It’s one thing to see a slickly-produced ad showing the games, but it’s an entirely different thing to see actual games being played on an actual phone. Here’s Engadget’s video of the game experience on one of the prototype phones – the Samsung “Taylor”, which I have and which you might have seen at the last “Coffee and Code” event in Toronto:
We’ll preface this by saying that both the hardware and software we demoed was still unfinished (the latter being the Samsung Taylor dev phone and the LG QWERTY model we broke news of on the Engadget Show). Regardless, the gameplay for the arcade titles seemed excellent, with frame rates holding fast even during graphically intensive 3D sequences (such as the chaotic, scattered-pixel play of Rocket Riot). The Harvest, while a bit familiar to our eyes, still showed the graphic promise of the platform. Gameplay was definitely well suited to a touchscreen device, though Microsoft’s Kevin Unangst told us that developers could target controls for both touch and QWERTY-equipped phones (provided that a touch version was always present). The screen response seemed accurate and sensitive, reacting quickly to our input. Particularly in the Crackdown title — a tower defense game "set in the Crackdown universe" — pinch zooming, rotation, and finger tracking was excellent.
The New New Xbox Experience
The “New Xbox Experience” or “NXE” – the revamped Xbox user interface that introduced avatars – comes along for the ride on Windows Phone. You can access your Xbox Live account on WP7, check out your gamerscore and achievements, and like Xbox-based games, your avatar can also be used within WP7 games and apps.
In this Engadget video, we see avatars being used to give a little twist to some standard smartphone apps such as “flashlight”, “spirit level” and “coin flip”:
Here’s another video showing more avatar action as well as some of the social networking features of Xbox Live, as done on WP7:
The games that have been announced for Windows Phone 7 so far:
You can learn a lot about Windows Phone game development by learning from any book on XNA 3.0, which you can find at your local bookstore. I particularly liked O’Reilly’s Learning XNA 3.0, which covers the development of both 2-D and 3-D games.
And finally, keep an eye on this blog. As a Windows Phone 7 Champ, I’ve got a direct line to the WP7 team, I always point you to the good stuff, and I’ve got some surprises in store!
If you have a little more time to spare, I’m going to explain my belief that while netbooks have a nifty form factor, they’re not where the mobile computing action is.
A Tale of Two Pies
When I was Crazy Go Nuts University’s second most notorious perma-student (back in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s), I took a handful of business courses at the recommendation of my engineering and computer science professors. “You’re going to have to learn to speak the suits’ language,” they said. Crazy Go Nuts University has a renowned business school and I thought it would be a waste not to take at least a couple of business courses. I especially liked the Marketing couse, and one lecture stands out in my mind: a case study comparing the dessert offerings of two major fast food chains.
In the interest of not attracting the attention of their lawyers, I’m going to refer to the chains as:
Monarch Burger, whose mascot is a mute monarch with a glazed-over face, wearing a crown and associated paraphernalia, and
Jester Burger, whose mascot is a clown in facepaint and a brightly-coloured jumpsuit who loves to sing and dance.
Both Monarch Burger and Jester Burger offered a dessert that went by the name “apple pie”. Let’s examine them.
Monarch Burger’s Pie
Monarch Burger went to the trouble of making their apple pie look like a slice of homemade apple pie. While it seems appealing in its photo on the menu, it sets up a false expectation. It may look like a slice of homemade apple pie, but it certainly doesn’t taste like one. Naturally, it flopped. Fast-food restaurants are set up to be run not by trained chefs, but by a low-wage, low-skill, disinterested staff. As a result, their food preparation procedures are designed to run on little thinking and no passion. They’re not set up to create delicious homemade apple pies.
Jester Burger’s Pie
Jester Burger’s approach was quite different. Their dessert is called “apple pie”, but it’s one in the loosest sense. It’s apple pie filling inside a pastry shell shaped like the photon torpedo casings from Star Trek. In the 70s and 80s, the pastry shell had bubbles all over it because it wasn’t baked, but deep-fried. After all, their kitchens already had deep fryers aplenty – why not use them?
