Calendar as the Windows Phone simplicity poster child

UPDATED: I’ve updated this post to address the mistake noted below.

Some comments about the Windows Phone Calendar application, inspired by an email question.

Like most everything else in Windows Phone, Calendar is an interesting example of something that is simple and elegant, yes, but also functionally limited.

To understand what I mean, consider how you may have set up your own calendars, whether you’re using Windows Live Calendar, Google Calendar, or Exchange. In each case, there is a single calendar solution, or source (i.e. Windows Live Calendar). But there could also be multiple calendars. These include calendars you create within the source (what Google calls My Calendars) and external calendars that you subscribe to, perhaps, or link to in some way (Google calls these Other Calendars). Within the group of calendars created within the source solution, there is usually a default calendar.

In my own Google and Windows Live calendars, shown here, I have multiple calendars, most of which are subscribed calendars. On the left, in Google Calendar, I have one "source" calendar (Paul), which is also the default calendar. (The subscribed calendars are under Other Calendars.) On the right, in Windows Live, I have two "source" calendars, Paul (the default) and Thurrott Family. (The other two are subscriptions.)


OK, fine. But how does Windows Phone interact with these multiple calendars. Here’s what the Calendars configuration looks like on my own phone:


(The Outlook entry is an Exchange calendar.)

As you can see, each calendar "source" can be On or Off, but you can’t specify anything about multiple calendars. For example, within Windows Live Calendar, I cannot specify that Paul is On and Thurrott Family is Off.

So how does Windows Phone’s Calendar actually interact with your calendars, especially in the case of multiple calendars within each source?

Windows Phone does display all "source" calendars. So in my case, content from both the Paul and Thurrott Family calendars in Windows Live Calendar show up on the phone.

Windows Phone does not display all "source" calendars. It displays only the primary, or default, calendar.

So secondary calendars do not make it across, which is too bad.

Subscribed calendars do not make it across, which makes some sense. Or it would, if you could subscribe to external calendars from Windows Phone. Which you cannot.

And how about this one?

You create a new appointment from the phone. You specify the Calendar (source). To which calendar (within that source) does this appointment get applied?

To the default calendar, of course.

But that means there is no way for me to, say, create an appointment in any secondary calendar from the phone.

(Somewhat off-topic: Windows Phone’s Calendar also doesn’t support Tasks, which is arguably an equally important problem.)


To return to a point I’ve made repeatedly about Apple’s solutions and must now make about the similarly engineered Windows Phone, you can’t be both simple and full-featured. Microsoft has opted with Windows Phone, in v1 form anyway, for simple. This is arguably the right choice, but the limitations of this choice will appear in multiple places all over this system. And this is just one basic example.

Now, over time, I expect Microsoft to fill in the gaps. We will get more functionality, and perhaps in this case, the Calendar configuration UI will change to support multiple calendars within a source. Perhaps it will change to support subscribed calendars too. As these changes occur in my theoretical future, Windows Phone will become ever more complicated. And ever more full-featured/powerful.

The trick is finding the right balance. Right now, on average, I’d say that Windows Phone is heavily skewed toward the simplicity end of the scale. This is by design, but it also means there will be compromises. Over time, it will need to move towards the other end of the scale. You can’t have it both ways. Several generations of iPods/iTunes/iPhones don’t necessarily "prove" that, but they certainly are examples of creeping featuritis.

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27 Responses to Calendar as the Windows Phone simplicity poster child

  1. jctierney says:

    I’m wondering if lack of Task support in Windows Phone is related to the lack of Task synchronization between Windows Live and Outlook. It would be great if the Outlook Connector could sync not only Mail, Contacts, and Calendar, but also Tasks. (Along with, of course, Windows Phone.)

    I think the average person really only needs simple calendar viewing and synchronization, though. Not a whole lot of people are using Outlook as their web client and are moving, or have moved, towards cloud apps (Hotmail, Gmail, etc.) which are naturally less-featured and therefore more simple than Outlook. That’s where, I think, Windows Phone will be more applicable towards the average person, it’s simple.

    However, I’m a little worried about power-users. I’m a big fan of Outlook, as I’m sure many corporations are (or at least they pretend to be because it’s sort of an industry standard) so simplicity for the corporate setting (or for the average Outlook power-user) may or may not be the best case.

    I think it’s a hard thing to try to make a device that’s perfect for both consumers and corporate users. However, I think Microsoft has been moving in the right direction of late and over time we’ll start to see a device that can fit the shoes in both of these areas, if not in v1.0, then v1.1 or whatever the next version will be.

    • gpsarakis says:

      I was wondering why the Outlook connector doesn’t support tasks/To-do sync, this seems odd to me and something that shouldn’t have been left out really.

