Microsoft confirms plan to evolve Windows Phone over time

Well, you had to know it was too good to be true. In recent comments to a Dutch web site of all places, Microsoft tech evangelist Charlie Kindel has revealed some important new information about Windows Phone: It’s not going to be feature complete at launch. (Thanks to WMPowerUser.com for doing the hard work of translating some of this and breaking this news.)

Some of the more interesting new tidbits from this conversation include:

Microsoft appears to understand that the future of computing is both high-mobile and highly connected, a point I’ve been trying to make for a while now. He said the phone was “the new personal computer. Exactly so.

The initial release version of Windows Phone will not be feature complete. Kindle says this was a conscious choice, but I take it to mean that the company knew it had to deliver the software on a very tight schedule, so they’re doing what they can in the time they have. This news, by the way, was previewed for us, in effect, by the silliness around “will-they-or-won’t-they” have multitasking. “Some things are missing at launch but the important thing for us is user experience. Everything must work equally well for the unit to work properly. Then we will look at how we can extend that functionality.”

One of the oft-touted features that will be missing at launch is the ability for developers to extend hubs. “In time you can, but for now we focus on other issues,” said Kindel. Also multitasking: Bundled apps will have it at launch, but not third party apps. They’ll add that over time too.

Regarding software updates, Microsoft will provide them to Windows Phone users over-the-air and, for larger updates, via the Zune PC software.

Kindel also addressed the native code issue that got Mozilla in such a huff. He said that access to native code will be eased over time, with very special cases, like Adobe Flash, coming first.

Windows Phone will utilize the same pop-up software Play widget that is used today on the Zune HD. So when you are playing music and using another application, and tap a volume button, the Play widget will overlay over whatever you’re doing. If you use a Zune HD, you know how nice this thing is. It features Play/Pause, Volume Up/Down, and Next/Previous Track buttons.

This is obviously bad news and I will try to speak with Microsoft on the record about this soon. In fact, I’d like to sit down with Charlie Kindel (who is a great, great guy, by the way) and go over a number of things. I’ll see if I can make that happen.

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16 Responses to Microsoft confirms plan to evolve Windows Phone over time

  1. Paul in these paragraphs:

    “Windows Phone will utilize the same pop-up software Play widget that is used today on the Zune HD. So when you are playing music and using another application, and tap a volume button, the Play widget will overlay over whatever you’re doing. If you use a Zune HD, you know how nice this thing is. It features Play/Pause, Volume Up/Down, and Next/Previous Track buttons.

    This is obviously bad news and I will try to speak with Microsoft on the record about this soon. In fact, I’d like to sit down with Charlie Kindel (who is a great, great guy, by the way) and go over a number of things. I’ll see if I can make that happen.”

    What do you mean by, “this is obviously bad news”?? Or do you mean Good news?

    • Mike Cerm says:

      I was thrown by that “bad news” comment as well. If anything this is NO news; of course, WP7 is going to develop over time! Obviously, there are features that are going to be extended in future updates, and “missing” features (like multitasking) are going to be added.

      Now, if WP7 gets rushed out without features that were previously announced, THAT would be bad news. Like, if they run out of time and aren’t able to implement Zune functionality, or something big like that. That’s not what we’re talking about. It sounds like Charlie’s saying that the features that WP7 is lacking at launch, like Flash, multitasking, and cut-and-paste, are coming eventually. That should not be surprising.

      • Paul Thurrott says:

        Sorry, I meant that the overall “evolution” stuff was bad news, as Windows Phone won’t be feature complete at launch. They have not been obvious about this at all. For a comparison, consider Apple’s announcement about Game Center in iPhone OS 4; they were very obvious that it will ship as a Preview at launch and in final form by the end of the year. Meanwhile, Microsoft talked up hub extensibility over February and March without once mentioning, oh by the way, that won’t actually be in the product. Sorry, but that’s not cool.

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  3. gragib says:

    I don’t think it is important to be feature-complete at launch time. May be that time has passed, and I may be wrong. The important thing is to have a starting platform that can be evolved into future platforms without creating too many vestiges and maintaining forward compatibility for hardware and backward compatibility for software. Future versions of firmwares must be able to run on previous generation hardware. E.g. original iPhone ran versions 1.0-3.0 of the iPhoneOS. In iPhoneOS 3, it didn’t support the compass feature, but very few apps used that. At the same time, the platform needs to be backwards compatible. iPhoneOS 3.0 can run apps compiled for 1.0 IIRC. Engineering all of this is complicated. Achieving it on a mobile platform is even more harder due to the limited resources.

