Mix10 "In this release, our focus is on phones purchased by consumers," said Microsoft’s Charlie Kindel, describing the Windows Phone 7 developer platform to attendees at the Mix conference in Las Vegas on Monday.
"In this release" turns out to be a constant refrain, as he answers questions, usually in the negative.
Is there a local SQL database engine? There is, but it is not exposed to applications in this release. Can applications communicate with each other? Not in this release. They are isolated. Can applications run as a background service? Not in this release. They are paused when not in the foreground (though a notification from the cloud can wake them).
Can applications update themselves automatically? Not in this release. The user has to initiate the update. Is subscription billing possible? No, not in this release.
Among these limitations, one is particularly significant. Unless you are a developer, with a device unlocked by a Microsoft web service, the only way to deploy applications is via Windows Marketplace. Applications must be pre-approved by Microsoft, and the company collects 30 per cent of any revenue, though free applications are allowed.
There is no provision for corporate development – in this release, that is - which is a shame since the Silverlight-based platform would otherwise be attractive for things like business intelligence applications that benefit from rich hardware-accelerated graphics.
A clue about why so much is not yet ready comes when Kindel tells us that intense work on Windows Phone 7 only began around a year ago. It raises the question: What was Microsoft doing to address the known problems of its mobile platform before then? Sales of Windows Mobile devices are in free fall, down 20 per cent between October 2009 and January 2010 according to recent US figures from ComScore.
Microsoft’s response is late, but radical. Windows Phone 7 is a new platform that will not run Windows Mobile applications, with an elegant user interface focused on delivering the good user experience that the old platform lacked. The company has not had time to go beyond the consumer market in the first release, promised in time for the Christmas 2010 season.
The implication is that there may be a business-oriented professional release in future, designed to meet corporate development needs. In the meantime, business developers determined to use Windows devices must stick with Windows Mobile 6.5 and develop with Visual Studio 2008 or earlier.
Another common question concerns native code. "Windows Phone 7 Series delivers an all managed code platform," said a Microsoft spokesman. There is no native API. There is one really – Windows Phone 7 has Windows CE underneath – but it is not generally available to third parties.