Mar 10

The curiously underfeatured Windows Phone 7

Close your eyes and think happy thoughts — you might not notice what's missing

It appears that Windows Phone 7 will soon be among us. During its incubation period, Android has come out swinging and Apple has continued to perfect iPhone.

Given how long Microsoft has been working on it (years?), and how far its competitors have come (very), it’s highly curious that Windows Phone 7 will ship with three noticeable deficiencies: no Flash, no multitasking for third-party apps and no cut-and-paste.

If you’ve been keeping score, those are the very same deficiencies for which Apple has been slammed by competitors and critics. Only in iPhone OS 3.0 did Apple finally get around to cut-and-paste.

Microsoft does claim that they’re working with Adobe to add Flash as a feature later (why this should take so long I don’t know), but the other items are omitted on purpose. This doesn’t exactly defang the argument that Microsoft copies what people like about Apple. Now they appear to be copying even the things people don’t like about Apple.

And so Microsoft must live with the consequences of its software design. Android will be emboldened because their “advantages” expand to include Windows Phone 7 as well as iPhone. Apple will be strengthened because the things they’ve been criticized for were just validated by the enemy.

One company who is threatened by Windows Phone 7 is Microsoft — which may have just designed itself into that awkward place between two sides of a vice.

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  • This OS seems to be built from scratch (kind of branching Zune OS). In a company like MS, where everything is slow (including most of the software) it’s not surprising they are behind.
    Said that, you can’t compare the speed required to implement Flash in an iPhone than in a multi-manufacturer environment (see how long is taking to have Flash 10.1 on Android). At least MS is saying that they will have it ;)
    About the multi-task, that is a funny one. Apple definitely demonstrated, with their success, that running more than a software in a screen small like that is not so useful. Unfortunately for them, with the iPad things will probably have to change. I wonder what MS will do if on June Apple will launch iPhone 4.0 with multi-tasking, that would be funny! An aspect of multi-tasking that I personally care is the ability of having small utilities installed to customize OS behaviours (like I had on my Treo for instance to improve the typing). As user I hope one day these will exhist again.
    For the copy and paste, it was the biggest issue with the iphone, for me, but I was confident Apple will introduce it soon after I bought the device, and they didn’t let me down big time (considering how powerfull it is now).

  • rd

    First Microsft had to rewrite the tools
    for newer ARM procs.
    Then they had to rewrite SDK to copy iPhone’s SDK
    using .NET and Silverlight.

    So the OS is not rewritten but it is slimmed down and optimize things like browsers,
    and .NET which is like JVM plus all the DirectX junk
    probably had to be slimmed down for GPU.

    Browser is still not caught up even now. that is
    before they bring HTML5, SVG, etc.

    Microsft is also going to get behind once LLVM
    is used by Apple to compile iPhone.

    This is the benefit of open source that Apple got
    that Microsoft has duplicate every time it want to copy.

  • sarumbear

    (why this should take so long I don’t know)

    Because almost none of the Flash applications that ‘exists on the web now’ will be useable on a touch operated system, that’s why. Think of the below example of THE most used Flash site on the Internet:

    You hover over the video player and the cursor appears/dispaeears. You drag the cursor, video scrolls. Now, think what happens when you drag your finger on the touch screen phone; page moves.

    How are you going to differentiate the default move behaviour of the OS to the control the cursor behaviour of Flash? Not possible, or at least no-one yet found a way.

    That’s why no Flash exists on touch devices yet.

    Similar existed for Cut&Paste. Untill Apple came up with the idea of hold-down long to open a new Cut&Paste menu (which they promptly patented) the OS couldn’t differentiate the drag that moves the page and the drag that selects the text. Until Microsoft finds another way to that doesn’t use Apple’s patent there will be no Copy&Paste on Windows Mobile 7.

    Give me a pen input device I say :-)

  • I still have no clue why people keeps saying that OS 3 ain’t cant multi-task … Its based on Os x , it runs daemons , and if u doubt , u can listen to music (Ipod bit) while u do something else ,that’s multi-task ;)
    U can say only that u don’t have several apps running on screen on same time , but that’s a different mater.

  • qka

    It appears that Windows Phone 7 will soon be among us.

    What is your definition of “soon”? Most reports put it in 4Q2010 at the earliest. Others think it will miss the important holiday sales period.

    When do you think it will be?

