Windows Phone 7 Mature Enough?

February 25, 2012

It seems that the three big smartphone operating systems are Apple iOS, Android OS, and Windows Phone 7 OS (WP7), with the number of handsets sold in that same order. Personally, I don’t know anyone who owns a WP7 smartphone, and I’ve only seen three people in public that have one. Since I live in the Redmond, WA area  (headquarters for Microsoft) you’d think I’d see more people with WP7 phones but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Now, so far as app development I’ll have to say programming for WP7 with the Visual Studio IDE is the easiest of the three OSes, followed by Android and iOS. I really don’t like iOS app development since it is much lower-level programming than Java for Android and C# for WP7.

But with all this it seems that Microsoft is pushing ahead with WP7 full force and has the handset maker Nokia in their back pocket creating some nice hardware. So it seems prudent to stay in the loop to keep an eye on the improvements made to WP7 over the next several months. An easy way to do so, is by installing and running the WP7 emulator as described on this link. Here, you’ll install the developer’s emulator which will allow you to run WP7 on your PC just like running it on the hardware. If you don’t want to go through all the steps of installing the emulator, etc. you can get a nice preview by going to this link from your web browser. My understanding is that this web-based demo works ok with the Chrome browser, but not with Firefox, or IE. The best way to view this demo is actually from an Apple iOS or Android OS device using the built-in web browser.

The wonderful world of eBay bidding

February 17, 2011

Since branching off into Microsoft Windows Phone 7 app development, I needed to purchase a handset device for testing purposes. The supplied software emulator works fine, but you always need to test on a handset before app deployment (especially if you’re using hardware-specific features such as GPS).

Buying a WP7 handset off-contract is pretty pricey, costing around $600 or more. Normally I’d buy a handset to be used as my personal cell phone, but since Sprint doesn’t carry any WP7 phones that isn’t an option for me. So my only really option at the moment is to buy a used WP7 handset off eBay at a reduced rate. So I began searching the eBay listings for WP7 phones and was surprised to find most of them going for over $320 US (which I guess isn’t too bad if new ones cost $600 US). Because I plan to use the handset only for testing purposes (no cell activation) I wanted to keep the cost as low as possible.

So as I watched what was available and began bidding on items, I’ve learned a few basic lessons:

  1. When bidding on an item, make sure you read the entire description of the product. You can’t assume that it will come with accessories unless it is written in the description. For example, I noticed that one phone did not come with a battery charger so that would have been an added expense.
  2. Don’t bid too early on an item. If you do so, you could drive the price up with a “bidding frenzy”.
  3. Wait until the very last few seconds to make your bid. I lost a bid on an item by someone who waited until the last 10 seconds before the auction ended to make his final bid. I learned from this lesson on my next bid attempt, waiting until the last few seconds before pressing the “bid” button.
  4. After you “win” an auction, you’ll need to pay using a PayPal account. So make sure you have one already established with a valid credit card already verified by PayPal. Otherwise, your purchase can be delayed which will results in you getting your “prize” later than you expected.
  5. Also, some buyers expect payment immediately after the auction is over, so be prepared ahead of time.

I was able to “win” a HTC 7 Pro WP7 handset for a price of around $200 US so that should suffice for my testing needs. Now I just have to wait for the seller to ship off my won product and hope that it works as advertised.

What’s up with Palm WebOS?

February 5, 2011

Since HP started the process of acquiring Palm, there has been little activity in the release of new Palm smartphones. Palm came out with the Palm Pre and later the Palm Pixi, but the next few releases were just enhancements of those two models. More memory, slightly faster processor, the inclusion of WiFi is nice, but users want NEW handsets released on a regular basis. Six to eight months seems to be the usual life cycle for smartphones these days, and Palm is way behind in that respect.

What’s even worse, is that the big cell phone carriers (Sprint, Verizon, AT&T) have all but stopped selling the Palm WebOS smartphones (no doubt, because they are “old” in the consumer’s eyes). Sure, Palm has release the Palm Pre 2 to some carriers, but that phone is just a slight variation of the original Palm Pre.

As a developer, I find that I want to write apps for the smartphone platform that I currently own and carry around with me. For the last year and a half that would be the Palm Pixi smartphone. But I’m coming up on my 2-year contract date and will need to decide what to do. At this moment, I’m waiting for Microsoft to release versions of the Windows Phone 7 smartphones on the Sprint network (CDMA). The WP7 OS looks really fresh to me, and I think there’s a lot of opportunity in selling apps for that platform. Microsoft announced last month that CDMA versions of their WM7 phones will be out sometime in  the “first half of 2011”, and I’m hoping it will be sooner rather than later.

