Here is why I’m excited about Windows phone 7 series, which i’m just going to call 7 series from now on because it hurts me to type the entire name.
Finally something new. I wasn’t sure that MS would take the leap and literally throw away backwards compatibility with Windows Mobile. But they did and I’m fully on board with this decision. I’ve spent the past 4 years developing applications and frameworks for Windows Mobile and while Microsoft’s development tools are first class, the actual OS is one of the most frustrating pieces of software I have ever dealt with. It is always entertaining to watch first time mobile developers try to make sense of WM and do something simple like visit a web site. I think the smart and agile companies are going to quickly move on from the old Windows Mobile platform and see significant increases in the rate at which they can develop/deploy mobile solutions. I think the end users are going to require less training, and make fewer support calls. It is a rare day when Microsoft is seen as a leader in something like UI look-and-feel and everything I’ve seen so far about the 7 series interface has been fantastic in that arena.
Commercial grade devices in the enterprise. My prediction is that 7 series will bring on further movement of commercial grade devices into the enterprise. Right now, most of our customers use special ruggedized devices that are expensive, but very difficult to break and have embedded RFID/barcode readers, etc. However, the decision makers in these companies are now coming up on year 2 or 3 of using things like the iPhone as their own personal computing device and expectations for mobile computing have grown considerably. From the durability perspective it is hard to rationalize a $2500 device when you can buy 5 or 6 commercial grade devices for the same price and just replace them when they break. In light of all this, we are starting to see more and more people request comercial grades devices for their enterprise applications and I think this trend is only going to accelerate. There will continue to be room for Windows Mobile, but the mobile companies that can deliver 7 series apps and phones are going to lead us into the next phase of mobile computing.
Development story. My guess as to the development story goes back to pre-PDC a year ago where there were small hints of something new in the mobile world at MS and then a complete blacklisting of everything mobile at PDC. At that time we were being told something new was in the pipeline but we weren’t privy to any details. Our own research brought us to the conclusion that the next platform would probably be Windows CE 6 or 7 based with an entirely new UI layer requiring XNA based development. XNA is managed code, but with a completely different model for rendering the UI that lends itself to game development much better than the existing WinForms message pump. This is what i would guess 7 series development is going to be like. I’m also hearing that there is a mobile version of silverlight as part of the development story. I think this will be a great option for many applications but it doesn’t solve the central issues in enterprise app development which usually entails large amounts of data, some of which must be cached locally on the device. As it stands right now, silver light doesn’t have an answer for this. And besides, the text rendering is awful like the rest of WPF. Every time I start down the WPF/silverlight route I end up frustrated with how unreadable text is and how unacceptable to any customer the migraine inducing application I might create would be.
mfLY! will live on. mfLY! is our internal MVC framework for developing rich mobile applications and because of the MVC pattern we will have only a small amount of work to do to create new views, but the rest of our applications should stay exactly the same. To be perfectly honest, this is a blessing, b/c the old Windows Mobile UI is painful at best. We made the decision 2 years ago to fully commit to the managed code story and while there are still some challenges we have come up with a highly performant and compelling development platform that will easily move up to the 7 series platform. Good news all around here.