MIX'10: Silly Questions Emerge About Windows Phone

Like a swarm of locust, Microsoft's critics are pouring over all the news releases and blog posts this week from MIX'10, trying to poke holes in the company's Windows Phone strategy. It's a tactic they used in the past, successfully, to destroy Windows Vista's reputation.

Sorry, but I'm not going to let it happen this time.

I've received far too many similar emails this week for it to be a coincidence: Why, readers seem to be asking, is Microsoft not including basic cut/copy/paste functionality in Windows Phone? And how is it possible that the software giant could not provide multitasking capabilities in this emerging smartphone platform when it previously pointed out that the iPhone's lack of such a feature was a major limitation?

Neither of these supposedly controversial topics has been reported correctly elsewhere, which makes sense when you realize that tech organizations fall prey to the same sensationalist need to draw in readers as do mainstream news outlets. Sensation sells, truth be damned.

Here's what's really happening.

Cut/copy/paste. It's been widely reported that Microsoft will not include traditional cut/copy/paste functionality in its Windows Phone platform. While technically true, that's only because they are still implementing a new way to do this type of thing. (This is a brand new platform, after all.) The question is whether this functionality will make it into the first release, expected in September. I was told that Microsoft is working on this, and that if it's not done in time for the launch, it will simply be added as soon as it is ready. Which will be easy, since Windows Phone can be updated over-the-air via a Windows Update-like feature.

Multitasking. It's also been widely reported that Microsoft will not include multitasking functionality in it Windows Phone platform. This is untrue: Windows Phone does in fact support  multitasking capabilities. Microsoft's built-in applications will be completely unconstrained and will able to run in the background if the user switches to another application or hub. Third-party applications, however, will be "paused" or suspended if the users switches away (compared to the iPhone, where apps are literally shut down). If the user switches back to a suspended app, it comes back to life exactly where it left off. And of course, Windows Phone supports a notification model as well so that apps can update the user via Start screen tiles, even when they're not to be used interactively.

The confusion here is caused by the fact that suspended apps could, in fact, be killed if they are left in that state for too long because the device may need the memory resources elsewhere over time. In that case, Windows Phone apps will need to save state (as would, say, an iPhone app) just in case. This isn't any more problematic for developers than it is on other smartphone platforms, though you wouldn't know it from the tortured complaints I've received. And Microsoft has already committed to adding more sophisticated multitasking capabilities to third-party apps over time. But for the short term, Windows Phone will do what users expect: If they're working in App A and need to do something in App B, but then switch back to what they were doing before in App A, that first app will be where they left off, as the user would want. This is the most common scenario for multitasking on a smartphone, and it's going to work.

And while we're talking complaints, let's throw in a third question just for fun. This isn't as common via my email, but I've seen it discussed online:

Microsoft's online store is the only place where users will be able to get Windows Phone apps. It's also been widely reported that Microsoft's online store is the only place where users will be able to get Windows Phone apps. This is absolutely true. And it is the right decision. When you look back at Windows Mobile, the biggest issue with that platform is that Microsoft allowed its wireless carrier and device maker partners to "own" the experience. They responded by destroying Windows Mobile and making it impossible in most cases for users to even update the core OS. With Windows Phone, Microsoft will own the entire experience, up to and including how and when these devices get updated. And part of this ownership—this responsibility, really—includes providing a first-rate Windows Marketplace for Phone experience on both the PC (via Zune) and on the device. Anyone who believes that Microsoft will abuse this control as Apple does for the iPhone simply doesn't understand the constraints under which it works. This is the right way to do things. And you don't have to spend more than a few seconds on the lousy Windows Mobile download sites out there to know why.

Silly criticisms aside, Microsoft has, I think, struck the right balance with Windows Phone 7. These devices are not small PCs and shouldn't work just like small PCs. This is a fundamental change that will, I think, make Windows Phone both different and superior to other platforms. Even the iPhone is really just a miniature PC hobbled by the limitations of the form factor, when you think about it. Apple certainly sees it that way, as evidenced by its need for an iPad. So let's not go off the deep end here, people. Windows Phone will sink or swim in the marketplace regardless of what I think. Let's let it do so on its own merits: real, not imagined.

TAGS: Windows 8
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