The big red herring is what HP/Palm will be announcing next week on February 9th. They have some big news they plan to release, which has been speculated as new smartphone handsets and/or WebOS tablets. The HP CEO stated that people will “drop their iPhones and iPads” when they hear the big announcement, so we shall see. I’m hoping they don’t simply announce a WebOS tablet since that is something every electronics company has already announced and would be a big disappointment. Nor, do they announce another WebOS smartphone which is simply a repackaged Palm Pre design. If they come out with some revolutionary, new hardware with a revamped WebOS that would really catch my attention. Especially if they have plans to sell the hardware through several different cell phone carriers and within 4 weeks of the announcement. That, would be truly remarkable.

App developer’s dilemma

February 5, 2011

I’ve been a mobile app developer since the early Microsoft Pocket PC days (circa 2001) and I’m amazed at the selection of smartphones currently available. You have the Apple iPhone, Google Android OS, Palm WebOS, Blackberry RIM, and Microsoft Windows Phone 7 OS devices as the big players. So as a developer, which platform should you choose to develop apps for?

You really can’t developer for all of the platforms, since coding for one usually isn’t easily transportable to another. For example, the Apple iOS (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) use Apple’s Objective-C programming language for app development (which you need an Apple computer also). The Android OS requires the Java language, and the Palm WebOS requires Javascript (or C++ for games). Microsoft WP7 requires Microsoft’s own programming language (C# (or Visual Basic) and Silverlight), so as you can see you would need to be trained and skilled in many, many different languages for creating apps for multiple platforms.

So as a developer, you need to make some tough decisions if you want to create apps to sell for a smartphone device. In most cases your time is valuable, so you want to minimize your efforts and maximize your profits and results. I have been in such a dilemma, and here are my thoughts:

For all of the platforms, the Apple iPhone definitely has the biggest online app store. They have tens of thousands of apps available, free and paid. In my opinion, a new developer creating apps for the iPhone would easily be lost in this sea of apps, and the prospect of making a decent return on investment is quite slim. In addition, you need to own an Apple Mac to do such development and also learn the Objective-C language. Developing iOS apps has a steep learning curve and something I’m not willing to do at this moment for the possible return.

The Android OS is in a similar position as the Apple iOS, in that there’s thousands of apps already available. Most ideas for apps you might come up with have already been created. Java is a very popular language and if you already know it, then you’re more than half way there. Android developers use the Eclipse IDE (which is free) and it runs on many different computer platforms (Windows, Mac, Linux). I’ve found that the Android development tools are not the easiest to work with, but they are all free and readily available from the Internet. I’ve opted to not pursue developing Android apps since I don’t know Java and it would be a huge effort to get up to speed in that language. Now, I have not excluded writing Android apps, but at the moment I’m holding off any serious development effort with that platform.

I’ve spent the last year or so developing apps for the Palm WebOS devices, and I find it very easy to do. If you’re a web site developer and know HTML, CSS, Javascript you can create WebOS apps. Palm uses the Eclipse IDE and it’s fairly easy to code up your apps. As with the Android, you can do your development on a Windows, Mac, or Linux machine and all the development tools are free.

The biggest issue I have with WebOS app development, is with Palm. Palm has been very supportive of their developers, but it’s been over 8 months without them releasing any new smartphone devices. Since the acquisition of Palm by HP, handset releases have been non-existant. Sure, Palm release the Palm Pre 2, but that’s basically the same design as the Palm Pre. In fact, a lot of cell phone carriers have dropped selling WebOS smartphones so a developer must question if it makes sense to begin or continue developing for WebOS devices.

Microsoft released their Windows Phone 7 OS devices last year, refreshing their old Windows Mobile OS to something that is comparable to the iPhone, Android, and WebOS touch-screen devices. Amazingly, a lot of pundits like the new look of the WP7 OS (including me). Even though there’s not many WP7 smartphones on the market (GSM version only available), I believe Microsoft will throw lots of money at the WP7 project and won’t give up until they grab a big part of the smartphone market segment. As such, the total number of WP7 apps currently available is the smallest of the smartphone group, which in my opinion is a good thing for developers. This means more opportunity to create useful apps and games that will be noticed in the online catalog. Once you’ve established yourself and have good ratings, you will be in a good position to make considerable profit as more WP7 handsets are sold.

So do you develop apps for the iPhone, Android, WebOS, or Microsoft WP7 smartphones? Which platform will give you the biggest profits? If you have a “killer app” (like Angry Birds) I’d say go with the iPhone and/or Android since they have the biggest user base. If you’re a Java programmer, then go for the Android OS. If what you really know is HTML/CSS/Javascript, then dive into WebOS app development. Finally, if you know C#, Silverlight, or Visual Basic then check out the WP7 platform.

