I had hoped to simply ignore a particularly moronic Chicken Little blog post at InfoWorld. But I’ve gotten too many emails about it, and there are actually a few issues in there I’d like to discuss.
First, the post itself. It was created and named specifically to drive hits, nothing more. Whether it reflects the true opinion of its author is almost irrelevant as a) he doesn’t have a Windows Phone (and has clearly never spent any real time with one) and b) if this really is his opinion, he’s just a knuckle dragger anyway.
For a more measured reaction to Windows Phone, I’d point you to my own Windows Phone Secrets blog, where I’ve noted (and will continue to note) the actual highs and lows of using Windows Phone. I’ve pointed out how incredible it is—and it is—to see the phone fill up with content simply by logging on to your Windows Live ID. And I’ve pointed out, repeatedly, that Windows Phone will ship this year missing some pretty obvious functionality like copy and paste, tasks support, and so on. In other words, I’m not just trying to be honest about it. I’m trying to be being reasonable and measured as well. I know this flies in the face of the way things are done in the blogosphere.
But to this blog post.
Windows Phone 7 will be a failure … Windows Phone 7 is a waste of time and money. It’s a platform that no carrier, device maker, developer, or user should bother with.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. I have no opinion about whether Windows Phone will be successful in the market. Microsoft is correct to note how fast mobile is growing and that there is room for a handful of major players, and they can be one of them. We’ll see. What I’m more concerned with—and more positive of—is that Windows Phone represents a truly innovative take on the mobile space, one that does not ape the iPhone model (as Android so obviously does), but rather does it’s own thing. When Microsoft says, “the phone is not a PC,” they’re right. Apple and Google don’t seem to get that yet.
In Microsoft’s in-depth demo this week at the Mobile Beat conference, there’s no mistaking the big pig behind the gloss. Seeing the UI in action across several tasks, not just in a highly controlled presentation, shows how awkward and unsophisticated it is … Under the hood, Windows Phone 7 rests on creakingly old technology that the main competitors have all moved past.
Just to be clear about what he’s communicating here, he hasn’t used it. So his revised opinion is based on … a public demo? Did this guy assume that the iPhone 4’s Wi-Fi didn’t work because that feature failed during Steve Jobs’ demo? I mean, there are good demos and bad demos. Is this really the bar?
The “pig” thing I don’t get. There’s no creeping complexity or technological heft “behind” the Windows Phone UI, as there is on Windows Mobile. In fact, the whole thing is universally simple. If you want to level a real charge at Windows Phone, one I’ve noted in a few places, Windows Phone is, if anything, too simple, especially for power users. Unsophisticated? Hardly. It’s been engineered not to be complex. That’s what sophistication is (for an electronics device).
The bottom line is this: Windows Phone 7 is a pale imitation of the 2007-era iPhone.
No, it’s not.
And this kind of generalization betrays this guy’s own lack of sophistication, to use his term again. Yes, Windows Phone will ship with some missing features, as did Apple’s iPhone(s). But that’s like saying a cart and a car are the same because they both have an axle and wheels.
Windows Phone is not the same kind of phone, or a copy of the iPhone at all. In fact, the Windows Phone interaction model is so unique and innovative, and it’s global access to online services information so seamless, they’re not really even the same kind of device. (Or in the same league.) Yes, they both make phone calls. But the iPhone is a mini-PC, where you jump in and out of apps to get things done. You do the hard work of remembering which app does what. With Windows Phone, properly-written apps can blend seamlessly into more general experiences. So if you want to look at pictures, you tap the big Pictures tile. On the iPhone, you could have any number of apps with pictures capabilities, because on that device, pictures are siloed in whatever services you care about—local pictures on the phone, Facebook pictures, Flickr pictures, etc. They’re all over the place, each imprisoned and isolated in their own dedicated apps. (Apple calls this a “business model.”)
This is going to get tedious if I keep going, but let’s just do a few more….
Let’s start with that Zune-based UI, called Metro, as that is the first thing users will see.
Now that I’ve seen it more in action, all I can say is how clunky it is. You will scroll and scroll to find what you want, thanks to how Microsoft has oversimplified all tasks. Each tile has just a little bit of information — often just three items — and you’re supposed to scroll sideways via finger gestures to see details on each option in full, then click the one you want to get more details.
That’s not how it works.
