This is a pretty long post, but it’s the only way to get across why I’m suddenly so disappointed in Windows Phone 7 – a platform I’ve been so excited about for so long. I really hope someone on the WP7 team takes the time to read it to the end. I’m probably not unique in having these feelings.
It’s a harsh title, so first, a little background…
I’ve been waiting for Windows Phone 7 for around 10 years. Really! See what I did there? 🙂
In 2001 I finished my A-Levels and got a job as a web programmer. I lived with my parents and had plenty of cash to wastespend. One of the first gadgets I bought was a Compaq iPaq. I convinced myself that it was really useful, and that it saved me lots of time, but in reality, it was horrid. The Windows operating system was slow and sluggish and the usability was pretty awful. I had to buy a sleeve that made the device twice as thick and a huge WiFi card just to allow it to connect to anything. It was crap, but I loved it anyway.
When Microsoft released the .NET Compact Framework, I was so excited. I could now write my own applications to run on this device that would fit in my pocket. Awesome! Except, it wasn’t. The device was still a pain in the ass to use and the performance still sucked. The ideas were great. The execution was terrible.
It wasn’t long before I picked up an XDA, so I no longer had to carry both a mobile phone and a PDA. Good times! Or not. The mobile version of Windows was still pretty bad.
Over the coming years, I bought practically every Windows mobile device I could afford. I lived in hope that this new device would be nice and snappy, and Microsoft will have improved the OS and added functionality. It never happened, but it didn’t stop me throwing money at them each time, in hope.
Fast forward a few more years, and I’d been playing with Managed DirectX. The idea of programming games in C# was pretty exciting. Ultimately this became XNA, and the Zune wasn’t far behind. I really wanted a Zune, but the UK launch was delayed and delayed, and ultimately never happened.
When Apple released the iPhone, I started to wonder if the reason we hadn’t seen a Zune in the UK was that Microsoft were holding back to release a ZunePhone. Despite waiting and waiting, this didn’t happen.
During this time (since 2001), my career was built on building web applications in Microsoft technologies. My life is well and truly in the Microsoft camp. I love .NET, I love C# and I love Visual Studio. It made me die a little inside every time I had to do some work in PHP or fire up Eclipse…
However… In 2008, I ditched my Windows-based XDA and bought an iPhone. Sorry Microsoft, I’d been waiting for 7 years, and you still hadn’t delivered.
I loved my iPhone. It made me sad that there was no competition from Microsoft. I even started working on iPhone apps. I really hate Mac OSX, Objective-C, and XCode. But I had to go with the market.
Imagine how excited I was when Microsoft announced Windows Phone 7! I can ditch this Apple nonsense and develop applications in C#, Visual Studio, XNA, Silverlight! Finally, Microsoft are putting their weight into a promising mobile platform. Despite previous failures, this time, I have hope that they can really do it.
Through my company, I was able to get access to a developer WP7 device from Microsoft. The hardware was a little shoddy, but the OS was very promising. Everything was looking good!
I’d convinced my company we should be working on a Windows Phone 7 version of our iPhone apps, and I resisted picking up an iPhone4 because Windows Phone 7 was the way forward. I kept my eyes open for a UK launch date in the hope it wouldn’t overlap with my holiday in Orlando, so I could get one right away. As luck would have it, the launch was announced as a few weeks before my holiday!
This is where it started to go wrong…
As we got closer to launch, I noticed there seemed to be a huge lack of advertising. I started to doubt whether the launch would be met at all. I started calling around local stores, and nobody knew anything about the launch. WTF? How can they not know about Microsoft’s competitor to the iPhone?! I popped into a Carphone Warehouse over the road from the office where I work on launch day. The staff knew nothing about WP7. I called all the local Orange stores, hoping for a HTC Mozart. Nobody knew when, or if, they would be getting any Windows Phone 7 devices. Wow.
I wasn’t giving up that easily, so I spent the next few weeks (getting close to my Orlando holiday) trying to track down a device. Eventually, I found that a local O2 store had HTC HD7s in stock. I rushed down there, and managed to convince them to sell me one as Pay-As-You-Go (since I’m on, and very happy with, giffgaff). I was made up! Windows Phone 7 was awesome. Just being able to pin a tile for my wife and see calendar appointments on the homescreen was enough for me to purchase it over an iPhone!