Unlike Monarch Burger’s offering, Jester Burger’s sold well because it gave their customers a dessert reminiscent of an apple pie without setting up any expectations for real apple pie.
Jester Burger’s pie had an added bonus: unlike Monarch Burger’s pie, which was best eaten with a fork, Jester Burger’s pie was meant to be held in your hand, just like their burgers and fries.
At this point, I am obliged to remind you that this isn’t an article about 1980s-era desserts at fast food burger chains. It’s about netbooks and smartphones, but keep those pies in mind…
Netbooks are from Monarch Burger…
Netbooks remind me of Monarch Burger’s apple pie. Just as Monarch Burger tried to take the standard apple pie form and attempt to fit it into a fast food menu, the netbook approach tries to take the standard laptop form and attempt to fit it into mobile computing. The end result, to my mind, is a device that occupies an uncomfortable, middle ground between laptops and smartphones that tries to please everyone and pleases no one. Consider the factors:
Size: A bit too large to go into your pocket; a bit too small for regular day-to-day work.
Power: Slightly more capable than a smartphone; slightly less capable than a laptop.
Price: Slightly higher than a higher-end smartphone but lacking a phone’s capability and portability; slightly lower than a lower-end notebook but lacking a notebook’s speed and storage.
To summarize: Slightly bigger and pricier than a phone, but can’t phone. Slightly smaller and cheaper than a laptop, but not that much smaller or cheaper. To adapt a phrase I used in an article I wrote yesterday, netbooks are like laptops, but lamer.
Network Computers and Red Herrings
The uncomfortable middle ground occupied by the netbook reminds me of another much-hyped device that flopped – the network computer, which also went by the name "thin client". In the late 90s, a number of people suggested that desktop computers, whose prices started at the mid-$1000 range in those days, would be replaced by inexpensive diskless workstations. These machines would essentially be the Java-era version of what used to be called "smart terminals", combining local processing power with network-accessed storage of programs and data.
When I look at netbooks, I get network computer deja vu. I see a transitory category of technology that will eventually be eclipsed. I think that laptops will eventually do to netbooks what desktop machines did to network computers: evolve to fill their niche. Just as there are small-footprint desktop computers that offer all the functionality and price point of a network computer along with the benefits of local storage, I suspect that what we consider to be a netbook today will be just another category of laptop computer tomorrow.
I’m going to go a little farther, beyond stating that netbooks are merely the present-day version of the network computer. I’m going to go beyond saying that while their form factor is a little more convenient than that of a laptop, the attention they’re getting – there’s a lot of hoo-hah about who’s winning in the netbook space, Windows or Linux – is out of proportion to their eventual negligible impact. I’m going to go out on a limb and declare them to be a dangerous red herring, a diversion from where the real mobile action is.
…and Smartphones are from Jester Burger
A quick aside: The photo above is not of a Jester Burger fried apple pie. In response to their customers’ so-called health concerns (really, if those concerns were real, they’d stop eating there), they started phasing out the fried pies in 1992 in favour of the baked kind. There are still some branches of Jester Burger that carry the fried pies, but a more reliable source is a fast food chain that I’ll refer to as “Southern Chicken Place”, or SCP for short. Those pies in the photo above? They’re from SCP.
Jester Burger made no attempt to faithfully replicate a homemade apple pie when they made their dessert. Instead, they engineered something that was “just pie enough” and also matched the environment in which it would be prepared (a fast food kitchen, which didn’t have ovens but had deep fryers) and the environment in which it would be eaten (at a fast food restaurant table or in a car, where there isn’t any cutlery and everything is eaten with your hands). The Jester Burger pie fills a need without pretending to be something it’s not, and I think smartphones do the same thing.