    You need to start somewhere and get the ball rolling.

    FYI: Look at the mess that is Nokia’s Maemo platform. It has never been forward or backwards compatible after 5 major versions. 6th one is Meego.

    • roteague says:

      I agree with all your points. The one thing that I think Microsoft needs to make absolutely clear, is that this device will be updated on a fairly regular schedule. Microsoft doesn’t always make these things clear to the general public.

    • Mike Cerm says:

      I think you’re right; it’s OK for a platform to be “incomplete” at 1.0. What’s most important is that the manufacturer show some dedication and direction, and that the necessary tools are in-place to provide functionality down the line.

      The iPhone is both a good example. The original iPhone OS was very light on features, but it was a good enough building block that Apple has been able to basically just keep stapling on new features over time, in a very iterative fashion. Nothing in the iPhone has changed since then really, just new things being integrated into the system. And from a hardware perspective, the same iterative process has bumped the storage, memory, processor speed, camera, added GPS, all with virtually no change in form-factor.

      The iPhone is also a good counter-example, or an example of how a limited platform CAN’T be extended. Look how app notifications just show up like text-messages. It sucks, but that’s basically what happens when you keep piling new features onto a system that wasn’t intended to handle them. Also, it would appear (since the iPad is running a fork of the OS, and still won’t be unified on the next release), that some pretty substantial changes were needed to make iPhone OS run at different resolutions.

      It’s all about getting the balance right. As long as Microsoft can initially bring enough of the functionality and features that users want/need in a phone, it’s alright if some stuff hits the cutting-room floor, or gets held for the future. As long as the foundation is strong enough to support the features down the line, and Microsoft can actually deliver them in a timely fashion, the platform can succeed.

    • gragib says:

      Oopsie. I said:

      … iPhoneOS 3.0 can run apps compiled for 1.0 IIRC …

      That should be:

      … iPhoneOS 3.0 can run apps compiled for 2.0 IIRC …

      iPhoneOS 1.0 didn’t have 3rd party apps.

  4. gpsarakis says:

    Paul, I think they’re not giving a clear message on what’s going to be in or out in the initial release because even they can’t be for sure. It’s a race right now, and until that internal deadline hits who’s know if feature a made it in in time or has to come a week or two weeks after?

    If you do talk with him directly, and that’d be great, at the least try and find out if, whatever is coming later, doesn’t take forever to do so. It’d be great if you can stress home important it is that MS release updates and extent WP7 as fast as they can. Every month or two months sounds good if it brings some big things for example. But the last thing they should do is fall back into some long 6 month or 1 year update cycle. That just won’t cut it anymore.

  5. secondruntv says:

    I’m not too bummed about the news… hopefully the OS will never be feature complete and they will always be adding stuff… I just hope they can deliver updates regularly… If we have to wait 6 months for a 1.5 or 2.0 update to get any of the new features that will be shame… if they can implement something like the desktop version of windows update and allow for smaller updates more often that would be fantastic.

    • gpsarakis says:

      The windows update type system is in place already, the whole OTA (Over The Air) system. Bigger stuff through Zune though, which makes sense.

      But I agree, they have to do updates more often than 6 months.

  6. gftw says:

    Bad move for MS. It is typical for them. Let out details way in advance and some of them change by the time it launches. It creates confusion for the consumer, add in the typical MS multiple versions which adds more confusion.

    The problem is they must start some place. I guess they could wait until more of its done, but then waiting would put them behind.

    Like Paul’s recommendation for the iPad, wait for V2, I would say the same thing about Windows Phone 7. If users wait 12-18 months, then they will find out a lot, like how fast MS add’s missing features and how much app developers support it.

  7. wilbev says:

    Paul,

    An important question that I think needs to be answered by Microsoft, possibly Charlie, is whether they plan to introduce an updated Zune device that runs the Windows Phone 7 OS, but is not a phone. Basically you can run all WP7 apps on this non-phone device. Maybe they don’t want to answer that right now because of the backlash from current Zune owners, since this will likely need new hardware.

  8. chrisrpatterson says:

    I think extending hubs is referring to adding new hubs. I think extending the existing hubs will be there in the first version (as they have shown with the pictures hub). Though not all hubs may be extensible by thrid-party developers.

    • Paul Thurrott says:

      I talked to Microsoft today about speaking with Charlie K. or some similar to verify what’s happening there. Hopefully, I’ll know soon.

  9. Pingback: Windows Phone needs to “Shit or get off the pot” « Ponderings of a Developer

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