  2. nzogra says:

    I disagree. Microsoft has had over 10 years of experience in the mobile world to at least be on par with Apple and Google with calendar features on their mobile devices. When will more options come? 18 months after launch of V1.0? Microsoft has clearly missed the boat on this and everything else mobile and will ultimately fail just like the Kin. 3 years ago, I was an active Windows Live user. I have since 2008 switched everything to Google and use the Nexus One. Wonderful integration and multiple calendars.

    • Paul Thurrott says:

      Yeah, but I wonder if it was that good on Day 1. This is a brand new platform, not something rewritten from elsewhere. So it’s not like they ported an existing calendar over to Windows Phone; it’s new.

      I agree this stuff is lacking in some ways. But that was my point: It is a poster child for the wider Windows Phone experience, where the big picture stuff is great but as you drill down, you start to see holes.

  3. Pingback: Mobility Digest - Windows Phone - Shared Calendars in WP7 Are “View Only”

  4. nzogra says:

    You’re absolutely right. It is a new platform and Android was no competition to Iphone when it first came out and certainly lacked features that are available today. I was so excited to use the Windows Live services like calendar when it first came out (announced in your Windows Weekly podcast), but was utterly crushed when I got a Ipod touch in 2008 and was unable to have the caldendar synced with the device. I had no choice but to move to Google calendar. It seems that Microsoft will deliver a great service but will leave something crucial out and that will make it less attractive. I just hope that they’ll plug the holes at a faster schedule similar to Google’s.

    • Paul Thurrott says:

      Yep, me too.

      I look at it like this: If Microsoft updates Windows Phone over the next year at the same pace as Apple did for the iPhone in 2007-2008, it will be disappointing. Not because Apple did anything slowly–they were quite good about updating. But that was 2007. Today, Android should be the goal: Google has been more aggressive than Apple with updates. Microsoft needs to be as aggressive as Google, or better yet more aggressive. Anything less is not good enough.

      • interframe says:

        So is Microsoft still being quiet on discussing the update schedule? It would be nice if someone asked them about it. Joe Belfiore, in his recent interview with Engadget, said there already working on the next version (I imagine that started back in Feb. after MWC 10).

        I thats pretty obvious, but what would be interesting to see is if they released minor updates ever quarter of the year with 4-6 new features, and then in the middle of the year, announce the next major version.

        Apple and Google always have the advantage when MS announces the next version of their OS in Feb. MS should start playing on Apple’s and Google`s schedule, it shouldn’t be the other way around.

        I think this would be an interesting timeline:

        Feb 2011: Announce a Minor update at MWC 11 that addresses the lack of Copy/Paste, adds Flash/Silverlight/HTML5 support to the browser, filters in the People hub, and other small issues that WP7 will have at launch.
        **Launch a public beta right after MWC 2011, and release the update March.**

        April-May 2011: Release very minor update that improves performance and adds a feature or two.

        June/early July 2011: The next big major version. A list of 15 big new features, new UI that extends the idea of Hubs, evolves the Metro design language, multi-tasking etc.
        **Launch a beta immediately following announcement and complete by the end of August/earlySept.**

        Oct.-Dec. 2011: Minor update that improves performance, adds a features or two.

        Given Microsoft’s resources, a the fact that Google was able to do something similar to this in 2009, is this schedule possible?

        And perhaps Microsoft could get some sort of OEM deal with Nokia, after-all MS has been close to Nokia lately with releasing Silverlight and Office on their phones, an exclusive partnership could really turn things around for Microsoft.

      • Paul Thurrott says:

        They’re not being quiet, I’ve asked many times. And I’m sure others have as well. So they don’t have a schedule right now or are at least saying that they don’t. It’s understandable that they’re focused on getting v1 out the door first.

  5. Mike Cerm says:

    Mail and calendar functionality (basically Outlook integration) has always been a strong selling point for Windows Mobile. I can’t believe they’re willing to totally concede this point… You can argue that Windows Phone 7 can’t possible include all of the features of “mature” operating systems like iOS and Android, but even WebOS had a more functional calendar at launch, and Palm has nowhere close to the resources that Microsoft has.

    This is an absolute deal-breaker for me. How can the company that makes Outlook not know how to properly implement support for multiple calendars? This is not advanced functionality, it’s a basic feature that should be present in any first-generation product.

    Without a working calendar, and coupled with all its other deficiencies, I’m starting to think that Windows Phone 7 is just not a smartphone operating system. It’s basically a really nice feature-phone, but not a smartphone.

    • Paul Thurrott says:

      No, that’s not fair.

      Support for multiple calendars within calendar sources does not define a smart phone. Windows Phone supports multiple calendar sources just fine. It also supports displaying multiple calendars from within each of those sources. We’re really getting to a fine level of detail when what we’re complaining about is that the calendar then doesn’t go the final mile and let you explicitly target a single calendar within a calendar source. It’s a missing feature, yes, but it’s pretty esoteric.

