The Operating System - A Brief History of Windows Mobile OSes
Windows Phone has very little in common with its predecessor, Windows Mobile, which existed in the days when people like myself were heavily involved in the Microsoft Mobile Ecosystem. Since then, Microsoft has made many changes to their mobile operating system and has effectively closed their mobile ecosystem, in direct contrast with very open ecosystem of Windows Mobile.
Most of the current Android hackers and crackers were part of the Windows Mobile crowd. This was because Windows Mobile offered users easy root access to the device and allowed for custom user interfaces to be installed and run as an overlay to Microsoft’s admittedly boring and sluggish OS. Microsoft had a lot of issues with Windows Mobile and struggled to fix them, as it was essentially a version of Windows XP on a mobile device. This made it extremely useful for productivity, but absolutely useless as a touch device. In addition, Windows Mobile had a lot of performance issues, many of which required 3rd party developers to fix with custom ROMs. The idea of ‘cooking’ roms really began with Windows Mobile and really exploded once the people involved moved over to Android.
Those days are gone as many of the open attributes of Windows Mobile are history and the operating system and accompanying ecosystem for Windows Phone are much more locked down. This results in a much more tuned operating system with much more control over how users interact with it. This takes a page out of Apple’s book and drove many custom ROM makers to Android. We believe that Microsoft could have easily made their operating system more open than it is in its current state and still have had the majority of their users experience the OS how Microsoft would like them to. Our belief is that Microsoft lost a golden opportunity to compete with Android in terms of customization, which would have had Windows Phone retain many more developers when it was first introduced, and it would have prevented the mass exodus of custom ROM makers to Android.
Nevertheless, Windows Phone is by no means a poor operating system for mobile devices, and there is no doubt that this operating system is a fantastic one for people who like simplicity. Windows Phone is what we consider a happy medium between the widget crazy world of Android and the boring app button world of iOS. It enables users to effectively access pertinent information without having to open applications, but also maintain a very rigid and smooth interface experience. The live tiles are an absolutely brilliant idea and we only wish that a similar application of these tiles existed beyond the main OS screen.
Microsoft’s social integration is also extremely effective with their ‘Me’ tile which enables you to combine Facebook and Twitter into one feed as well as manage multiple networks from one spot. Being able to post to Live, Facebook and Twitter at the same time is extremely convenient, but we would like to see more depth in terms of interaction with the social networks beyond simply being able to post and comment on photos and statuses.
Below, we have a video to give you quick little tour of the Windows Phone UI and see the operating system in action.
We also really enjoyed Microsoft’s voice recognition search and would’ve preferred that they include it in more parts of the operating system beyond just search and a very select few applications. If Microsoft wants to be ahead of the curve, they must integrate their voice commands anywhere that text input is available, which is currently not the case. Using voice during text messaging was absolutely fantastic and we would’ve liked to have it when browsing the web and using other applications as well. This should be part of the default keyboard, which we’ll talk about in the next section.
We also, as a broad usage test, gave the Lumia 710 to about a dozen people and the general consensus was that they were actually surprised by the clean and snappy speed of Windows Phone. Many agreed that if they didn’t already have their current phone that they’d actually consider Windows Phone purely based on the operating system’s sheer clean design and snappy responsiveness.
The problem with Windows Phone 7 (7.5/Mango if you want to be specific) is not the operating system, or the apps. Most of the applications that exist for Windows Phone are already relatively good (especially the weather app among others). The problem is the public perception of the operating system and Microsoft’s inability to properly market it to the right crowd. Microsoft needs to change their image with mobile and allow users to understand that Windows Phone is the happy medium between Android and iOS and really, in our opinion, should be the smartphone OS of the masses.
Because of the way that Microsoft has approached and executed on Windows Phone, we believe those to be the reasons why Windows Phone is believed to have a ‘weak’ application selection. If Microsoft continues to pour money into app development, like their $20M fund with Nokia, there is a good chance that they will be able to make up for their past mistakes. But it’ll cost them, a lot, probably in the ballpark of $100-$200M if they really want to be successful with apps. What we propose is a $1M app development prize. Microsoft needs to create an incentive for developers to build apps for their marketplace and quality ones. If people download them, then both the developers and Microsoft win.
The truth is that Microsoft has a lot of money to burn and they need to be investing heavily in Windows Phone and Windows on ARM. We believe that Microsoft has a fighting chance with this operating system, and they’ve significantly improved it in the past year, but they need to be even more aggressive and they must acknowledge that they have to pay for their past mistakes or else they will fail.
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