Smartphones are truly portable. They really fit into your pocket or hang nicely off your belt, unlike netbooks:
And smartphones are meant to be used while you’re holding them:
Just try that with a netbook. In order to really use one, you’ve got to set it down on a flat surface:
The best smartphones make no attempt to faithfully replicate the laptop computer experience in a smaller form. Instead, they’re “just computer enough” to be useful, yet better fit the on-the-go situations in which they will be used. They also incorporate mobile phones and MP3s – useful, popular and familiar devices — and the best smartphones borrow tricks from their user interfaces.
Smartphones, not netbooks, are where the real advances in mobile computing will be made.
Smartphone vs. Netbook: The People Have Chosen
One again, the thesis of this article, in graphic form:
In the late 80s and early 90s, the people chose the fast food apple pie they wanted: the convenient, if not exactly apple pie-ish Jester Burger pie over Monarch Burger’s more-like-the-real-thing version.
When people buy a smartphone, which they’ve been doing like mad, they’re buying their primary mobile phone. It’s the mobile phone and computing platform that they’re using day in and day out and the device that they’re pulling out of their pockets, often to the point of interrupting conversations and crashing the trolley they’re operating.
When people buy a netbook, they’re often not buying their primary machine. It’s a second computer, a backup device that people take when their real machine – which is often a laptop computer that isn’t much larger or more expensive – seems like too much to carry. It’s a luxury that people might ditch if the current economic situation continues or worsens and as the differences between laptops and netbooks vanish. Netbooks, as a blend of the worst of both mobile and laptop worlds, will be a transitional technology; at best, they’ll enjoy a brief heyday similar to that of the fax machine.
The people are going with smartphones, and as developers, you should be following them.
In my previous article in Upwardly Mobile, the ongoing article series in which I look as various aspects of Windows Mobile 6 development, I showed you a simple application that made use of a couple of user interface controls. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the user interface controls by way of the steak-and-cocktails lifestyle of the characters on the TV series Mad Men.
(In case you’re not familiar with Mad Men, it’s a dramatic TV series set in the early 1960s whos emain characters are advertising executives working at an agency in New York. It was the age of three-martini steak lunches, which serves as the inspiration for the example application in this article.)
Introducing Beef ‘N’ Booze
The application that we’ll build is called Beef ‘N’ Booze. It has no real function other than to demonstrate the use of some of the controls that come with Windows Mobile 6, and do so in a more entertaining way that you’d normally find in a book.
Here’s what the app will look like on startup:
The app has a single form and that form is filled completely with a tab control with two tab pages: Beef and Booze. The Beef page lets you choose the “doneness” of your steak as well as a selection of side dishes. Once you’ve made your choices, you click the Place Order button to see a message box containing a summary of your order:
Clicking on the Booze tab takes you to the Booze page, where you can place an order from a selection of cocoktails. You can also specify the number of cocktails you want to order and how strong you want the bartender to make them:
When you’ve made your drink choices, you click on the Place Order button to see a message box summarizing your drink order:
That’s the app in a nutshell. Remember that the idea behind Beef ‘N’ Booze isn’t to make something useful; it’s to demonstrate Windows Mobile’s built-in user controls and give you a chance to explore them. With that knowledge and a little practice, you can eventually build apps that actually do something.
TabControl and TabPages
One of the tricks to compensate for the limited screen “real estate” on a mobile device is to break up an application into pages. The simplest “out of the box” way to do this with Windows Mobile is to use a TabControl, which is a container that holds one or more TabPage controls. Each TabPage is itself a container that can hold other controls.
In Beef ‘N’ Booze, I created a TabControl named tabMain, which holds two TabPages:
tpgBeef, whose Text property is set to Beef. It will contain the controls for placing and order for a steak and side dishes.
tpgBooze, whose Text property is set to Booze. It will contain the controls for ordering cocktails.
One convenient thing about using TabControls is that the tabbed pages work inside Visual Studio’s form editor. To view and edit a given TabPage, you click on its tab; it becomes the topmost page and you can add, move and remove controls from it.
The Beef page has a single button, btnBeef, that when clicked, causes a message box to display the user’s order for steak and side dishes. The Booze page has a similar button, btnBooze, except that it causes a message box to display the user’s cocktail order.