      Remember too that the Windows Mobile approach didn’t work. There, you have a platform with 15 years of experience and improvements, yes, but also one that is built on a foundation that is literally 15 years old. You know, from when Windows 95 was *new*. If you dig not too far into a Windows Mobile phone today, you’ll find old UI that still requires a stylus. So yeah, it does everything, I guess. But only the front surface of it doesn’t look and work like crap.

      With Windows Phone they’re starting over. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that they are also leaving Windows Mobile in the market for those people (companies, mostly) that Windows Phone won’t satisfy right away. Windows Phone is the future, but you have a choice. And Windows Phone will be getting better over time, so that the older choice can go away.

      I’d rather have this calendar now then a “perfect” one a year from now. If that is the choice, and it is, then they made the right one.

  6. interframe says:

    Microsoft has some incredibly smart and unique designers in the Windows Phone 7 team. It’ll be interesting to see how Albert Shum and his team deal with these challenges, I think it’ll be quite exciting to see what they come up with just because they are extraordinary designers.

    • Paul Thurrott says:

      That’s the million dollar question. A year from now, we’ll be able to discuss whether they did the right thing or just sat on something that in many ways wasn’t finished.

  7. vangrieg says:

    This is strange. On one of the earlier videos I swear they showed how it asked you where to save a new appointment. Maybe it was even in the MIX emulator.

    Maybe they considered it as an annoyance (I certainly wouldn’t like to be asked every time where to save each item). Maybe (hopefully) they temporarily removed this thing for the first public release of their software.

    Lack of Tasks is sad, and I’m afraid it’s more permanent – Tasks don’t seem to be a very popular feature, neither Android nor iPhone support them.

    • Paul Thurrott says:

      They do ask you which calendar to use for a new appointment. But the choice is between calendar “sources” (i.e. Google Calendar, Exchange, Windows Live), not calendars within a source.

      • vangrieg says:

        Ah, I see. I guess I wasn’t the only one who got you wrong, so before the whole internet explodes with a new reason to hate MS maybe you should add a description that even the not-so-smart people like me would get at first attempt. :)

        See the trackback from Mobility Digest, some already built on what you said and go from there. :)

      • bradsteffen says:

        My personal use case (and the use case of most other IT consultants I know) is multiple Exchange-based active sync accounts spread across different organizations (consulting firm, client, home, etc.). Will all of these separate Exchange accounts treated as a single source (Outlook) with only one of the many set as the default account to which the phone can create meetings? If so, this could be a serious problem for folks like me. Even my wife, who is a per-diem nurse working for two different nursing firms, has this issue.

        It seems that, rather then lumping accounts together by connection medium (Google, Windows Live, Outlook), the interface should instead treat each account as its own context. 3 different Exchange-based accounts in 3 different organizations cannot possibly be using a unified login account so why treat them as a single lump entity?

        I am much less concerned about secondary Calendars. If that shows up in a later release great, but primary calendars in each account need to be fully functional.

      • Paul Thurrott says:

        Oddly, it’s different for email, contacts, and calendars.

        For email, each account will have its own access point via a live tile on the Start screen and an entry in what I call the “All Programs” screen.

        For contacts, all contacts from all accounts will be merged into a single list.

        For calendars, all calendars will be merged into a single view in the Calendar application, but you can toggle the display of individual calendar sources (Exchange 1, Exchange 2, etc.) but not individual calendars within those calendar sources.

        Why is this different for each item? We can only guess, but I’d chalk it up to maturity. I do expect a unified inbox option later, as well as the ability to mark/differentiate contacts and access individual calendars. It doesn’t matter what I expect though, since none of that is there now.

  8. aplkorex says:

    So Windows Phone DOES support SYNCING of calendars between phone, web, and the Win Live Mail desktop app. Phew.
    I just read yesterday (can’t remember where) that you could only view Live Calendars from the new phone. According to this post, I can add calendar appts to the Win Live Calendar source. Sweet. Couldn’t believe MS wounldn’t include this feature with everything else they’re providing, but you never know…

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  13. roberthleeii says:

    First of all i hope they they update WP7 the way that android has been updated. the only thing that i worry about is being left behind. I know some G1 users that switched away from android because they did not like it. now i am sure that this wont be as big of a problem with wp7 because of the minimum hardware requirements but i don’t want to buy one of the first buyers and not be able to get all of the updates that are avaliable.

    Is there a high likely hood that first gen handsets will get stuck on 7.0 release and not be able to be updated to 8.0, 7.5.3, or what ever like with the current android handsets? my understanding is microsoft is trying not to have this happen but it seems imporntant with the release of these handsets only a few months a way.

    • Paul Thurrott says:

      No, there is *no* likelihood of that.

      All Windows Phones are updatable by Microsoft, and all Windows Phones *will* be updated by Microsoft. The question isn’t “if.” It’s “when” and “how frequently.” But they are going to do it.

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