Windows Phone 7: A Developer’s Review

Do you have Windows Phone 7 yet? If not, you may want to consider checking out what Microsoft has done with its mobile platform. Since the release of WinPho7 (Windows Phone 7) they have been selling out throughout the world, including Germany, the UK and the US. Although shortages in supply have been speculated as part of the reason why so many countries are sold out, the phones are doing well – people seem to love them.

Frankly, Microsoft is a little late to the mobile race, where the climb is steep and the competition fierce.

Today we have iPhone, Android, RIM (BlackBerry), webOS (HP, was Palm) and Symbian/MeeGo (Nokia) – all of which have a device with some combination of support for HTML5, WebKit and Javascript, in addition to being veterans in this mobile race. iPhone has been around since Q1 of 2007, with Android coming out later in Q4 and although some (*cough-cough* BlackBerry) had been lagging behind in terms of an “enhanced” mobile experience, all of them today have modern Web browsers and an enhanced user experience.

With WinPho7, you unfortunately do not have WebKit or HTML5, but you have a version of Internet Explorer 7 optimized for the mobile experience. Initial testing of the browser speed has been impressive, on par with iPhone 4 and Android. Now if IE for WinPho7 were to get Flash and HTML5 support, I think it would be one of the best mobile browsers in the market.

From a development perspective, Microsoft has made it very easy to get going and at very little cost. For example, Microsoft really wants people to write apps. They offer a free version of Visual Studio.Net (Microsoft’s integrated development environment) specifically for writing apps for WinPho7. These apps are then written in the same languages developers already know, so there is no need to know objective-c or some hybrid java language; it’s C#, one of the most popular and well known Microsoft development languages. Getting your app submitted is very similar to the Apple experience, where there is a marketplace that hosts available apps and where you can submit your own. The annual subscription fee is $99, which is the same for the Apple marketplace. You can actually get this $99 back by signing up with http://www.bizspark.com, a Web site Microsoft created to help get going on writing apps. They are basically giving the tools away for free and paying for your first year, which is really fantastic.

Speaking of apps, with WinPho7 there are two different kinds. One is based on Silverlight and the other XNA. Silverlight and XNA are both development platforms; however, Silverlight apps are used to provide a rich, interactive event-based experience, such as using the Last.FM or Facebook apps on WinPho7. These are your typical apps you’re used to on your iPhone or Android device and require you to do something, such as pick a radio station or post a message on Facebook. XNA is different in that it is used to build games that are highly complex and graphically intense. I actually just bought my first XNA game last night, which was Need for Speed Underground and I love it. The graphics are better than the original Xbox, yet it’s on my phone!

The really cool thing about XNA games is, not only can I play them on my WinPho7, but at home I can load any of the games on my Xbox 360 and play them there, too.

Having used my WinPho7 for over a week, I’ve really gotten to know it. My favorite part about my phone is that when I unlock it, the interactive tiles give me the information I need to know without ever having to open anything. This saves me a lot of time from having to unlock my phone, open the Outlook app and then see if I have any new messages or when my next meeting is. Another really nice thing Microsoft did was standardize the hardware. This forces device manufacturers to adhere to a specific standard, so I know when I get a WinPho7 it will always come with at least a 5MP camera with a flash and 1 of 2 possible screen resolutions. Nor will my software be hybrid versions of itself that change based upon carrier and device… it will always be Windows Phone 7.

One thing that lots of people have been putting the spotlight on is the lack of copy and paste. Coming from an iPhone experience, I did use copy and paste occasionally. The good thing is that this feature is coming to WinPho7 in early 2011. I’ll have to live without it until then. Overall, previously having an iPhone (which, don’t get me wrong, is an amazing phone), the only thing I will miss is Angry Birds.

Without a doubt, WinPho7 is a home run for Microsoft. They played their cards right, they didn’t come in to be the next “iPhone Killer,” but to simply create a modern and easy mobile experience that made the consumer click less and do more. They may not have copy & paste quite yet (coming early 2011), but what they do have is impressive. Since I got my WinPho7 device (Samsung Focus) I have found the phone to be very easy to use, lightweight and smooth. When I let someone check out my phone the most common response is “Wow, this is really nice…” followed by “OOOoooOOoos” and “Ahhhhs”. Microsoft did a fantastic job and I applaud them for it. They are truly “saving us from our phones.” (Note: If you haven’t seen the WinPho7 ads, check them out here, not only are they comical but they are not kidding.)

If you’re near an AT&T store, check out Windows Phone 7 for yourself. See what you think.

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