We’ll draw btnBeef on the tpgBeef page and btnBooze on the tpgBooze page. The next step is to create event handlers for both buttons. The easiest way to do this is to select each button and then use the Events view in the Properties window, and double-clicking on the Click event for each button. Here’s a screenshot of me doing that for btnBeef – Visual Studio responds by auto-magically creating a handler named btnBeef_Click:
Creating event handlers for btnBeef and btnBooze creates these empty methods in the code for the form:
While I do like the “magic” provided by Visual Studio, I also feel that you should know what’s going on behind the scenes. How are the btnBeef_Click() and btnBoozeClick() methods attached to the btnBeef and btnBooze controls? It’s taken care of in the Designer code for the form, in which the layout and events for controls on the form is defined. Here’s the chunk of code that concerns with btnBeef’s properties and events:
When I added a Click event to btnBeef through the Properties window, Visual Studio generated the name btnBeef_Click for the event handler, added a blank btnBeef_Click() method to the form’s code and connected the event to the handler in the form’s Designer code with this line:
When the user clicks btnBeef, we want to call a method named OrderBeef(), which will collect the data from the controls on tpgBeef, format it into something human-readable and then display the results in a message box. When the user clicks btnBooze, we want to call a method name OrderBooze(), which will do something similar, but for the user’s cocktail order. Here’s what the resulting event handler code should look like:
We’ll define OrderBeef() and OrderBooze() over the next couple of sections, as we explore the controls.
Radio buttons are controls you use when:
You want the user to choose one (and only one) item from a selection of items
You want the user to be able to see the complete selection of items immediately
The name “radio buttons” comes from the radio buttons from older radios, such as those in older cars, which let you choose from a number of pre-set radio stations. Selecting one button would change the tuning to the corresponding radio station and de-select the currently selected button:
Radio buttons are grouped together by putting them inside the same container control, such as a panel, or in the case of this particular application, a TabPage. Selecting a radio button de-selects all the other radio buttons occupying the same container control.
The diagram below shows the radio buttons on tpgBeef and the names I assigned to them:
Here’s my first iteration of OrderBeef(), which shows you how to determine which radio button is selected by checking each one’s Checked property. Once that’s done, it displays the resulting choice in a message box:
For the Booze page, I thought I’d use a different way to let the user select one item from a selection of many: a Combobox with its DropDownStyle property set to DropDownList and containing a number of cocktail names. The method below does the following:
Sets the Combobox’s DropDownStyle property to DropDownList, which means that the user cannot just type in any value into the list’s text portion, but can only select from items in the list.
Another way to get numeric value input from the user is to use a Trackbar control. While Trackbars don’t display their corresponding numeric values like Numeric Up/Downs, they have a couple of advantages:
They’re larger and more “finger-friendly” than Numeric Up/Downs
They give the user a visual cue of where the current value is in relation to the minimum and maximum values
In the screenshot above, you can see that I’ve augmented the Trackbar with by putting a couple of label controls just below it: Lame, Decent, and Hardcore.
Here’s another iteration of InitializeCocktailControls(), with code to initialize the Trackbar with the following properties:
The leftmost position on the Trackbar corresponds to the value 0
The rightmost position on the Trackbar corresponds to the value 10
The smallest step you can make in either direction, up or down, is 1
Large steps, which you get by clicking to the right or left of the current slider position, change the value in steps of 5
The initial value of the Trackbar is 5
Here’s OrderBooze(), with an additional line to display the user’s preferred drink strength, which is derived from the Trackbar’s Value property:
It’s one thing to read about Windows Mobile 6’s built-in user interface controls, but something else entirely to make use of them. If you’re feeling ambitious, start a new project and rebuild Beef ‘N’ Booze (or a similar app that lets you explore the controls) yourself. Or, if you’d like, download my project files by clicking the link below, play with the app, make changes and learn. No matter which route you take, the best way to learn to is fire up Visual Studio and get coding!
