Hubs and first-party apps
Hubs are the clearinghouses for the phone's core functionality, broken down by genre -- it's a unique (and rather intuitive) concept unlike anything we've seen on other mobile platforms. Third-party developers will be able to tap into these hubs to enhance them; an example given at MIX10 was a photo retouching app that plugs into the Pictures hub and lets users open and modify their images directly from there. We haven't seen everything from Windows Phone 7 yet -- particularly in the application department -- but here's a look at what we have
been given access to, and brief descriptions of the software's functionality:
Pulls in contacts from Gmail, Exchange, Facebook, Twitter, Windows Live and others, aggregating contact information, status updates, and contact images into a single view (or views, really). The main view of this hub keeps your most recently or heavily contacted people in first view dynamically (though this can be customized as well), and allows you to quickly jump to feeds of your recent updates from social networks aggregated by Windows Live. There's also a section here called "me" where you can view and edit your own statuses within your networks.
An aggregate of your locally stored photos, cloud-based Facebook, Windows Live, or other connected picture galleries, and feeds of your contacts' recently updated images. The pictures hub will also allow you to upload and comment on photos on services like Facebook natively inside of the hub experience. Photo apps can also plug into the Pictures hub to offer editing and sharing functions as well. Like we said earlier, you can't order photo sources by priority or preference, so we're a little concerned that this hub will be quickly overrun, but we'll see how it works in practice.
Integrates with Xbox Live, including the housing of a miniature version of your avatar (in 3D and everything), Xbox LIVE games and achievements, Spotlight feeds, and the ability to browse gamer profiles. Microsoft says it wants games that are easy to play in the "mobile minute," and is focusing on turn-based games to start, but we've now seen a few impressive 3D XNA games
shown off, complete with Xbox achievements and other features pulled in from Live. Integration with Xbox and its ecosystem is being taken very seriously by the folks in Redmond -- you're not just going to be playing Sudoku here. This should be an easy one to not
Music + Video hub: It's a Zune HD in your phone. Seriously. It's exactly like the Zune HD experience. You're able to utilize Zune Pass here too, including the ability to browse and download new music over WiFi and 3G. Video is a go too, and we assume that means rentals as well as purchases, but it's still unclear how this will interact with your desktop, Xbox, or Media Center setup. Microsoft initially said it was working with partners like Pandora to integrate with the hub, utilizing the Zune player to tap into Pandora's streaming service, but they've backed off that message dramatically, and it's not clear at all if this feature will still make it into the launch release. Divx playback will be supported out of the box, something that a number of higher-end featurephones and smartphones have integrated in recent years.
Microsoft is deeply rethinking its Marketplace strategy for Windows Phone 7 right down to the name -- it's now officially "Windows Phone Marketplace,"
a minor tweak from the Windows Marketplace for Mobile moniker they'd used before. The revised Marketplace will be much more than an app store -- instead, it'll be billed as a one-stop shop for a variety of content from apps and Xbox games to music, and carriers will also have the ability to customize it by adding their own highlighted content
. Much more on Marketplace below.
And all the rest...
Office hub: Microsoft's bread and butter, but so far we've just seen the hub itself -- none of its deeper functionality like document editing. There's an emphasis on OneNote and SharePoint Workspace that should be pretty interesting, however. Ultimately, based on the new UI paradigms and user experience directives of Windows Phone 7, Microsoft is going to have to rebuild these applications from the ground up. As long as they're able to make them super functional while keeping the Metro look intact, this should be a real win -- we're still curious as to how the company plans to cram all that information into a UI which is focused on doing away with visual noise, and the lack of system-wide clipboard functionality is going to be an issue here, no matter how much Microsoft insists users only want to view documents and add comments.
Relies on swipes to switch between message views (unread / flagged / etc.), and has a color-coded system for differentiating between work and personal messages. We're hopeful there's an option to un-mix multiple inboxes as well, but it's unclear so far. Microsoft's focused the app on mobile "triaging" of email, so there are robust tools to manage multiple messages, but there's also a lot of negative space in the app, which is a bit of a concerning (if beautiful) trend throughout the UI. We don't expect any deep integration with services like Gmail beyond the contact syncing... though if Microsoft could pull labeling, archiving, and threaded messages off here, we can think of at least one editor who would be seriously inclined to switch to this platform.
One of the odder apps visually, it almost looks like a DOS UI, with a white-on-black / primary color presentation. There are differentiations for specific types of data, such as red and blue notation for personal items and work. As we said earlier, this is weirdly one of the most striking applications on the phone, with lots of interesting functionality tied to its visual elements, like little lines in the day boxes which represent appointments when you're zoomed out to a month view. There's also a cool little "I'll be late" button, which automatically sends messages to meeting participants when... you'll be late.
It's barebones so far, but supports SMS and MMS, and it appears that the keyboard can be rotated to landscape for text entry.
