Tagged with windows phone 7

The Trouble With Hubs

A few days ago, I posted my own thoughts and experiences with iOS 5. At the end of the article, I conclude that Windows Phone 7 would probably appeal to me, because it gets rid of the endless sea of icons and apps, and replaces them with dedicated “hubs”.

Well, way before that post – last year, in fact – I wrote an article about hubs, and the problems such a system has.

Well, here’s the part that worries me. While this concept is incredibly cool, it puts the responsibility on Microsoft to keep things up to date and fresh.  What the App concept buys you is that when new social networking services crop up (for example), people can write Apps on top of its APIs right away, and before you know it you’re linked in to the service.

With Microsoft’s hubs, how long will you have to wait for Microsoft to integrate a new social networking service?

Now, today, I see that Paul Thurrott has posted an article on what Windows Phone 7 still lacks, even with this year’s Mango update.

The first is a topic I’ve been meaning to address for some time now, which is a serious issue with a facet of Windows Phone that Microsoft has trumpeted, correctly, as its primary advantage over iOS and Android: The integrated experiences that, in many ways, obviate the user’s need to find, download, and then use a myriad of different apps to accomplish common tasks. When the Windows Phone–integrated experiences work, they work well. You can very easily share a photo to Facebook or Twitter, without having first installed and configured a dedicated app for either service, for example.

But in many cases, these integrated experiences don’t offer as much functionality as do the dedicated apps. So depending on your needs, the existence of an integrated experience might simply be obviated by the fact that it doesn’t do what you want.

Paul goes on from here to describe a scenario, using Facebook, that can’t be accomplished properly because Windows Phone’s implementation of the Facebook API is limited. And it isn’t the only example.

There are holes like this in all of Windows Phone’s integrated experiences, from the Twitter integration that doesn’t understand hash tags to the photo integration that doesn’t understand Flickr and is unable to upload full-sized versions of your photos, automatically, to the service of your choice.

Go read the article – it’s essential if you’re considering a switch to a different mobile platform, like I am.

But this point is of particular note, because it is the core of what makes Windows Phone different, and worth considering. I noted in my original article last year that if Microsoft opens up hubs to third party developers, that it will help keep things current and fresh. So far that hasn’t happened, and my guess is that when Microsoft does finally do this, it’s going to be limiting.

There’s no final answer here. But if Microsoft wants to stay in this game – and wants to tout the benefits of hubs – it needs to keep this stuff updated. Ignore this, and you can watch your platform die in a sea of obsolescence.

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Xbox Live on Windows Phone 7

I made a tweet this evening about how I’m surprised by the hype over the Xbox Live features in Windows Phone 7.  I wanted to touch on a few more details with that.

First, I want to make clear that I am actually very excited about the Xbox Live functionality – but I’m more excited about the unique, Xbox Live-specific features than what was announced earlier this week.

So lets start with what was announced.

As far as Xbox Live in general, we were told that there would be achievements, friends lists, chat and Avatar viewing/creation.  This is really great stuff, especially considering that you can’t do much of anything with Avatars on Xbox Live under Windows.

As far as the games that were announced – I get the impression that the people getting excited about this don’t play games very often.  Because, frankly, they’re pretty lackluster.  They have big franchise names attached to them (Crackdown, Assassin’s Creed, Halo), but they have no uniqueness to them.  For example: Halo isn’t a game. It’s just Halo Waypoint, which has been out on Xbox Live for months and is rather unimpressive. (Then again, I might be biased since I don’t play Halo.)  No details were provided about Assassin’s Creed, but based on what we’ve heard so far in other aspects of the franchise, this will probably be a port of the other mobile versions of Assassin’s Creed, which suck.  And then there’s Crackdown: this is probably the most unique in that it supposedly scans your current location and builds a game based on real maps.  But the screenshots look a little disappointing, and I get the impression that there is no depth to it – it’s Crackdown in name only.

There are a couple of winners on the list of launch titles, but let me be clear about this: consumers generally won’t care about the game list unless they’re a diehard fan of a particular franchise.  Why?  Because a lot of these games exist on other platforms – and yes, I’m implying that the iPhone has a large selection of games already, which consumers can easily point to and say, “why do I need that? I have lots of fun games here!”  The hope, of course, is that truly unique games will start to come out, like we’ve been able to enjoy on the Xbox console.  But first you have to attract an audience, and the launch titles alone won’t necessarily do that.

Instead, Microsoft needs to set themselves apart with the same sort of unique features that has helped make Xbox Live so successful in the console world.  Sadly, a lot of this stuff has elicited a “no comment” from Microsoft.  Stuff like: transporting your gamer profile from console, to phone, to a different console at a friend’s house.  Keeping save game data on your phone.  Being able to play a game both on the console and the phone – think Pokemon and Pokewalker.  Being able to play multiplayer with one person on a console, the other on the phone.  Video chat.  And so on.