  • ken segall

    Good point. I was giving them a break and assuming it would be this year — which is about as “soon” as you get in the Microsoft world. Perhaps a bad choice of words…

  • Jimi

    I’d file this one under ‘cheap shot’…

    Yes, windows mobile 7 is late on the scene, but at least Microsoft have had a crack at bringing some new interface design to the table. Considering they’ve pretty much built this from scratch they’ve done a pretty good job in my opinion. Also, considering we’ve been listening to Apple fan-boys defending the useless iPad under the magical assumption that “it’s just the first release… you just wait, man… you just wait”. Yeah, okay, i’ll wait, i’ll wait because i’m not going to blow money on something that will sit on my desk, next to my real computer, gathering dust whilst I make up excuses for why i’m not currently reading a book on it, especially considering I had to hire an electrician to move all my roof lighting to floor level as to avoid screen reflections that medical experts warned would burn through my eye balls…

  • ken segall

    For Microsoft’s smartphone technology, “late on the scene” is a serious understatement. “Oblivious on the scene” is how they spent four years leading up to iPhone with the much maligned Windows Mobile. That says something about their vision. But now it’s been three full years since the first iPhone, and Microsoft — with many times more software engineers than Apple — will still be lucky to ship Windows Phone 7 by holiday time. Fine to give them credit for bringing some new thinking to the table, but let’s remember who built the table. If it weren’t for Apple’s innovation, do you think Windows Phone 7 would look anything like it does?

    As for iPad, I guess you don’t buy the theory that everyday computing for most people will shift in this direction. I’m of the school that iPad will be as eye-opening in its current state as iPod was in its initial release. Which is pretty eye-opening. And yes, it will get even better in future versions. That’s the way technology evolves for every company, including Microsoft. If they could perfect technology the first time out, they never would have soiled their nest with Vista.

  • Shehan

    The new Windows Phone 7 Series is hardly under featured. Theres alot more to it than just simple copy and paste.

    Microsoft did have something to say about the copy and paste; when referring to all information being available at your finger tips when you need it. – This is yet to be seen. But I still dont think that feature is going to bring this system down. They will have it!. So will they have flash as stated. (i am just stating what everyone else has heard).

    Multitasking? there is no other phone that does that properly. Not the Andriod, not the iPhone. Only the WebOS from Palm – and that to, not that well..

    Down the line these features will be added on. You got to hand it to Microsoft, they may be late in the game. But they certainly have a product that stands out amongst its competitors. Its also got all those business connectivity tools, power users are looking for. With the added feature of the xBox Live services and integration, you can be assured gaming companies will flock to really ramp up their services that runs across windows 7, the phone and the xbox + thats a huge Userbase.

    iPhone and Android, thus far only do well in the north American continent. People in Europe and Asia don’t really care for the devices. You mention Microsoft, Sony, Nokia, and they all flock to it. The good thing is Google has also started to gain some traction. But i really don’t have an explanation to why the iPhone hasn’t.

    People will catch on to this OS, and they will like it. I might have strayed from the point I was trying to make. But rest assured, this is not a curiously underfeatured OS.

  • ken segall

    I don’t mean to imply that Windows Phone 7 is not a complete OS. It certainly better be. But this is a marketing & technology blog, and by “underfeatured” I am referring to the “big three” features that I mention in the post. These are the features that the opinion leaders have been harping on: multitasking, Flash and cut/paste. While Windows Phone 7 has offered up a method of linking functions that is supposed to minimize the need for true cut-and-paste, you still can’t cut-and-paste text from one app to another — which is exactly what Apple got slammed for before they finally (and it took forever) added it. Not sure what you mean when you say Android doesn’t multitask, because from all reports I see, it sure does. (That’s why Verizon had to send out an advisory to Droid users about killing their background apps, because batteries were getting drained so quickly with all those apps running at once.) I am with those who say that iPhone’s form of multitasking is all that’s needed in a mobile device, as most people can simultaneously do all the things they need to do at once (use Internet while on a call, listen to music while composing email or surfing, etc.)

    “You’ve got to hand it to Microsoft, they may be late in the game. But they certainly have a product that stands out amongst its competitors.”

    I wouldn’t be so quick with the kudos there. After all this time in development, Windows Phone 7 still isn’t real. Some parts of the demo look interesting. We’ll see about gaming companies “flocking” to this OS. That’s still a theory too, while iPhone/iPod are well on their way to becoming a leading mobile gaming platform with products that are actually in customers’ hands today. iPhone games can now be made even more sophisticated with versions for the higher-powered, bigger-screened iPad. Things change fast. Will Windows Phone 7 “stand out” when it finally ships at the end of the year? My guess is that it will be a third-place platform behind iPhone and Android for some time to come, possibly forever. But that’s just me.

  • Jimi

    I think that someone should be feverishly working on a build of Android that ONLY supports copy and paste, flash, and multitasking support for flash and copy/paste… You can’t tell me that that wouldn’t be, at least, a little bit funny…