In this installment of Upwardly Mobile, I’m going to give you a quick introduction to developing applications for Windows Mobile 6 phones and handheld devices. I can’t cover all aspects of Windows Mobile development in this article, but there should be enough material in this entry to get you started.
What You Need
In order to build an application for Windows Mobile 6, you’ll need the following things:
Visual Studio 2008, Professional Edition or higher
This is the development environment. It’s not the only one that you can use to develop Windows Mobile apps, but it’s the one we’re using.
In this example, we’re going to write a “Magic 8-Ball” style application called Ask the Kitty. It’ll be a simple app that provides random answers to questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no”.
Fire up Visual Studio, open the File menu and click on Project… (or click control-shift-N). The New Project dialog box will appear:
In this example, we’ll be doing development in Visual C#. From the Project types list on the left, expand the Visual C# menu and click the Smart Device sub-item. The Templates list on the right will display the available templates for a smart device project; select Smart Device Project.
(You can do Windows Mobile 6 development in Visual Basic if you prefer; there’s a Smart Device option under the Visual Basic menu.)
Give your project a name (for this example, I’m using the name HelloPhone) and specify a location (I’m just using the default Visual Studio directory for projects), make sure the Create directory for solutioncheckbox is checked, and click the OK button.
The Add New Smart Device Project dialog box will appear:
You specify the type of device you’re developing for using the Target platform menu. My Palm Treo Pro is a touch screen device and uses Windows Mobile 6 Professional as its OS, so I’m going to select Windows Mobile 6 Professional SDK from that menu.
We want to use the latest version of the .NET Compact Framework, so leave the default option, .NET Compact Framework Version 3.5, selected in the .NET Compact Framework version menu.
We want to create an application, so select Device Application from the Templates menu and click the OK button. Visual Studio will create your project, and you can start developing. Here’s what you’ll see:
If we were writing a regular WinForms desktop app, the forms designer would show a blank window. If we were developing an ASP.NET application, the forms designer would show a blank web page, Since we’re developing a Windows Mobile app, the forms designer by default shows a blank mobile app window enclosed in a mockup – the “skin” — of a generalized mobile device. Here’s the skin for a Windows Mobile 6 Professional device:
You can choose to display or hide the skin in the Forms Designer. I’m going to work without the skin; I can hid it by opening the Format menu and toggling the Show Skin item.
Set Up the User Interface
This application will use a single form. We’ll take the default form from the project, Form1, and do the following using the Properties pane:
Rename it as frmMain.
Change its AutoScaleMode property to None (We don’t want the app to automatically resize its controls and fonts, we want it to use the control sizes and locations and font sizes that we specify).
Change its Size to 320,250, the right size for many Windows Mobile 6 Professional Devices including my Palm Treo Pro.
Change the form’s heading – set the Text property to My First WinMo App.
We’ll set up the form to look like this:
The “Ask the Kitty!” at the top of the form is a Label control, with its font set to Tahoma, font style set to Bold,font size set to 12 points and text set to Ask the Kitty!
The “Click for an answer!” at the bottom is a Button control, with its font set to Tahoma, font style set to Regular,font size set to 9 points and text set to Click for an answer!. I also renamed the button as btnAnswer.
The cat picture in the middle is a PictureBox control. The trick is to provide a picture to fill the PictureBox. It’s simple. The first step is to copy a picture file into the project directory:
Make sure that the picture is included in the project. If you can’t see the picture file in the Solution Explorer window, click the Show All Files button. Right-click the picture file in Solution Explorer and select Include in Project:
Once you’ve included the picture file in the project, you can use it to fill the PictureBox. Select the PictureBox in the Forms Designer, go to the Properties window and change its Image property – use the selector to pick the picture file that we just included in the project.