That is the kind of stuff that gets people excited.  The kinds of things that make you sit up and say, “really?!”  I can already play Assassin’s Creed on three different platforms.  But Windows Phone could be the only platform that lets me put an assassin character on my phone, interact with others who also have the game on their phone, then link it back up with my Xbox to get various rewards.

Now THAT is worth getting excited over.

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The Task at Hand

I was reading the latest entry on Paul Thurrott’s Windows Phone 7 Secrets blog, and it got me thinking about the whole multitasking argument that has been taking place since Apple’s iPhone OS 4 announcement.

So first, a quick summary: since the iPhone was launched, multitasking has been next to impossible. Except for a few of Apple’s own stock Apps, it is only possible to run one App at a time.  Once you hit that home button, everything goes away.  In most cases, this is not a big deal.  But sometimes, you just want to listen to Pandora while browsing the web.

Last year, Apple announced push notifications as one answer to the multitasking problem.  For example, on phones where multitasking is allowed, you could leave a Twitter client open, and it could notify you some way when your timeline updates.  As mentioned above, it wasn’t possible to do this on the iPhone.  With push notifications, though, an App developer could set it up so that they would monitor your Twitter timeline, and send a notification to your phone when something changes.  A bit of a roundabout method, but it gets the job done.

On Thursday, at Apple’s iPhone OS 4 reveal, they added another piece to the multitasking puzzle: task-based multitasking.  Certain things, such as listening to music, getting location-based information, or talking on a VoIP call, could be done in the background while you work on another task.  As you can see, this isn’t free-for-all multitasking.  But, it does answer the majority of scenarios that users cite when they complain about iPhone’s lack of multitasking.

What this all leads to is Microsoft’s upcoming Windows Phone 7.  This is almost a complete rewrite of the entire WIndows Mobile experience, and so I imagine that Microsoft is keeping its initial goals simple and straightforward.  I would also not be surprised if Microsoft took note of Apple’s simplistic “one App only” view and decided it was Good Enough for them as well.  But now that Apple is adding some form of multitasking, it has everyone declaring Windows Phone 7 as dead before it even ships.

What Paul’s article correctly points out is that Windows Phone 7 doesn’t need multitasking, because it is built around multiple tasks.  Huh?  Okay, let me break this down a bit.  Windows Phone 7 is built around distinct “hubs”.  There’s the picture hub, the music hub, the “I’m a social butterfly” hub – each one of these has an anchor in a certain theme, but pulls its content from many disparate sources.  So, for example, Pictures not only shows you the pictures you’ve loaded onto your phone, but also dynamic content from Facebook, or Flickr.  Go into your contacts hub, and it not only shows you your contacts and how to get in touch with them, but also their latest updates on Twitter, Facebook, and so on.

So the basic point is: why do you need to worry about multitasking, if everything is already right in front of you, in one hub?

Well, here’s the part that worries me. While this concept is incredibly cool, it puts the responsibility on Microsoft to keep things up to date and fresh.  What the App concept buys you is that when new social networking services crop up (for example), people can write Apps on top of its APIs right away, and before you know it you’re linked in to the service.

With Microsoft’s hubs, how long will you have to wait for Microsoft to integrate a new social networking service?

Sure, Windows Phone 7 supports apps, but can you imagine how annoying it would be if you had to not only view your contacts hub, but also jump out to a third-party app, to see the complete picture?

Or even worse, what if Twitter disappears? Or Facebook?  Or, more likely, what if something better comes along and everyone switches to the new service en masse?  Suddenly, your contacts hub is no longer relevant because no one uses those services anymore.

How long would it take for Microsoft to add support for new services? Would they ditch older services?

Of course, we don’t have a complete picture of Windows Phone 7 yet.  It might be that Microsoft will eventually allow third parties to hook into the hubs, if approved by Microsoft.  That would be a nice way to make sure things stay fresh.

But this worries me a bit.  The concept is amazing cool, and I think is a much-needed reimagining of how a mobile device presents information to you.  But with how quickly the internet evolves, something like this can break down quickly – and what used to be a nifty take on the multitasking issue ends up making things ten times worse.

Just my two cents.

Update: Oh, and yes, I realize that Microsoft’s solution doesn’t solve things like “listening to Pandora while browsing the web”, just like the iPhone  used to not allow.  I am sure eventually Microsoft will bridge this gap.  But there is still a fundamental rethinking, which helps to downplay the need for multitasking.

Update 2: So, Paul just made a new post in response to a recent interview. In said interview, it is mentioned that eventually third parties will be able to extend hubs, but that functionality won’t make it at launch. This is obviously good news, and helps alleviate some of my concern. I still worry about the long-term evolution of how these hubs are maintained, but it’s good to see that they likely won’t stagnate.

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