Then I went on holiday to Orlando. I took loads of geo-tagged pics, and was genuinely really impressed with the phone. Congratulations Microsoft. You’ve finally done it. But still, where is all the fanfare? You need to show people how awesome this phone is – then you’ll sell bucket-loads!
As time went on, cracks started to show. There were bugs. Many bugs. At one point, the SMS message store for my wife got corrupt, which meant I couldn’t send, or read, text messages to/from her. I got in touch with the UK WP7 developer advocate that had sorted out the developer phone for my company, and explained the issue. After many emails going back and forth I was told that there may be logs on my phone that would help Microsoft track down this issue but security procedures do not allow them to share a tool to get the logs off my device. I was instead, told to try a factory reset. This fixed the issue, but Microsoft were no closer to finding/fixing the bug.
Another pretty annoying bug was that the bluetooth randomly disconnects from my car. Frequently. About every 2-3 minutes. If I’m on a call when this happens, the call stays open, but just normally via the handset in my pocket. As you can imagine – I can’t hear the person at the other end, and they can’t hear me. 10-20 seconds later, it reconnects, and the call continues.
Because I preferred coding in VS/C# so much, I started work on a Windows Phone 7 game in my spare time. I even got a few colleagues to join in by creating their own games, as part of an XNA coding competition. Most of these guys had never even coded C#, never mind written a game!
My game is called Badger Quest, and currently has a few playable levels. There are no videos online yet, but you can see how it looks from the background on the Twitter page. It’ll be pretty similar to Mario, though played by tapping buttons on the screen to use your abilities (jump, turn, throw, slash, etc.) which are limited in number.
As time went by, I started to have doubts. WP7 handsets weren’t selling very well. The marketplace was buggy (eg. returns to the “Xbox LIVE” filter when you press “Back” from looking at an “indie” game). I started to wonder how seriously Microsoft were taking their platform. The OS was great, but how they responded to initial feedback and bug reports (and how quickly) would ultimately decide the fate of the platform.
With a huge outcry over the lack of Copy & Paste, Microsoft announced there would be an update in January that would add this. Excellent – if we don’t get the bugfixes before then, they’ll be in that update. All will be good.
Sadly, it wasn’t good. The update was delayed. And delayed. There was zero transparency from Microsoft. Despite the rest of the company making huge strides in this area over the previous few years, Windows Phone 7 is a quiet, closed box. Nobody knew what was happening with the update, and more importantly, the bug fixes.
Eventually, an update started to roll out. Yay! Only, we quite quickly discovered it wasn’t NoDo. It was a pre-update update. An update that updates the update system. Why couldn’t this just be bundled with NoDo?! More annoying was that Microsoft didn’t announce this update until after they started pushing it. They told us nothing about what it did.
Then it got worse. One of my colleagues was prompted to install his update. He connected his phone as described, and the update started. Then it failed. It gave an error saying his phone was not updated, and could not be rolled back. He tried all sorts of resets, with no luck. His phone was bricked. As I’d been one of the people that had suggested he get a WP7, I felt pretty bad. He spent the next day being bounced between Microsoft, Virgin and Samsung, trying to get his phone working. During this time, he could not use his phone in any way. The staff at Virgin and Samsung knew very little about WP7 and more specifically, this update. Eventually, Virgin agreed to send him a new handset.
Fast forward a few more days, and we’re all still waiting for NoDo, and our bugfixes. It’s been over four months and we’ve still had zero bugfixes. Rumours start spreading across the web that NoDo has been delayed. Again, it takes a week before Microsoft finally come out and tell us what’s going on.
Hopefully if you’ve read this far, you now know why I’m starting to have serious doubts about Windows Phone 7. If Microsoft can’t turn around bugfixes in a timely fashion, what’s going to happen when people start finding exploits (and they will find exploits)?
Of course, if I’m not confident in the platform as a user, I can’t be as a developer. I’ve put my Windows Phone 7 development on hold. I can’t commit to spending more time on a platform that Microsoft seems to be sending the way of previous versions. I still believe the OS is excellent, but sadly, that’s only half the battle.
I’m not giving up, just yet. I truly believe Windows Phone 7 can be something brilliant, but there are definitely issues that need addressing. To show how seriously I believe Microsoft could make this work, I’ve applied to go and work for the Windows Phone team via the Microsoft Careers website. If Microsoft want to make Windows Phone 7 better, here’s an offer for another set of hands to test the platform. I’m serious – I’d relocate from the UK to the US to help work on making Windows Phone 7 better, because I think it could have a strong future.