Add Some Code
There’s a lot of example code out there that puts programming logic inside the UI – that is, in the code for the forms. I’m going to avoid that and do the right thing by creating a class for the “engine” of this application. Creating a new class is easy – open the Project Menu, select Add Class…, and then select Visual C# Items –> Code –> Class. I named the class file Kitty.cs in the Solution Explorer; here’s its code:
The next step is to wire up btnAnswer to provide an answer when clicked. This means adding an event handler to btnAnswer. The easiest way to do this is select btnAnswer, then go to the Properties window, select the Events view (it’s the lightning bolt button) and double-click on the Click event. That will automatically create a method called btnAnswer_Click() in the frmMain class and wire up that method to be called whenever btnAnswer is clicked.
The app’ is now ready to take for a test run in the emulator. Click the Start Debugging button (it looks like a “play” button) or press the F5 key. This window showing your deployment options will appear:
I want an emulator that best matches my Palm Treo Pro, which has a square QVGA display, so I selected Windows Mobile 6 Professional Square QVGA Emulator and clicked the Deploy button. Give it a moment or two to compile and fire up the emulator, after which you should see this:
Run the App on Your Mobile Device
Running the app on your mobile device is almost as easy. Make sure that your mobile device is connected to your computer, then click the Start Debugging button (it looks like a “play” button) or press the F5 key. This window showing your deployment options will appear:
This time, select Windows Mobile 6 Professional Device in the menu and click Deploy.
Keep an eye on your phone; you’ll get a couple of “should I install this?”-type messages – click Yes to all of them:
After that, you should see this:
You should have enough information to start experimenting with Windows Mobile 6 development. Have fun, try things, and if you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments!
This one’s a long one! You might want to get yourself a beverage or snack.
This week is Windows Mobile Incubation Week, a “jam session” taking place at The Empire’s Silicon Valley branch, where startups are invited to learn about Windows Mobile from Microsoft’s gurus and pick up some tricks from mobile industry gurus and venture capitalists. They’re also challenged to build Windows Mobile apps during the week, with prizes being awarded to winning participants. Admission to Mobile Incubation Week is free-as-in-beer; all you have to do is scrounge up the cash to cover your trip to the Valley and find a couch to crash on at night.
Even as a Sith Lord with Imperial backing, I don’t have the travel budget to get down to Silicon Valley to catch this event, and it’s likely that you don’t either. That doesn’t mean that you have to miss out on Mobile Incubation Week. I’ll be linking to all the blogs covering it and I’ll also be posting articles covering different aspects of Windows Mobile Development, some technical, some tactical. I hope it piques your interest in Windows Mobile; perhaps it might even get you started building apps for Windows Mobile phones.
In this first article, I talk about mobile development over the past few years (with a little detour into my own experiences) and the way I see the current state of Windows Mobile.
My First Mobile App
Back in early 2001, I bought a PalmOS-compatible Handspring Visor Platinum for $99 from my then-coworker at OpenCola, Steve Jenson. He’s always had ridiculous amounts of hardware in his house:
I used it regularly, but never got around to writing applications for it until early 2002. That’s when a number of companies building P2P software during the Bubble 1.0 era imploded and when OpenCola unceremoniously laid me off. I decided to put up my “consultant” shingle, and thanks to the network of contacts I’d built as OpenCola’s Developer Relations guy, it didn’t take long for me to dig up some clients.
A friend of mine who was now working for a big drug company’s ad agency asked if I could write a questionnaire app for PalmOS handhelds. It wasn’t anything too complicated: just give the user (who could either be a doctor or a patient) a series of questions and provide a response at the end based on their answers. The tasks seemed simple enough, and despite the fact that I’d never written a Palm app before, I took the job.
(For those of you new to the industry, you’ll find that that you will often be asked to do things that you’ve never done before or aren’t 100% sure you can do. One of the valuable skills that comes with experience is figuring out how far you can stretch yourself and your abilities with a project.)
I’d seen a couple of articles on developing for PalmOS in C, and they looked like more work than they were worth. An app that was made up of a single button that read “Hello World” took 3 or 4 pages of code to implement, most of which was what I call “preamble” – a lot of setup code and “scaffolding” to support the app, way more code than for the actual app itself. My client seemed to be testing the waters of Palm apps, so I figured I’d be asked to make lots of changes to the app along the way. I needed something that would let me build and modify Palm apps quickly.
