

Even though Kin was a ‘close cousin’ of Windows Phone 7 – I’m hoping that it was really just a stupid move in terms of focus – not in terms of underlying problems with the mobile OS. Consequently, when it comes to Windows Phone 7, I really have no idea whether it will take off or not.

The consumer in me thinks of past ways that Microsoft has failed to deliver when it comes to smart phones. And it’s not like Windows Phone 7 is being released into a universe where no one has seen smart phones before. Instead, Windows Phone 7 is being released into a world where there’s a knock-down drag-out fight going on between powerful and compelling options such as the iPhone, Droid, and Blackberry – to name just a few. Which, in turn, means that in order for Windows Phone 7 to be noticed, it will have to do more than appeal to developers (and businesses) – because they can only buy so many phones.

So, ultimately, I think that Microsoft is going to have to make their case, in compelling fashion, to consumers or typical end users – which will be a tough sell, because the number of compelling options out there today is significant. From what I’ve seen though, it looks like Microsoft might actually be doing a good job in that arena – as Windows Phone 7 is increasingly getting good reviews from even very opinionated and picky consumers and pundits within the tech industry. So, despite my pessimism (based on past experience), I still hold out hope that Windows Phone 7 might make it. (Now if we could only convince them to do something with the name.)

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