Calm Down, Windows Phone Developers. Tango is Good for You!

Nokia Lumia 610

Recently, after a blog post on the Windows Phone Developer Blog, there was concern among the Windows Phone developer community about the impact of 256MB phones on the general app quality. The basic assumption made was that apps will now have to be catered for the lowest common denominator. Per these concerns, today’s phones with 512MB memory, and tomorrow’s super phones with possibly more, will be under-utilized, and app developers may not be able to push the limits on the resource usage within their apps.

Justin Angel, the newly hired Principal Engineer at Nokia, has been doing the rounds of popular Windows Phone podcasts to clear the air on this topic. I listened to WPCentral and WPDevPodcast episodes recently, and wanted to highlight the main points Angel made. So, here you go:

  • As mentioned in the original blog post, there are less than 5% of the total apps which are affected by the restrictions imposed on the maximum memory an app can use.
  • These affected apps, which use more than 90MB of memory, should have actually been declined certification in the first place.
  • Microsoft had two choices on handling these apps – pull them off the Marketplace, or what they did, which is mark them as incompatible with the low-end devices, and notify each developer with an email. This email explains what the developer can do to update the app so it passes certification the next time they submit it.
  • The updated developer tools ship with a second emulator to help understand how an app would perform under both 256MB and 512MB devices. The best practice suggested is to always test the app in the 256MB emulator. Angel also suggested that developers should use the memory profiler that comes with the tools, which will help them in understanding where their app ends up using more memory.
  • Microsoft has made some clever technological updates in the “Windows Phone 7.5 Refresh”, aka Tango, which enable even the 256MB devices to support up to 90MB of memory per app. This trickery is completely transparent to the developer (and naturally, to the customer).
  • Since the trickery only applies to the 256MB devices, current Windows Phone customers need not worry about it at all. Developers also need not worry about how their apps will perform before and after Tango on the first-generation devices, since on those devices there is going to be no impact at all.
  • As for loss of functionality or APIs, the generic background agents will not work in the 256MB devices. These are two new types of agents introduced in Windows Phone Mango, which allow arbitrary code to run in the background based on app developer’s discretion. The apps which use such agents are listed under the new settings section so the customer can go and de-select to turn them off. Angel mentioned that because of this ability provided to the phone owner, these generic background agents should not have been made a core part of any app anyway. Remember, push notification services are still available, so toast notifications, live tile updates, alerts, etc. should still work if you use the Push Notification Service (and related APIs).

So there you go, developers. There is virtually nothing to worry about with Tango. In fact, there is a LOT to be excited about. With the addition of 23 new markets including China, and the push by Nokia and others into these markets with low-cost devices, there is a very good chance that the lower end devices will actually outsell the top end devices. If your app works on these low-end devices, you will now have access to about 60% more customers!

If you are one of the 5% affected developers, please let me know if you have a reason to exceed the 90MB memory limit. I’d like to know why it is so.

Windows Phone Tango To Touch Down In China March 21

Microsoft is holding a special Windows Phone 7.5 Tango launch event in China to celebrate the introduction of Windows Phone to the country, according to some invites the company sent out throughout the press. Seeing that Tango has paved the way for entry-level devices such as the Lumia 610 — which will likely play a huge role in emerging markets such as China — to exist by lowering the hardware requirements and making some software-side compromises, it is only right that an event be set aside for it.

As we had just reported on earlier today, there’s going to be another event taking place exactly a week from this one; Nokia are hosting a special launch event to celebrate its entry into the Chinese market, during which the Finnish phone manufacturer is expected to announce the specific devices, carriers, and availability dates of its products in the region.

They won’t be the first company to introduce a Windows Phone to China, however; as we know, HTC launched the Triumph — essentially a rebranded Titan — in China earlier this month, beating Nokia, LG, and ZTE to the punch.

Microsoft Details Tango Features, Limitations

Through the announcement of the Lumia 610 and ZTE Orbit at the Mobile World Congress, we discovered that the rumors about Tango lowering its standards, so to speak, for lower-end devices were true. But beyond knowing that the minimum amount of requirement memory was being lowered to 256MB, we knew little about what other changes would be made to accommodate lower-performance devices.

Thankfully, LiveSide stumbled upon some stealthily-made updates to the Windows Phone How-To website, in which some new Tango features and limitations were detailed. They took the trouble of rummaging through the documentation and compiling this list of the limitations that will affect these lower-end devices:

  • Windows Phone Marketplace app restrictions – Some processor-intensive apps have memory requirements, and won’t work on phones with 256 MB of RAM. You can check how much memory you have on your phone by tapping Settings > About.
  • Podcast Subscriptions and Video Podcasts – You won’t be able to manage podcast subscriptions on your phone or watch video podcasts if your phone has 256 MB of RAM.
  • Local Scout – You won’t be able to use Local Scout if your phone has only 256 MB of RAM.
  • Fast app switching – This feature will not work if your phone has 256 MB of RAM.
  • SkyDrive automatic photo upload – You won’t be able to upload pictures automatically to SkyDrive if your phone has only 256 MB of RAM.
  • HD video playback – You won’t be able to play video compressed with some of the listed codecs if your phone has 256 MB of RAM.
  • Background agents – To free up RAM for the foreground on 256MB devices, generic background agents (PeriodicTasks/ResourceIntensiveTasks) are disabled.
Some new features were also spotted within the documentation:
  • Better media messaging. Now you can attach multiple pictures and videos—along with voice notes and ringtones—to text messages. You can include a video, picture, voice note, or ringtone in an instant message, too.
  • Location awareness icon. When an app is accessing your phone’s current location information, an icon will appear next to the battery status indicator
  • Export and manage contacts to SIM card. All Windows Phones allows you to import contacts from a SIM card, but only some phones allows you to export contacts to a SIM card, or create and edit individual contacts on the SIM card. For more information, please contact your mobile operator. (Strangely, this feature is only documented on the Chinese version of the website. The English version states that “you can’t save contacts from a Windows Phone to a SIM card.”)
Now, bear in mind that there may be some additional limitations and features that weren’t mentioned in this documentation; it isn’t a complete and comprehensive list. Still, it’s good to get an idea of some of the limitations that these lower-end devices will face.

Nokia Lumia 610 Leaked Ahead of MWC 2012, Runs Windows Phone Tango

Despite a series of price cuts for the Lumia 710, Nokia currently doesn’t have a solid budget Windows Phone offering which could take on low end Android smartphones. However, Nokia had revealed earlier this year that it would be launching budget Windows Phone devices powered by Tango to compete with Android in the entry level smartphone segment, in a bid to capture more market share.

The Nokia Lumia 610 will be one of its first budget Windows Phones which will be launched soon. Nokia is supposed to launch the Lumia 610 at its MWC press conference on February 27, but details of the device have already been leaked out by BGR.

Nokia Lumia 610 Specifications

The Nokia Lumia 610 will come with a 3.2 inch touchscreen display and a 3 MP camera. It will ship with Windows Phone Tango, the latest version of Windows Phone tailored specifically for low end smartphones. It will presumably have 256 MB RAM, and a 1 GHz processor, considering that the Lumia 710 has a 1.4 Ghz processor and 512 MB RAM.

Here’s the best part: it will be priced at around 175 euros, which converts to around $240 or 11,500 INR.

Nokia Lumia 610

Nokia, which is already the biggest Windows Phone manufacturer should see its market share jump after the launch of its new budget smartphones.

Stay tuned. We will be bringing more MWC 2012 updates to you here at Techie Buzz.

My 2012 Wish List for Windows Phone

Windows Phone

I have been using Windows Phone virtually from launch day, and have been patient with the team about so many things that have been missing from the OS. Windows Phone 7.5, aka Mango, addressed a lot of my complaints, but now I have another, deeper set of functionality (and wishes!) I’d like to see implemented.

The following is my wish list for Windows Phone for the year 2012. Given that one of the wishes is for more frequent updates, I am hoping some of the functionality gaps are filled sooner than later.

Ecosystem

  1. Market share: First and foremost, I’d like to see Windows Phone get to a decent market share. The stars have aligned nicely with RIM dying a slow death, and webOS being killed by HP for Windows Phone to be easily positioned as the #3 platform. However, it would be a pity if the 3rd-biggest  platform is at 5% with iOS and Android making up 95% of the market. It would be better if Windows Phone could get to 10-15% or above to really make it relevant. Education at carrier stores, more incentives for carrier salespeople, Nokia’s Rolling Thunder campaign, expansion to new markets, etc. should help.
  2. More Silicon Valley startup involvement: Most startups are not going to devote time to building Windows Phone apps with its market share around 1.5%. It simply does not make financial sense. I would like to see the Microsoft developer relations/evangelism folks to embed themselves in such startups and help them build the next cool appfor Windows Phone in addition to iOS/Android. For that, this evangelist team will have to work closely in Silicon Valley (and perhaps New York) to identify the companies which are doing great things in the mobile space and help them as early as possible in their lifecycle.
  3. Get existing marquee apps at par with iOS/Android counterparts: Microsoft would like us to believe that 90% of the top iOS/Android apps are available for Windows Phone. That may be arguable, but even existing apps like Facebook and Twitter have not seen updates to bring features at par with iOS/Android versions. For example, Facebook app does not support updating Groups or Twitter app (still) does not provide notifications. Also, given that some of these apps have been built by Microsoft, or even worse, by a third party, it is hard to understand who is to blame for the lack of functionality updates.
  4. Abandon the annual minor and major update cycle: Windows Phone has settled into a cycle where they have minor releases once a year and major updates once a year, each separated by about 6 months. While this is great for larger, non-mobile programs, it is absolutely slow in the mobile industry, especially for bug fixes and security updates. Until Windows Phone is  at  par with iOS and Android in terms of overall functionality, I don’t think they should settle down into a 6-month update cycle. Till then, the updates should be rapid, incremental and extremely frequent.