My plan was to build the app with NS Basic/Palm, a Visual Basic-like development system for PalmOS. I’d heard about it before, and as an added bonus, they were based right here in Toronto. I picked up a copy directly from their offices in the morning, and by the end of the afternoon, I had a functioning version of the app. By the end of the next day, I had it polished. The day after that, I showed my work to the client, and a week after that, they cut me a cheque.
I thought I’d make a career for myself as a PalmOS developer, but after that initial success, no other clients approached me about building a Palm app for them. That was a bit of a disappointment; unlike many of my friends, who wanted to build system- or network-level software, I wanted to build software for people. I figured that the best platform for people-oriented software would be a computer that you had in your pocket with you all the time.
The Underused 1995-Era Computer in Your Pocket
One of the things that I noticed while building Palm apps in 2002 was that the machine specs were like the specs for desktops back in 1995, when I was building CD-ROM-based multimedia apps with Mackerel Interactive Multimedia. The desktops of 1995 had processor speeds in the double-digit megahertz, RAM in the single-digit megabytes and limited, if any, access to the internet – just like 2002-era PalmOS devices.
At the same time, there was a class of devices that was beginning to emerge – the smartphone, which combined the connectedness of mobile phones with the computing power of PDAs. The problem was trying to get apps onto them.
Back in late 2003, when I was just getting started as Tucows’ Tech Evangelist, I wrote an article grumbling about the state of mobile development. In spite of the fact that smartphones had the power of PDAs, the market for mobile apps seemed like a ghost town. There was a mish-mash of all sorts of mobile platforms, installing apps on your mobile form was more complicated than it should’ve been, and the telcos seemed to be doing their level best to keep apps off of phones, using the need to “keep the phone network secure” as their excuse.
“Imagine how far behind we’d be,” I wrote back then, “if we had to get our computer vendor’s permission every time we installed a new program on our desktops. That’s what it’s like for mobile apps.”
The Best Gaming Phone, 5 Years Ago
Near the end of 2003, this phone was supposed to be the thing that brought mobile gaming to the masses:
It was the Nokia N-Gage. There’s a good reason you probably never owned one, nor did anyone you know. While it had some decent specs, it was a pain for both developers and users alike:
Pain for the developers: Not just anyone could develop for the N-Gage. You had to apply for permission to do so, which required you to have a track record of mobile game development, which probably ruled out a lot of potential developers in 2003. There was also the matter of the fee that you had to submit while applying for the privilege of being an N-Gage developer: the non-trivial sum of 10,000 Euro.
Pain for the users: The buttons were notoriously bad – they used phone-grade buttons as opposed to game controller-grade ones, which made for a less-than-optimal gaming experience.
More pain for the users:Here’s how Brighthand described the process of loading a game onto the N-Gage: “"In order to put a game into the system, you have to turn the phone off, take the back cover off, remove the battery, slide out the existing game, put the new one in, put the battery back in, replace the back cover, hold down the power button for several seconds, wait for the system to boot up, open the main menu, select the game, open it… And then your game starts loading."
Even more pain for the users: The N-Gage sometimes suffered from “The White Screen of Death”, a phenomenon where your phone would spontaneously reboot thanks to a memory management issue arising from a design flaw. The fix was a firmware upgrade, for which Nokia decided to charge users.
I thought that the N-Gage had all kinds of portable personal computing uses, both for gaming and beyond, but there was no way I could develop for it. Besides, the telcos were still pretty adamant about not letting just anyone develop for smartphones.
So my plans to take on mobile development stayed shelved a little longer.