What am I planning to do? That’s a tough question to answer at the moment. I’ve pretty much decided to focus on two platforms: WebOS and WP7 since I already have apps selling on both platforms. I’m concentrating my efforts for the moment on WP7 since it seems to be an easy platform for creating nice looking apps, and their app store is low in quantity of good apps. But, I’m keeping my eye on what HP/Palm will be announcing next week on February 9th. If they announce some incredible hardware and the release of new app SDKs then I may drift back to that platform.

The smartphone industry is quite dynamic at the moment, so a developer needs to stay alert and keep all their avenues open.

Windows Phone 7 – The honeymoon is over…

November 18, 2010

As a mobile applications developer, I have a big interest in the public acceptance of the new Microsoft Windows Phone 7 devices. As such, I’ve been reading lots of web postings and reviews on the topic. As with any new device, there’s a lot of fan-fair and excitement just before the release date of the product. That usually follows with the early adopters posting on web forums on how cool and great their new phone is, and how it just beats everything on the market. And then after a few weeks those same enthusiasts begin to complain how their new phone can’t do this or that, or is missing a favorite feature from their previous phone. Some even complain about hardware failures and proudly report they’ve gone through 3 or 5 phones and still have some unresolved minuscule problem.

I’ve been lurking on some WP7 forums and this is the pattern I’m seeing with the new WP7 phones. Lots of people complaining about some minor issues, and I can just see it escalating to bigger and bigger issues until finally these same enthusiasts jump ship to a different brand of phone and start over again with the same cycle. If you follow these forums as I do, you need to take what you read with a grain of salt. Most of these posters are young teenagers that often complain about every little thing (like having one speck of dust inside their screen) and are never satisfied. In my opinion, the WP7 is still a 1st generation device with room to grow and expand. Undoubtedly, Microsoft will be adding more and more features as they build upon this new OS, which is pretty evident with the huge investment they are making in the mobile device space.

Microsoft Phone 7 Opening Day – Verdict?

November 9, 2010

I’ve been keeping a close eye on the reaction of the public to the opening day of the Microsoft Phone 7, and it was a bit of whimper. I didn’t see any reports of long lines as reported for the latest Apple iPhone debut. Instead, I read in the Seattle Times newspaper this morning that as of noon yesterday the T-Mobile store in the Bellevue Square mall only sold 3 WP7 phones. Personally, I don’t think the WP7 phones are so great that I’m going to terminate my current contract with Sprint and jump over to AT&T or T-Mobile. I have a feeling that existing smartphone users are in wait-and-see mode, and might switch handsets once the WP7 devices are available on their own particular networks.

With Sprint, I get a lot of services (e.g., navigation, free cell-to-cell phone calls (any network), unlimited texting, etc.) that you don’t get automatically with AT&T (they are add on features). So far as value, Sprint has better plans than AT&T in my opinion.

I currently have a Palm Pixi phone with Sprint which I love, but I’m also intrigued with WP7 phones. I’m also a developer who writes apps for the Palm WebOS devices, so which phone I will carry and use in the future will be partially determined by how well HP/Palm begins to market their future phones. If it turns out WP7 is the hot phone that takes off early next year, then I’ll have to switch my development efforts over to that platform and trade in my Palm Pixi for a WP7 device.

Microsoft Windows Phone 7 Selling in US tomorrow

November 7, 2010

Well, tomorrow is the big day for the new Microsoft Windows Phone 7 to debut in the US. With all the great reviews, I bet the phones will sell out fast at the various AT&T and T-Mobile outlets, especially since they are already announcing possible shortages of the phones. I certainly would consider switching handsets if they were released on the Sprint network (since that is what I’m using currently). Time will tell if developers decide to write apps for the WP7 platform, and how long it will take for high-quality apps to appear on the Marketplace.

I hope the new WP7 devices really make a big impact, as the reviews I’ve read really look good. It’s a shame that one of the original “smartphone” developers, Palm, seems stuck in the sand with just four handsets released to date with the WebOS operating system. They have announce a new “WebOS 2.0” device coming out soon, but it just looks like a souped-up Palm Pre Plus with a flatten screen. HP/Palm needs to come out with much better handsets to really compete with Apple and Microsoft followed up with a big marketing blitz. Palm could have the best OS in the world, but very few will realize it if they don’t create new handsets, promote their OS, and give Microsoft, Apple, and Android a run for their money.

Will Windows Phone 7 be a hit or dud?

