It looks like it’s one step forward and two steps backwards because Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 Series will be ditching full third-party multitasking, removable storage and the ability to add applications from places other than the Windows Phone Marketplace.
Microsoft is obviously taking cues from Apple, Research In Motion and Palm (to a certain extent) in taking more control over the platform in order to deliver a more cohesive user experience to consumers. This is kind of understandable because the iPhone has sold boatloads because it’s simple to pick up and understand. Like Apple’s baby, third-party apps won’t be able to arbitrarily run in the background. This won’t be as restrictive as Apple’s policy because programs like Pandora will be able to stream music in the background but it looks like we can say goodbye to fully-functional VoIP apps.
Microsoft said its devices still “fully support multitasking,” and a notification system will be implemented for certain third-party apps in order to offload much of the work from the local processor. I think the lack of multitasking could be a major step backwards. I know there’s always a struggle with battery life and performance but full access to the operating system can lead to some innovative things no one thought of. If you look at webOS, these things can be done elegantly without being too much of a performance hog (don’t know if Palm has solved the battery issue though). The notification system is supposed to not be intrusive but I still think it’s needlessly limiting. Microsoft’s Larry Lieberman, senior product manager for developer experience, told us this was “by no means a policy decision.”
Speaking of limiting, you won’t be able to add apps from places other than the official Windows Phone Marketplace. Other than the enterprise space, the only reason Windows Mobile is relevant is the vibrant tinkerer community. These are the people who had Skype running over 3G years ago, are already working on WP7S themes, and these types of people want the option of going to more than just one store. You won’t be able to side load apps on a microSD card because WP7 devices won’t have removable storage. Microsoft said it’s working with handset makers to make sure there’s enough memory on board (looks like 8 GB will be the minimum), but, again, I like the option of being able to hot swap memory cards.
It’s still far to early to grill Microsoft about these without a full understanding of how the devices will feel in the real world. Our head honcho Will Park is speaking with Microsoft right now, so stay tuned for some more details.