My employer will be providing me with a HTC 7 Mozart as a work phone, so once that arrives I'll finally be able to do a proper hands-on evaluation of WP7.

In advance of that, and because Microsoft had the good sense to finally do a web interface for the WP7 Marketplace, I've been going through looking for suitable alternatives to the apps I use on Android.

So far it's looking pretty good. The only missing one is Audible. There are first-party apps for Kindle and Foxtel. There's a direct WP7 port of TuneIn Radio. There are third-party apps for TramTracker, Telstra mobile usage, Dropbox, and XBMC Remote. The last three have a small price attached. There are several Australian weather apps, some free, some with a small price.

Direct subscription to podcasts is now part of the OS, so there's no real need for a third-party podcast app like Pocket Cast.

One neat thing I'm seeing on the web version of Marketplace is that there's none of this separate trial and paid versions of apps. It looks like many (most? all?) apps have a "Try for free" button, though I'm unsure just what that does. Presumably a time-limited full-feature trial, but until I get a phone I won't be sure.

The website for Marketplace is rather pleasantly designed and really easy to navigate.

Rather looking forward to getting the Mozart. If it works out as well as it looks like it will, I may well pick up a Focus S or Nokia Searay when those become available for personal use.

More WP7

Sep. 13th, 2011 03:48 pm
I've been using Launcher 7 on my Android phone for the past week, and it bears out my initial impression of Windows Phone 7: that the launcher/home-screen is a really nice combination of the live content Android typically provides and a clean reasonably attractive set-of-icons.

So I'm thinking much more about my next phone being a WP7 device. I have very easy access to the HTC HD7 and Mozart, but unfortunately they seem to be about the worst of the first-gen WP7 phones: really bad cameras, lousy screens that were previous-generation a year ago when they were released, small batteries.

I may have cheaper-than-standard access to the new HTC WP7 phones, but that's a way off and in the meantime I'm going to have to choose something for a work phone in probably a month from now.

There is some temptation to pick up a Samsung Focus as an import from the US. They're basically the Samsung Galaxy S but running WP7, so a great display and decent battery life by smartphone standards. They're available second-hand for ~AU$200 on eBay, or new from Mobicity for AU$479. The advantage of buying from Mobicity is pretty obvious: known-good vendor, 12-month warranty, another $30 and they'll throw you a loaner while repairs are underway.

The device from the new batch which is most interesting to me so far is the Focus S, but there's fairly limited information available. My hope is that we're basically looking at a Galaxy S II but with a single-core processor. The specs as released suggest this, but until there are review units floating around it's quite uncertain.

And chances are I won't have particularly cheap access to those anyway.
Looks like my wild guess that the N9 hardware was suitable for Windows Phone 7 wasn't too far wrong. "Sea Ray" has been leaked, and it's physically it's pretty much the same as the N9, but with a camera key and the WP7 soft-keys at the bottom.

GSMArena has more info. If you watch the video on the Hungarian source site from the start, Elop also says they're going to use the N9's MeeGo UX in future products -- sounds like maybe WP7 is going to wind up getting some of that swipe-y goodness.
There's been a lot of commentary about the announcement this week that Nokia is dropping Symbian from their high-end devices and putting MeeGo into a sort of "experimental lab" status. Most of it has been pretty scathing, with those who'll even admit that something had to be done rather loudly (and often incoherently) talking up Android as having been the obvious choice.

I'm sure it'll be a great comfort to the Nokia CEO that some random blogger on the Internet thinks it isn't automatically the biggest disaster ever, but that's broadly my take on it.

Symbian needed a lot of work. Nokia put quite a lot of time and money into trying to get it up to par with the competition and still hasn't got there after several years. MeeGo is apparently not ready yet. Having shown that the company simply isn't capable of getting the software right, they had to do something.

The "buy Palm" ship sailed a year ago and they weren't on it. No point crying over that one.

So the options left were:

  1. Give up on high-end smartphones;

  2. Android with a really great overlay;

  3. Windows Phone 7.

So let's take a look at each, eh?

Giving up on the high-end wouldn't be completely crazy, but it'd be a huge admission of defeat. Nokia makes most of its money from the low-end feature phones where it pretty thoroughly dominates. They're good at building robust, reliable, cheap handsets. But there's an argument to be made that having the prestigious high-end stuff can help maintain the position at the low-end, a sort of "halo effect".

If they'd gone Android -- and apparently there were talks with Google a while back which didn't go anywhere -- then they'd have needed to differentiate, likely in the usual Android way by writing their own custom overlay and apps. If they can't do this in-house for Symbian what makes anyone think they could do it for Android?

And once you do this with Android you've got a support nightmare. Either you have to kill support for old models very quickly, or you're stuck having to port all your custom code, including QA and UAT, every time Google drops an update.

Google are not exactly forthcoming about roadmaps and typically pick a new partner for each release. If you're not the lucky company this time around you automatically start behind the curve, both for getting updates out for your existing models and releasing new ones.

It's a mess, in other words.

Windows Phone has the potential (and I have to stress that right now that's only potential) to be a happy medium between the control-freak single-vendor iOS approach where there's effectively one device available and if you don't like it then you can sod off, and the Android approach where there are many models and many varying interface designs, with the attendant update and fragmentation issues.

There's a single OS vendor and only one interface available. That OS vendor has committed to keeping control over updates, just like Apple, but there's room for differentiation on hardware. Within limits, anyway. You have to meet a minimum spec, and that minimum is right now pretty high-end.

There are a number of manufacturers producing WP7 devices, so you'd think it's a bad deal for Nokia, but the platform is new enough abd Nokia's hardware good enough that they might be able to stand out from the Android crowd if this "special relationship" talk manifests something real.

Doing nothing wasn't an option. None of the choices available were ideal. In an ideal world they'd have been able to get their act together with Symbian or MeeGo and there'd consequently be more competition in the high-end smartphone OS field. But Nokia has been dysfunctional for years, they couldn't do it, and in my view this was the least-bad option open to them.

Whether the end result will be obscurity in five years or the resurgence that the execs are clearly hoping for, that's unclear. And anyone who tells you they know is either lying or an idiot.


Abort, Rephrase, Ignore?

October 2011

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