Predictions are Hard, Especially About the Future
Depending on where your loyalties, sympathies and platform preferences lie, you’re going to find the following headlines either LMAO-hilarious or stool-softeningly cringeworthy. Maybe it’s because I’m still a relatively new at Microsoft (I’ll have been there six months a week Monday), but I laughed and cringed at these headlines that vaingloriously predicted that The Empire would dominate the smartphone market:
“Dominate Smartphones in Three Years”, huh? Here’s what happened a mere two years later:
In the space of two years and one day, we’d gone from Microsoft triumphantly declaring that Windows Mobile would own the smartphone market to Microsoft’s most famous evangelist (well, former evangelist by that time) doing a victory pose at the Apple Store because he’d managed to get his paws on one of the first iPhones.
A good chunk of the iPhone’s success comes from Apple’s incredible marketing machine, but a bigger factor is that great products are their own marketing. The iPhone combines a great user experience and a centralized store, but far more important was the feeling that you were using something that was designed to be both beautiful and fun, not feasting on the table scraps thrown to you by a company who’d rather be making stuff for Fortune 500 executives.
It’s not all bad news for Windows Mobile or people who want to develop for it. For starters, Windows Mobile still represents a sizeable chunk of the mobile phone market. 18 million Windows Mobile licenses were sold in 2008, and they were sold to four out of the five largest mobile phone manufacturers in the world (in case you were wondering, Nokia is the holdout). LG has signed on to put Windows Mobile on 50 of its smartphone models. All told, that’s a big hardware ecosystem on which to deploy your mobile apps.
The smart moves that The Empire has been making with its various platforms, from Windows 7 to the web to XBox 360 to cloud computing, are also beginning to show in the form of Windows Mobile 6.5 (slated for release this year) and Windows Mobile 7 (due next year). The UI has been vastly improved; a lot of the UI lessons and ideas from Windows 7, XBox 360 and Surface seem to have made their way in:
And yes, there will be support not just for client apps that run on your WinMo phone, but Widgets – mini-web apps that run in a browser with just a border and no interface controls, a la Windows widgets or the iPhone’s web apps:
Paired with the improved user experience is an online store accessible from your Windows Mobile phone:
…and you still have the freedom to not use Windows Marketplace to sell your apps. I cover why that’s a good thing in the next and final section of this article.
The iPhone App Store is the only legal way to distribute iPhone apps, whether you’re selling them or giving them away. As a developer, you submit your applications to the App Store for review, and in around seven days, after which you are told whether your app has been accepted or rejected.
If your app is rejected, are you told the reasons why? Here’s Pete’s answer to that question:
The people doing the reviews for the App Store are a toxic mix of Victorian-era prudish and Kafka-esque:
…and you can forget writing any David Mamet / Quentin Tarantino themed-apps:
…and that’s not just “no swearing” in your apps; that’s also “no swear words” in any search results your app returns. Consider the problem faced by one hapless app developer:
They’re also kind of uptight about certain novelty apps, such as the one that makes it look as though you’ve shattered your iPhone’s screen:
When you submit your app for review, whatever you do, don’t put any joke items in the feature list. One developer, when submitting an updated version of an app (yes, you have to submit updates for review) threw in a joke item in the feature list: more dragons! Here’s the response from the App Store review board:
The rest of Pete’s presentation was built around bypassing the App Store’s reviewer monkeys by building your iPhone apps as single-use browsers that were hard-wired to the web application where your app lived. That’s a workable solution for some apps, but not if you want to make use of the resources built into the iPhone.
While the Windows Mobile Marketplace might have a review board for legal purposes, it’s not the only way to distribute your apps. You can also make them downloadable from your site, meaning that you can distribute your screen-breakin’, hard-cussin’, dragon porn Windows Mobile app without The Man steppin’ on your throat.
Now isn’t that nice?
In the next installment, I’ll provide a quick-and-dirty intro to writing your own Windows Mobile apps.
According to a BusinessWeek article, the real threat to Google isn’t Microsoft or Yahoo!, but cell phones:. “As more people use cell phones and their tiny glass screens to gain access to the Internet, Google and its fellow online advertisers will have less space, or what’s called ad inventory, to place marketing messages for customers. Google makes money selling ad inventory. And its ad inventory is diminished on a cell phone.”