Developers Await Windows Phone 7 Specs

While Microsoft gave a long-awaited preview yesterday of its next-generation platform for smart phones, it plans to effectively scrap Windows Mobile 6.x  in favor of  the Zune-centric Windows Phone 7 Series, raising new questions for ISVs, partners, developers and enterprise customers.

Critics of Microsoft's mobile efforts to date praised the concept of the new Windows Phone 7 Series, though they said it remains to be seen whether the company will execute on its strategy. Fueling skepticism is a lack of information on the technical underpinnings of the new platform and what it means for applications based on the current Windows Mobile platform developed by enterprises and partners.

Microsoft said yesterday those details will be disclosed at next month's MIX 10 conference in Las Vegas. "At the end of the day, I think we all understand that in the business of information technology, software and creativity and the innovation of developers is absolutely fundamental," said Microsoft CEO Ballmer during a press conference held at the World Mobile Congress show in Barcelona. "We really raised the platform on which people can build, the operating system and the set of integrated services that people can extend; a new foundation with a rich set of development tools."

But Microsoft is intentionally refraining from providing any details about those tools and code underneath the new platform, emphasizing that information will come out at MIX. "We’re gonna be keeping the wraps on the full developer story until then," wrote Microsoft's Charlie Kindel, who is responsible for overseeing the application platform for Windows Phone 7 Series, in a blog posting.

Microsoft officials all but suggested Windows Mobile 7 Series is not based on the Windows Mobile 6.x code. "You will see us continue to invest in our Windows Mobile 6.5 offering but we start a whole new generation here with the arrival of Windows Phone 7 Series," Ballmer said.

"I think probably what's going on is it’s a complete break with Windows Mobile 6.5," said Directions on Microsoft analyst Matt Rosoff. "They know that news might not be received well by application developers so they are trying to figure out what the portability story will be."

While some developers may bemoan a strategy that affects backward compatibility, others suggest Microsoft needed to start with a new slate. "I’m really impressed that Microsoft went back to the drawing board with Windows Mobile/Smart Phones," said independent developer and Microsoft MVP Julie Lerman, in an e-mail. "Integrating Microsoft-specific apps like the Zune, OneNote, Xbox is a brilliant move."

The lack of details was nonetheless unnerving to some developers. "While the device displayed at WMC was impressive, I'll need to reserve judgment until MIX when the developer and marketplace stories are unveiled," said developer, speaker and Microsoft MVP Jim Wooley.

It has been presumed that Microsoft's next mobile platform would support Silverlight but Microsoft did not disclose whether it will appear in Windows Phone 7 Series. "If they were to add Silverlight support, they would have a robust compact framework with a large developer base ready to build a variety of gaming, social and business apps," Wooley said. "This would allow the platform to explode. This is the key piece that I'm still waiting to find. Once that appears, then the puzzle should be complete."

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.