October 26, 2010

The more I read online information about the new Windows Phone 7 devices, the more I’m hoping it will be a big success in the mobile phone industry. This new OS just seems very polished, fresh, and fun to use (based on the videos I’ve seen). I think most people want to try something different at times, and that may be a big driving factor for people to switch over to a Windows Phone 7 device after it is initially launched. The bad thing, is that it will appear on the AT&T and T-Mobile networks for the first several months before we start seeing the CDMA supported devices for Verizon and Sprint networks in the USA. That really sucks, since both AT&T and T-Mobile are known for having poor phone service and the highest rated dropped calls among all of the US cellular carriers.

I’m currently on the Sprint Network (which I love) and it would be a difficult to switch to a different carrier just to get a Windows Phone 7 device. I’d either have to keep my existing line with my Palm Pixi WebOS phone and get new service with AT&T (my choice over T-Mobile), or pay the early termination fees with Sprint to get out of my 2-year contract (which has about 1 more year to go). That wouldn’t be too bad, but going from a good cellular network to one that is known to drop calls would just suck big time. I travel throughout Washington State as well as several states in the Western half of the US, so I need reliable service in other areas than my home area.

Of course, I can always offset the cost of having and using an additional handset if I have a few apps bringing in money on the device’s online App Store (like I’m doing with my WebOS phone). If I could bring in just $200 per month that would definitely cover the cost of using a new handset on the AT&T network.

Most likely, I’ll take a wait-and-see approach and will keep an eye on how well the Phone 7 devices sell after November 8th. If they are a big hit and sell out everywhere, that would be a very good sign and I’ll have to really think hard about getting a phone. Also, once users begin using these phones in earnest on the AT&T/T-Mobile network we’ll probably see lots of reports of the good, bad, and ugly from real users.

Windows Phone 7 Apps… good or junk?

October 25, 2010

The new Microsoft Windows Phone 7 devices are starting to appear in Europe, and will be available early in November in the US. I just saw a blog posting stating that there are already over 700 apps available for the Phone 7 OS on the Zune Marketplace, so I decided to check them out and see what was available.

So using my Zune Software on my PC, I was able to view the various available apps for the Phone 7. As it turns out, about one fourth of them are simple tip calculators, flashlight, and unit conversion apps. Not really the kind of apps you’d really need or want to pay for! There are a fair number of games, which seems to be the current “best sellers”. Some of the big name apps are available (e.g., Netflix, WeatherChannel, etc) so I would imagine you’ll see a lot of standard, useful apps currently available on the other platforms coming to the Phone 7 soon.

Over the last week I’ve been investigating the Phone 7 SDK tools and it is clear to me that Microsoft has spent a lot of time developing this OS and platform. The apps are based on Silverlight 3 and games on XNA, and both are well established programming environments. The greatest downfall that I see is that Phone 7 doesn’t have a legitimate database system for effectively storing local data, and that may be the Achilles’s Heel for some high-powered apps from being ported over to this platform.

Major Flaw in Windows Phone 7 OS

October 18, 2010

I’ve been investigating the development of apps for the upcoming Windows Phone 7 OS smartphone, and it’s been a dizzy adventure in cyberland. There seems to be lots of bits and pieces of information available on the web, ranging from tutorials, Microsoft training videos, and forum postings. From what I can tell, the Phone 7 OS is a fresh, new start for Microsoft serving as a reboot from their previous (and tired) Windows Mobile 6 OS. I do like the appearance and apparent operation, however, it does have one glaring flaw: No local database storage.

If you look at the Android OS, Palm WebOS, and iOS (iPhone), they all have SQLite available their SQL database storage system. This is a good thing, since SQL is a standard database system that allows for sorting, ordering, etc. of huge amounts of data. The Windows Phone 7 OS, doesn’t have SQLite nor any kind of advanced database system built-in. In several forums, Microsoft MVPs simply shrug this issue off and say, “… just store your data in an XML/CSV file for local storage”, or, “… put your data in the Cloud for storage”. Storing data in the cloud is completely impractical in my opinion, since you would always need an Internet connection to access your data. Thus, local storage is a must and keeping your data in an XML or CSV file is not very efficient for medium to large amounts of data. Also, it’s a real pain to write code to deal with such formatted files.

To me, this is a real blunder right out of the gate that Microsoft needs to fix fast if they want developers to port their existing Android/WebOS/iPhone apps to the Windows Phone 7 platform. Sure, you might be able to use a 3rd-party or open-source C# coding that emulates the SQL database system, but you’ll be reliant on this 3rd-party coding to work and be optimized for robustness. I personally wouldn’t want to be in that position as  a developer, as you’re putting too much trust in a 3rd-party add-on from a company that isn’t all that vested in your app to succeed and work properly. This is something that Microsoft needs to fix and quickly, otherwise you’ll see a very limited number of apps appearing after their initial launch.