This past week Microsoft revealed more details surrounding its brand new mobile phone platform, Windows Phone 7 Series. During their WP7S launch event last month, Microsoft showed off all the UI basics and promised more information to come this month at their annual conference held for developers and web designers called MIX. And boy did they deliver. MIX’10 proved to be a highly informative conference, focusing on how developers will get their applications onto WP7S devices.
Technical details. Third-party developers will have access to XNA and Silverlight tools to create applications for WP7S devices. Microsoft is offering free dev tools, providing Visual Studio 2010 Express for Windows Phone and Expression Blend for Windows Phone, to get things started. In addition to these programs, developers also have access to many services like Microsoft Location Service, allowing devs to make their apps location-aware, and Microsoft’s Notification Service, a push notification system much akin to Apple’s that allows devs to send notifications to users of their apps, regardless of the app being open. Notifications slide down in a tray at the top of the screen (less obtrusive than Apple’s pop up way of doing it). Other prominent services that devs are given include multitouch, accelerometer, and camera & microphone support. If you are a developer or know someone who is a developer, Microsoft is offering free beta versions of the dev tools today at developer.windowsphone.com.
Where will all the apps be sold, you ask? In the Windows Phone Marketplace, of course! Just like the rest of the hubs, the Marketplace hub will be “panoramic,” meaning menus are opened with left and right slide gestures. Microsoft is encouraging all developers to create trial versions of their full apps. The Marketplace supports credit card purchases, operator billing, and ad-supported content. Purchased apps can be pinned to the user’s home screen for easy access. Finally, the revunue split: 70% goes to the publisher, 30% to Microsoft.
Marketplace partners. Microsoft announced the first slew of app partners and they include exciting picks like Pandora, Sling, Shazam, EA Mobile, Namco, Foursquare, and the Associated Press. Look after the break for a full listing of all partners. A majority of the demos show that at least this initial batch of apps will deeply integrate with the WP7S look and feel (think panoramic views and shiny, sleek interfaces). Many of them show off 3D animations, incorporate images and video, and they can reach into your local content (like a photo editing app opening up a picture you took). The most interesting app demo came from Netflix. They demoed a prototype app that supports Watch Instantly, allowing a subscriber to browse and watch their Netflix collection on the go. Unfortunately this was being pushed as a concept, and we likely won’t see anything like it for some time. Another exciting app demo showed off the gaming capabilities of WP7S devices. The Harvest is a 3D Xbox Live-supported title that excited developers with its gorgeous graphics, destructable environments, and Xbox Live in-game leaderboard, gamerscore, and acheivement support. Look in the gallery below for screenshots from some apps.
Lingering questions are answered.
Multitasking: WP7S will not support true multitasking. Microsoft’s first-party applications will run in the background when exited, but third-party apps will remain in a suspended state until the device needs additional resources. For example, Microsoft apps like Internet Explorer and the Zune music player will run in the background, but other apps like Yelp will be forced to quit when not in direct use at any point without notification when you start opening other apps and the device needs to access more resources. This “intelligent app management” is also purportedly found in Google’s Android OS.
Copy & paste: Following in the footsteps of its big competitor, WP7S will not support the copy & paste function at launch. Apparently this was a conscious decision made by Microsoft; they believe cell phone users do not use this function very often. Instead, Wp7S devices will use a data detection service that recognizes text input like phone numbers and addresses. Hopefully they won’t take as long as Apple did with bringing clipboard functionality to its mobile OS.
What’s contoso?: Contoso is the placeholder name Microsoft added to the Marketplace UI, and now we know its purpose for being there. Microsoft has alloted a space in the Marketplace for phone carriers to put their own branded store. So this is a separate place where Verizon Wireless can sell their content to users, for instance.
Hardware minimum requirements: capacitive touch; A-GPS, accelerometer, compass, light and proximity sensors; 5 megapixel camera with flash and an independent camera button; 256MB RAM, 8GB Flash; DirectX 9 & codec acceleration; an ARMv7 Cortex/Scorpion CPU; and Back, Start, and Search face buttons. Initially Microsoft will require all handsets to boast a 800 x 480 (WVGA) resolution screen. An update will allow for 320 x 480 (HVGA) screens at a later undisclosed date.
Exsisting WP7S devices: At Mobile World Congress, we were introduced to the Asus model. At MIX, two new devices were unveiled–a Samsung slate and LG slider (the first with a keyboard).
All in all, MIX’10 was a huge invitational for all developers and Microsoft welcomed them with open arms. Microsoft is making it extremely easy for developers to jump into Windows Phone 7 Series by offering free dev tools. With their stringent hardware minumim requirements and terriffic initial batch of app partners, the apps out of the gate should look great and function well. With graphics-intensive games like The Harvest linking Xbox Live to cell phones, Microsoft could very well raise the bar for mobile gaming, giving the App Store and its growing number of sub-par games (and even the likes of DS and PSP) a tremble in their boots. I am really digging Microsoft’s start-from-the-ground-up mentality and I am excited to see what developers can do with their brand new mobile platform. However, as many have pointed out, Microsoft is stuck in a classic case of Catch-22: Microsoft wants customers to choose WP7S phones and developers to write programs for them. But developers won’t bother pushing their apps into the Windows Phone Marketplace if customers aren’t attracted to WP7S phones, and customers won’t purchase WP7S phones if they don’t offer a wide-ranging marketplace of apps! Microsoft still has more work to do. Priority number one? Come up with a good marketing campaign.
Windows Phone 7 Series third-party software partners: