Windows Phone 7 Designer Shares His Thoughts On Design & Microsoft’s Future

Albert Shum is the guy at Microsoft who has been playing an integral role in expanding Metro to the phone. Metro is in Windows 8, headed to the tablets and Windows 8 Servers. Those that have been following Microsoft for a while are aware about the Metro design book and Shum’s popular session on how they approached design in Windows Phone 7 Series.

At the Interaction Design Association’s Austin conference, Albert Shum gave a talk on design. He touched on Windows Phone & some other design principles. Having followed the conference updates on Twitter here are some quotes from those present.

The future of design and systems:

On post-PC:

On interface and experiences:

Icons and interactions:

It seems like Shum talked about Apple’s approach to design and an attendee did not like it:

It appears that within Microsoft there is talk about interaction design that offers seamless hardware and software interaction. Albert Shum talked about this

This is probably the most intriguing takeaway from Shum’s talk, in my opinion. “Oneness” as a principle for devices and a more seamless experience suggests more focus on how devices are used and for what purpose devices/software is used. This is a different approach to development, one that does not place feature first but how the feature will be used. Exciting.

PS: The New York Times has an excellent profile on the brains behind the Windows Phone 7 design. It’s a good read.

The Problem with Reviewing the Nokia Lumia 900

Nokia Lumia 900

Nokia Lumia 900 Reviews

Last night (April 3, 2012) the embargo was lifted, and Nokia Lumia 900 reviews started flowing in. At first glance, one would think the reviews were mixed, or even that the device was being slammed. Lots of good words, but bottom line being negative. I went through most of the top reviews, and as you unpeel the onion you see that generally, everyone agrees that this phone definitely has the chops to compete with the top smartphones on other platforms. The issues that have been brought up are actually a problem Nokia and Microsoft will have to tackle somehow. These are, generally speaking, issues faced by techies, but since techies control the message nowadays, it is a situation that needs to be addressed.

First though, the key selling points for the device: fantastic design, great screen (ClearBlack AMOLED), LTE, low price, good camera and a fresh (compared to iOS and its poor clone, Android) operating system. Some reviewers contradicted each other on some of the features (like The Verge’s Josh Topolsky and PC Mag’s Sascha Segan criticizing the camera but Engadget’s Joseph Volpe and PC World’s Ginny Mies claiming it was great and versatile), and of course different reviewers rated the “good” on different levels of the spectrum based on their preferences and experience.

The Problem(s)

However, I saw some of the issues that the reviewers brought up in their reviews, and Nokia and Microsoft both have to be concerned. First is that expectations are sky-high for Nokia. They are known to make excellent devices and after putting all their eggs in the Windows Phone basket, a lot is expected of them. Also, with RIM imploding, there is nobody else to take the 3rd spot behind iOS and Android, so the anticipation is heightened. As a result, even a minor issue will get amplified.

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.

One Year On: Nokia Has Come a Long Way, Still Has a Very Long Way to Go

Nokia

Nokia kicked off the Mobile World Congress (MWC) with its press conference on February 27, in Barcelona. Stephen Elop, President and CEO of Nokia took stage and described the progress they have made since the last year’s event. If you recall, it was last year’s MWC when Nokia had officially announced that they were going all in on Windows Phone.

After the initial update on Nokia’s latest endeavors both on the low-end Asha phones, and also on the higher-end Windows Phones, the talk shifted to the new stuff. First up was the Asha line of phones, and 3 new devices were announced, along with Nokia Life services which bring life skills, parenting, education, agriculture and entertainment services to Series 30 and 50 phones in India, China, Indonesia and Nigeria.

However, I want to focus on Nokia’s progress with Windows Phone. Late last year, Nokia announced and launched two brand new devices, the Nokia Lumia 800 and Nokia Lumia 710. These devices were released ahead of schedule, and were available in parts of Europe first, and then slowly to other geographies over the next months. The launches everywhere were accompanied with a lot of marketing muscle – from concerts and light shows to flash mobs and video shows. Some examples:

Yet, I was surprised that based on a recent report by Strategy Analytics, Nokia was able to go from no market share to the highest share among all Windows Phone device makers. It is even more remarkable when you consider that the phones were not even available for the entire quarter, and not across most geographies where other device makers were already selling Windows Phones.

Short Review: Skype Beta For Windows Phone 7

Yesterday during Nokia’s keynote at the ongoing Mobile World Congress 2012 Microsoft released a beta version of Skype for Windows Phone 7. It took the company a while to come up with the version and there is some room for improvement. I downloaded the app and gave it a short try, here’s what I’ve found.

The good:

  • Can be used on first-gen Windows Phone 7 devices
  • Does not require a front-facing camera
  • Pleasant interface (animations for the splash screen and notification are subtle and nice)
  • App supports landscape mode for chat
  • Panoramic navigation within the video call—this is pretty cool

Now for the bad:

  • The app does not run in the background; you’re online as long as the app is open
  • No push notifications

The app’s inability to run in the background is a deal break. However, being beta I wouldn’t be surprised to see the two features in the final version. Here are some screenshots of the app:

 

The audio calling and chat interfaces:

Skype WP7

For China, Microsoft To Replace Twitter, Facebook, Xbox LIVE With Local Services

Back in December, Michael Kan wrote at Computer World that  Microsoft’s Windows Phone launch in China was delayed to the first half in 2012. According to news surfacing, Windows Phone 7’s handsets in China will launch with Tango.

Tang Dynasty at WPDang is says Windows Phone 7 Tango handsets will be available starting march 2012. The more interesting information in Dynasty’s article is, Microsoft replacing key features in Windows Phone with local services widely used in China. Microsoft has talked a lot about the Xbox LIVE integration in Windows Phone; the phone is being seen as an extension of the console–as a remote and a portable gaming device. Damaster at Liveside says, in China, there will be no Xbox LIVE.

Windows Phone 7’s social integration–Facebook and Twitter–will be replaced with local social networks. Unlike in the West, Weibo is the micro-blogging platform used in China. Twitter Co-founder Jack Dorsey, tweeted last month about Twitter being blocked in China; given this having Twitter integration made little sense for Microsoft. It is probably an intelligence move on Microsoft’s part that they’ve partnered with Weibo to integrate the service in Windows Phone, as confirmed by Damaster at Liveside.

Same is the case with Facebook. In China, Microsoft will be replacing Facebook with RenRen.

Some Windows Phone ‘Tango’ Features Leak, Scaling & Fragmentation Begins Early

Earlier today Russia-based Windows Phone enthusiast site—WP7Forum.Ru—shared some features from the upcoming Windows Phone 7 update called Tango.

Tango is the major upgrade between Windows Phone 7.5 (aka Mango) and Windows Phone 8 (aka Apollo). Tango will introduce some interesting features which, I believe, are going to be the first signs of the dreadful hardware fragmentation. According to Svetloyar, Microsoft will:

  • introduce 256MB memory as the minimum requirements, instead of 512MB
  • not automatically sync the camera roll with SkyDrive, images will be sycned when the phone is connected to a PC
  • video streaming will be at 4Mbps (H.264), MSDN document (updated January 13th) says currently WP7 supports a max of 2Mbps
  • allow cameras only up to 3MP, currently, OEMs don’t have to add a camera
  • let carriers & OEMs install 40 apps on the phone, the initial limit was 4. 40 just seems outrageous enough to question

Two interesting features updates in Tango are:

Roaming

Till Mango, data connection on roaming can either be turned ON or OFF; with Tango, users will have the following options:

  1. Don’t Roam
  2. Domestic only
  3. Domestic + International

MMS Updates: Svetloyar at WP7Forum.Ru says the MMS capabilities in WP7 will see huge improvements.

For scale, there will be wider language support. Low specs and more languages—Windows Phones for developing nations. Yay!

A few weeks back, I explained that Microsoft wants to offer better hardware while keeping the main OS experience consistent; it seems that Tango will let us know if that is possible.

 

Microsoft: A Better Valentines With Office Web Apps & Windows Phone

For Valentines day Microsoft is showing no love for Google. The company’s Why Microsoft blog has shared a video making fun of Google Docs while promoting Office Web Apps. Microsoft’s mildly funny Office Web Apps Valentines video:

Back in 2011, Tony Tai compared Google Docs and Office Web Apps on the Why Microsoft blog

Microsoft is also using Valentines day to promote their Windows Phone devices. On the Windows Phone blog, Michael Stroh has shared a story of a Windows Phone app developer who used a Windows Phone exclusive app (Wordament) for a marriage proposal. The company wants you to Dump Your Droid for a Windows Phone; for this, Microsoft also announced a Twitter promotion where Microsoft will be handing out two Windows Phone devices. The Twitter campaign is aimed squarely at Android owners. Microsoft wants Android owners to tweet why they dislike their Android phones (#DumpingMyDroid). Existing Windows Phone owners can also participate by sharing why they love their Windows Phone devices.

Microsoft Takes #SmokedByWindowsPhone To California & To Open More Stores

Microsoft’s successful and creative Windows Phone promotion at CES 2012 will not be going from a tech conference to the real world.

Ben Rudolf’s brainchild, #SmokedByWindowsPhone is a competition where Ben challenges an owner of a competing mobile platform to see who is faster at a particular task, for example, finding and tagging a song. If Ben lost he’d give his challenger $100. The Techie Buzz team was at CES 2012 and while Parth Dhebar beat Ben Rudolf in uploading a pic to Twitter with his iPhone, Romit Mehta caught up with Ben to talk about the campaign.

According to Ben, Windows Phone 7 had a 88% success rate (30 wins, 3 losses & 1 draw) at CES. The campaign was positively received by the tech world; showing how and where Windows Phone 7 is better than the competition directly to the end-user makes for a great sales pitch as compared to the one made by the representatives at carrier outlets. Many enthusiasts suggested the campaign be aired on television and continued. As it turns out, Ben plans to continue this campaign at Microsoft stores.

In a post on the Windows Team Blog, Ben says that he will be at Microsoft’s store in California. The challenge remains the same, beat Ben and get $100 or accept that Windows Phone 7 is indeed faster (and better) than your iPhone or Android phone. Details and timings about the competition can be found in the blog post; be sure to follow Ben on Twitter.

In a separate story, Tom Warren writing for The Verge is reporting that Microsoft plans to open at least 4 stores across the American continent. New York, New Jersey to be specific, will be getting its first store and so will Canada. The other two stores will be in Austin, Texas and Palo Alto, California.

Interview with Ben Rudolph, the Architect of #smokedbywindowsphone

Smoked by Windows Phone

If you use Twitter and were following the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) tweets, it would be very hard for you to miss the #smokedbywindowsphone campaign, run by Ben Rudolph from Microsoft. I wrote about this campaign which pitted Windows Phone against a variety of today’s smartphones in conducting common tasks, in an earlier post. This campaign has been a super hit, and now that Ben has had some time to recover from CES, I asked him a few questions about the campaign. Here’s what he had to say:

Techie Buzz (TB): What was the motivation behind the campaign?

Ben Rudolph (BR): Everyone here on the Windows Phone team knew anecdotally, from talking with friends and family, and even strangers at airports, that Windows Phone is faster and easier than any other smartphone at doing the stuff that we do every day on our smartphones. We never went out to prove it in a head-to-head test. So, we decided to put our money where our mouth is at the biggest tech show in the world! What better place to put Windows Phone head to head against a huge variety of smartphone users, both in terms of their technical depth, but also in terms of the phones they have in their pocket. All in all, this was a fun way for us to stand up and say “We think we built something really awesome, and when you see it, we think you’ll agree”.

TB: What were the challenges like?

BR: All of the challenges involved tasks that smartphone users do every day – posting a photo to Facebook or Twitter, checking the weather, sending an SMS to your best friend, updating your status on your social networks, finding someplace nearby to eat – that kind of stuff.