More Thoughts on Windows Whatever-it-is-That-Runs-on-Phones

The Developer Angle

A sad-looking kid in a Darth Vader sitting at a fast food restaurant table

In case you don’t recognize the photo on the right, it’s the “Sad Darth Vader” photo from my earlier article titled This is How the Current State of Windows Mobile Makes Me Feel. I posted it in response to The Empire’s seemingly directionless efforts with its phone platform, Windows Mobile. Or, as it’s called now, Windows Phone. Or, as it used to be called, Windows CE. Or was that Windows Embedded?

Therein lies the first problem as far as developers are concerned: finding documentation on the subject of developing for Windows Whatever-it-is-that-runs-on-phones. It’s confusing because it’s hard to even figure out what the name of the SDK you’re supposed to use is – they all sound applicable. Is it Windows CE? Windows Mobile? Windows Embedded?

(By the bye, for current phones, it’s Windows Mobile, which is based on Windows Embedded CE. Now that this new brand, Windows Phone, is kicking around, there’s a chance that it’ll get filed under that name soon.)

Joey deVilla's Palm Treo

As an evangelist for The Empire, it’s my job to help developers figure their way around our various platforms, and I’m hard-pressed to think of a platform that appears more shrouded in mystery and confusion than Windows Whatever-it-is-that-runs-on-phones. Over the next little while, I’m going to post pointers to existing Windows Mobile/Windows Phone development articles as well as articles based on my own experiences developing for the Windows-based phone I picked up while at the recent TechReady 8 conference in Seattle. It’s a Palm Treo Pro, pictured on the left, and I chose it because out of all the mobiles at the Expansys booth (they always have a booth at the big Microsoft developer conferences), it was the one with the best “feel”.

My first pointer is to Microsoft’s own Windows Mobile 6 Documentation, located a couple of levels into the MSDN site. The main page for this section presents a giant point-and-click map of key topics for developers who want to write apps for Windows Whatever-it-is-that-runs-on-phones. I’m going to try out some of the exercises on that site and report back with stories of my experiences of getting started with Windows phone development, and whatever tips and tricks I pick up along the way.

If you’ve got any questions about developing for Windows Whatever-it-is-that-runs-on-phones, feel free to ask me, whether in the comments or via email. I may not have the answers myself, but since I’m on the inside at Microsoft, I can say that “I know a guy who knows a guy,” if you get my drift.

The User Angle

The upcoming 6.5 version of Windows Mobile – or more appropriately, Windows Phone – was announced earlier today at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.  It features a user interface that’s considerably more finger-friendly than the current 6.1, whose stylus-reliant design seems stuck in the era of the Palm Pilot. Gizmodo’s Jesus Diaz seems to really like it, as evidenced in the video he shot for his article titled Windows Mobile 6.5 Hands On: The New Interface Rocks:

Windows Mobile 6.5 Running on HTC from Jesus Diaz on Vimeo.

Diaz ends his article on a positive note, a rare thing for a writeup on Windows Whatever-it-is-that-runs-on-phones:

From this first touch on, it looks like Microsoft is back in the game. They don’t have the upper hand yet, but they are clearly waking up. We will see what happens and how deep these changes really are once it gets released.

The Developer Angle, Once More

The apparent improvements in 6.5 and promised continued improvements in Windows Whatever-it-is-that-runs-on-phones version 7 are a good sign, but a lot of the success story I’m hoping for rests with applications for these phones. For that, there has to be a developer community that has the tools, resources and encouragement to develop for Windows Whatever-it-is-that-runs-on-phones. Building that community is a challenge that I’m taking up. What can I do to help?

2 replies on “More Thoughts on Windows Whatever-it-is-That-Runs-on-Phones”

I’m waiting to see the new interface. I’ve been a WM user since 5.0, and have been a big fan of all the software available for it, although the hardware seemed to lag. HTC has been pushing, but it still seems to run slow and not have enough RAM. Also, Bell pretty much ignored the platform, not activating the GPS until very recently even though the O/S and hardware were capable.

That said, 3rd parties have kept coming up with better interfaces than MS (hello, Spb!), so here’s hoping that 6.5 is that much of an improvement. Coupled with the rumoured (announced?) WM store, mebbe there’s life in the platform yet.

Are there 3rd party developer libraries for WM yet? Is VS the only development platform?

This isn’t so much about improving the developer community so much as a rant about the platform in general, and what I perceive as it’s flaws and how they can be overcome. Given that you’re on the inside, maybe someone in a position to do something about it will actually end up looking at this. And if developers are users of the platform too (as is often the case in non-mobile development), they’ll care about all of this too.

One thing that strikes me about Windows Mobile phones (as compared to, say, the elephant in the room) is that some of them are built on crap hardware. Cost-cutting is always a double-edged sword, and in this case the “user experience” and hence the entire brand suffers every time my phone starts refreshing its UI slower than molasses in January. Apple gets around this partially by not letting third party apps run in the background. I don’t think that will fly at Microsoft, so I can only suggest vetting approved devices much more thoroughly.

Another data point: my phone (an HTC Touch, if you’re curious) advertises itself as having MP3 capabilities, which it does, I guess, technically speaking, in the same way that a 486DX has “MP3 capabilities”. What they don’t tell you is that the MP3 decoding is done entirely in software on the main ARM processor, and listening to music reduces your battery life to utterly pathetic levels (compare this to a dedicated MPEG decoding chip, which I’m guessing is what the iPods and iPhones do).

I think a big step toward saving the platform from being the butt of mobile industry jokes and the target of user ire would be for Microsoft to stop approving Windows Mobile phones that are underpowered, underbatteried, and do in software what competitors do in dedicated hardware. In other words, force hardware partners to produce phones that don’t suck. Even I wouldn’t be using this phone if it weren’t tied to a sweet unlimited data plan.

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