In the wake of Microsoft's MIX'11 conference, at which the software giant unveiled a number of interesting developer-oriented features for Windows Phone OS 7.5 (codenamed "Mango"), we're faced with what is an all-too-common situation when it comes to the Windows Phone team: They don't say much, but when they do, we're left with as many questions as answers.
I won't beat to death Microsoft corporate vice president Joe Belfiore's MIX'11 keynote mea culpa on the software updates: He verified every single thing I've ever said about this process and apologized, if not to me, at least to the wider Windows Phone community for making their lives miserable these past four months. And that's both enough and appropriate.
But I would like to focus on some other things that slipped out during that talk. And some that didn't.
Belfiore: A lot of you probably have noticed in the press in the last few weeks, separately, IDC and Gartner both issued reports suggesting that by 2015 the Windows Phone ecosystem would be the second largest smartphone ecosystem in the world. We were pretty excited to see our strategy validated in that way.
Actually, neither analyst firm "validated" Microsoft's strategy in any way. In fact, both of them arguably repudiated Microsoft's strategy and noted that the sole reason Windows Phone would be successful is because of Nokia signing on board out of desperation. That's not "your strategy," Microsoft. That's a happy circumstance. In other words, you just got lucky.
But, please. Don't believe me. Here's how Gartner describes it: "Gartner predicts that Nokia will push Windows Phone well into the mid-tier of its portfolio by the end of 2012, driving the platform to be the third largest in the worldwide ranking by 2013. Gartner has revised its forecast of Windows Phone’s market share upward, solely by virtue of Microsoft’s alliance with Nokia." (Emphasis mine.)
In an almost non sequitur moment, Nokia's Marco Argenti blurted out a bit about mobile billing:
Argenti: We actually are big believers that mobile billing is a fantastic asset because every time we introduce mobile billing, transaction volumes actually go up four times. In certain countries, that's actually by far the preferred way for consumers to pay for content. So, that's really a great business opportunity and a great asset that we can bring to the partnership.
And so I guess they're working on mobile billing for Windows Phone. This was, I believe, the only time it was ever mentioned, and it was kind of just thrown out there.
Belfiore: We're going to have support for podcasts on the device in the Marketplace in the US this fall.
I take that to mean it's coming in Mango, since Microsoft has never announced any other Windows Phone software update. If so, why is it only going to be available in the US? And when will it be available elsewhere?
Belfiore: As you know, one of the ideas behind Windows Phone 7 was to introduce Hubs where a user could go to one place and see all of the stuff related to photos or all of the stuff related to games or all of the stuff related to people or music ... I'm going to go into the Music and Video Hub here where you see there's my music collection that I might have synched with my PC. If I pan over ... Over here on the right -- we have this today, but we've improved it a little bit in the Mango update. There's a place for third-party apps to appear. [It's called Extras or Marquee, depending on where you look.] So, if a user goes to Music and Video and they're really using, let's say, Last.FM or Slacker, those apps are present and taking over the hub, and it's one place a user can go to do all those things with apps. This helps users find apps more easily than navigating through screens and screens of icons.
It really doesn't. In fact, what this system does is just relegate third party music and video apps, in particular, to a hard-to-find ghetto that, yes, requires navigating through "screens and screens" to find. (They're full of thumbnails and text instead of icons. But they're still screens. Why is that easier?)
For example, let's say you do install perennial Windows Phone demo app Last.FM for some reason. And let's say you do believe it will be easier to find this app in the Music + Videos hub. Like other hubs, Music + Videos has multiple panes, or screens, which you have to scroll through to get to Last.FM: Zune, Now Playing History, History again (it's two screens wide), New, and then Marquee/Extras. It's the last thing in the list. It's hard to find, ponderous to navigate to, and once you get there, you have to stay in the app since Windows Phone doesn't currently offer multitasking or background audio playback for third party apps.
This is not a great way to integrate with Windows Phone at all. And more to the point, where is all the deep hub integration we were promised? I can't access my Picasaweb or Flickr photo collections from the Pictures hub. And I can't replace Zune with Rhapsody or some other more popular service. Why?
Belfiore: We're not yet talking about the end-user features, these are the things we're doing for developers.
As it turns out, many of the Mango features Microsoft showed off at MIX were indeed "end user features." But the question remains: When will Microsoft unveil its full plans for Mango? And this includes business-oriented features (device and storage card encryption, anyone?) as well as new consumer features. It also includes the full hardware specs for Mango-era devices: How is the spec changing and improving? Will any Mango features require V2 hardware?
It's reasonable to expect Microsoft to discuss business features for Mango at TechEd, which is happening next month. But what is the public forum or timing for its consumer oriented features?
Microsoft? Hello? Anyone home?