Even barer bones -- chromeless is in full effect here. The UI isn't nearly done yet -- the white arrow is supposed to bring up call options, but it doesn't do anything at the moment.
Search has contextual use in most apps, but from the Start menu it pulls up a separate, dedicated Bing app. When you search, Bing will try to decide what sort of search you're doing and present an appropriate set of results -- local results instead of web pages if you're looking for sushi, for instance. You can pivot between views, naturally, and the results are presented in the standard Windows Phone UI instead of just a mobile browser version of Bing.
Addresses throughout the phone are turned into hyperlinks that can pull up Bing maps (phone numbers and email addresses are also intelligently discovered by the OS and made linkable), which includes pinch to zoom navigation and an auto-switch from map to satellite view at a certain zoom level. Microsoft is really pushing geolocation here, though we assume users will be given an option on whether or not they want to be found.
What you see here isn't the full list of functionality and features -- Microsoft has said it'll be rolling out "delighters" over time that extend the platform in unique and interesting ways. We don't know exactly what they'll be, but we were flat-out told that copy / paste support isn't among the group, so that's that.
Though there are countless huge changes for manufacturers, developers, and users alike in Windows Phone 7, one of the largest is going to be the third-party app ecosystem: you must get your content from the Marketplace
, a far cry from the Wild West attitude of the WinMo 6 days. In fact, you could even argue that it's a little bit more restrictive than Apple's already-draconian app distribution policy in that there won't initially be any provision for an ad hoc distribution mode that allows you to bypass the Marketplace and distribute your app (say, to a small company or for beta testing) to a limited number of users; Microsoft says that they're keenly aware that there's interest in such a feature, but they simply weren't able to target it for the first release, along with a full-featured app distribution solution for large enterprise customers. The company is promising a "predictable and transparent" process for app approvals based on constantly-evolving "business, technology, and content" policies, and the final versions of those policies are expected to be detailed for developers in May 2010. We can
tell you that there won't be any silly "duplication of functionality" rejections: Microsoft says it won't reject a Google Maps or Google Voice app, or replacement email clients -- or even browsers, if some dev manages to code one up in Sliverlight or XNA.
Marketplace's pricing policies are pretty similar to Apple's in many ways: 70 / 30 revenue split between the developer and Microsoft, $99 a year for a developer program membership which currently allows 5 apps per account (that may change prior to launch), and there's no ongoing cost to the developer for publishing free apps, which can be ad-supported if the developer so chooses -- although the ads will be subject to the same content guidelines as the apps themselves. We've already seen one obtrusive pop-up ad in the Associated Press app, and we're hoping the platform's Silverlight foundations don't encourage annoying and overbearing animated ads in free apps.
It's a fine promise overall, but Microsoft has its hands full here, especially since it's trying to enforce the same moral standards globally -- we have no doubt that the company has only the best intentions in mind, but we can guarantee we'll see at least one or two App Store-style PR disasters with rejected Marketplace apps. It's just the nature of subjective regulation like this.
Development for Windows Phone 7 takes place using a toolkit that Microsoft provides for free, consisting primarily of phone-centric editions of Expression Blend and Visual Studio 2010. Most applications will be developed entirely in Silverlight -- a technology that's been billed as a Flash competitor, though Microsoft and Adobe have both said that they're planning on adding Flash support to the platform sometime after the initial launch. WP7S supports what Microsoft describes as "full Silverlight," touting that existing Silverlight developers will have an incredibly easy time porting their apps to the platform, though complying with the look and feel of the Metro UI will naturally require some tweaking. We've seen some seriously impressive demos of Silverlight development -- we watched a Microsoft dev code up a bare-bones Twitter client in under 10 minutes, and the Seesmic team said they reused the majority of the code that powers Seesmic Desktop on the Mac and PC.
Game developers, meanwhile, will take advantage of the platform's support for XNA
, the same ecosystem used by the Zune HD and the Xbox 360. Apart from a handful of shared APIs, Microsoft says that devs will need to basically choose Silverlight or XNA and run with it when creating a new app, but that the long-term goal is to merge the platforms in a meaningful way. For what it's worth, Microsoft has committed to bringing Silverlight support to Xbox -- and the company's strategy strongly suggests that future Zune iterations will support it as well -- so it should eventually be a fairly trivial matter for a studio to bring the same app to the PC, PMP, console, and phone with relatively little pain.
Microsoft is spending a great deal of time chatting up the development advantages of having a very stringent, narrow set of target hardware specs; we've certainly seen software fragmentation on other platforms (Android in particular) as a direct result of vast differences in hardware and software capability that make it difficult for some apps to run seamlessly across every device. One fragmentation point in WP7S, though, is the display -- though 800 x 480 is the only resolution at launch, 480 x 320 will be added later. To ease the pain, Microsoft is including software scaling capabilities out of the box that will allow the same apps to run on either display with little or no modification (and they're actually encouraging game developers to consider falling back to 480 x 320 or even 400 x 200 for higher performance -- the system can change on the fly).