On the iPhone, icons can display either one bit of information—a number badge, indicating the number of new emails, missed calls whatever—or no information at all. So we’re now done discussing the live information you can discover on an iPhone’s home screen. Imagine trying to drag that out into a full chapter for a book.
On Windows Phone, live tiles can display all kinds of information, and they animate, and change dynamically and automatically. There are simple notifications, like the number of unread mails (though that does animated, by the way) or missed calls, just like on the iPhone. There are people tiles that animate with names and pictures. A calendar tile that displays three pieces of information about your next appointment. An animated Xbox Live tile with your avatar doing funny things. A big Pictures tile customized with your favorite photo. An animated Music + Videos tile decorated with imagery of the last musical artist you listened to. And this is all just on the default Start screen. You can customize it further. (Try that on the endless grid of static icons that the iPhone provides.)
Scrolling. I’ve done some heavy customization. To get from the top to the bottom of this screen requires—wait for it—one flick of the finger. And there’s a neat little animation where the tiles all kind of slow down, compress slightly, and then spring back to their correct shape. It’s frivolous and fun. Sorry, InfoWorld.
One developer asked the Microsoft rep if anyone had bothered to test it with users. The answer was essentially "no" — a scary thought indeed.
I don’t know what testing Microsoft did outside of the company on this UI. But I will make two points here:
1. The Metro UI is based on several generations of UIs that came before, including the Zune HD, several versions of Windows Media Center, and the Portable Media Center interface. The “pivot” interface in Metro dates back to 2003-2004 at the latest, and is the core interface interaction model in Windows Phone. So this thing—or early versions of it—have in fact been tested in the real world—no, used in the real world—for almost a decade.
2. As a reminder, Apple never properly tests any of its hardware or software products. Ever. In fact, there’s a little press conference occurring today because of that. Exercise for the reader: Find the blog post where this guy blasted Apple for creating a grid of icons interface because it wasn’t properly tested with users and later needed to be fixed, first with multiple screens, and then with folders and background wallpaper.
Also, the big tiles quickly eat up screen real estate (about four fit),
On the lower resolution version of Windows Phone, 8 (eight) live tiles fit fully on screen, and you can see about a third of two more tiles. And these tiles are dynamic, unlike iPhone icons.
There are two ways to navigate through tiles: in panorama mode and in pivot mode. In both cases, the tile continues to the right…
This is just incorrect. The Start screen offers live tiles, and you scroll up and down. Panoramas, or hubs, are special UIs for integrated experiences. They do have sections (which I think of as columns) and scroll left to right, as the name suggests. In these columns, you can see text or thumbnails, the latter of which are shaped like live tiles (i.e. are “square”) but are not, in fact live tiles. As you drill deeper down (in, say Pictures), there are actually screen with a grid of smaller thumbnails. On these screens, you can see over 20 thumbnails at a time.
Point being that Windows Phone supports a wide variety of UI types, including of course full screen games and other apps that do not conform to specifically designed Windows Phone interfaces. Go nuts, developers. Anything is possible.
As to the rest of this silliness…
No one in the real world cares what version of IE that the IE in Windows Phone is based on. People will care that it works—or does not work—with the sites they visit. I’m sure the author of the quote post will test that in-depth as I am before rendering a verdict.
Windows Phone does not support multitasking, sort of. Actually, it has multitasking, but only for built-in apps… for now. Microsoft will fix this. As he notes.
Interapplication communication. He missed the whole point of seamless connectivity between online services and the phone and that, ideally, people aren’t manually entering individual apps in Windows Phone, as they do on the limited iPhone, but are instead doing things a different way. My god, it’s like complaining that Windows 7 doesn’t run DOS apps. Right. It’s doing things a new way. Move on.
Copy and paste. Yep, it’s missing. Yep, it should be there. But the lack of copy and paste isn’t going to doom this thing. It would be nice, and will be nice when Microsoft adds that feature. It’s coming, Chicken Little. Relax.
Anyway, you get the idea. He makes very few valid points and surrounds the whole thing in an aura of silly doom and gloom.
So please. Stop bugging me with this crap. And for the handful of you out there that actually think this guy made some kind of salient point, shame on you. Publication of opinion does not equal truth. That’s as true here as it is on InfoWorld. Think, then decide.
Windows Phone will or will not succeed in the market, we’ll see. But Microsoft is not regurgitating something tired and old like Google did with Android, and it’s not using the same old fashioned PC metaphor that Apple is stuck on. Instead, Windows Phone is new, and interesting, and innovative.