The World of Windows 7 Phone for Web Developers

By Curtis Dicken

Introduction to Windows 7 Phone

Recently Microsoft released some details on their new and improved mobile operating system which has been so eloquently named Windows 7 Phone. The unveiling of the new operating system came last month at the MWC (Mobile World Congress) in Barcelona, Spain. With Windows Mobile 6 and Windows Mobile 6.5 showing their age when compared to Apple's iPhone and Google's Android, it's no wonder that Microsoft decided to drop their Windows Mobile series and start from scratch.

The Design

Microsoft spent a great deal of time and effort coming up with an interface that both sets them apart from other mobile operating systems and is fairly intuitive. Instead of the standard click-to-open interface you will now be doing more grabbing and sliding to navigate.

The interface is designed around six basic hubs. From each hub you will navigate through and drill down to the piece that you want to use. You can rearrange your home screen that has the hubs and some other applications which are built into the OS like Internet Explorer, a calendar and email (supports POP, gmail, hotmail, Exchange, etc.) to make it fit your preferences. Each piece (hubs, applications, etc.) are represented as simple iconic tiles so that it's easy to both view and rearrange.

The hubs are the more complex and interactive pieces of the OS. Each hub is dedicated to a different area of interest:

  • People – This hub is all about the people that you want to keep in contact with. It shows up-to-date information on each person from popular social services like Facebook and Windows Live.
  • Pictures – Here is where your recent pictures, galleries, etc. are stored and displayed. Users can organize and show slide shows of images on this hub.
  • Games – The Games hub allows the user to download games and comes pre-wired into Xbox Live, complete with your Xbox Live avatar. You can download and play many of the same games that are available in the Xbox Live Arcade.
  • Music & Video – As you can imagine this is where to find music and videos. It is pre-wired into the Zune subscription service essentially making the phone a Zune device as well. In case you aren't familiar with the Zune, it's the Microsoft competitor device to the iPod.
  • Office – This hub hooks in to your productivity software like Office, OneNote and SharePoint. There may be other non-Microsoft productivity options available in the future but that is unclear right now.
  • Marketplace – The place to download games and applications.

Windows 7 Phone Development

About now you are probably thinking, that's all very interesting but how does it affect my development? Well, the effect on developers is two-fold. First, the operating system will not be allowing development of native applications. What that basically means is that, at least for now, your only browser option on the phone will be Internet Explorer. While other browser providers like Firefox were hoping that Windows 7 Phone would be a great new platform for their browsers, they were disappointed with Microsoft's decision and many suspended development they already had in progress.

What this means for the web developer is that you are restricted on how you develop for Windows 7 Phone devices. This will be most evident if you are using HTML5, as IE's implementation of HTML5 is running behind the pack, at least for now. That's the negative. The positive is that the IE implementation in Windows 7 Phone is very well done and easy to use with all of the navigation and zooming features that you would expect. It even recognizes phone numbers and addresses so that users can just click to call or view an address on a map.

As for application developers, you can get a head start on creating mobile applications for Windows 7 Phone devices. The Windows 7 Phone Developer Tools have already been released and are available for download. Windows 7 Phone is built off of the latest .NET framework, so the tools and resources are all geared around .NET Framework 4. Included in the download is the .NET Framework 4, Silverlight 4, developer resources, a phone emulator, an add-in for Visual Studio 2010, XNA Game Studio 4 and Silverlight 4 tools for Visual Studio 2010. Visual Studio 2010 (RC or beta) is not included with the download so you will probably want to install that first before downloading the development tools. You could also wait until the official release of Visual Studio 2010 scheduled in a few weeks (on April 12, 2010) unless Microsoft pushes the date back again.

Conclusion

I think Microsoft made a wise move in starting over with Windows 7 Phone instead of just upgrading Windows Mobile 6.5. The revamp is several years overdue. That being said, Microsoft is most definitely late to the game. It's not expected that you will see any devices with Windows 7 Phone on them until at least September 2010. That is plenty of time for Apple and Google to continue to grow their market share.

Microsoft is banking a great deal on the success of their new mobile operating system. By this time next year we should know whether or not their efforts paid off. Until then, web and application developers will be watching closely to see what develops with Windows 7 Phone.

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