What’s Next for Windows Phone

Wow! I had to begin with that word. The 2nd day’s Keynote at Mix11 Conference has to be the best of Microsoft we have seen in recent times. Now, obviously I would be biased with all the good stuff, being a Silverlight & Windows Phone 7 enthusiast. But just for reference, an iOS developer friend was watching the Keynote with me and he said-“Damn, that’s good stuff!”.

Now, a lot of cool things were announced in the Day 2 Keynote – things like Silverlight5 & Kinect SDK; not to mention free Kinects for attendees! I just wanted to recap on the Windows Phone enhancements and what they might mean for us developers:

  • Increased Reach – Our WP7 apps will start having a bigger audience with Window Phone Marketplace being available in 35 countries, up from 16 right now. However, MSFT also announced upcoming support for 16 new languages, including Asian ones, which they seemed to be testing for aesthetics right now. A huge majority of apps right now in the Marketplace are in English though; as we reach a broader user base throughout the world, we developers need to think about offering a more native app experience through localization.
  • App Search Enhancements – I guess this was due and a few leaked Mango builds had indicated this was coming. With increased number of apps users install, the long alphabetical scrolling list of apps was just not optimal. Enter Search capabilities in the next update, which should help users use suggestions as they search for apps. This search also taps into the Marketplace with deep-linking of suggested apps; this is awesome for the discoverability of our apps. There is also the added support for the all-familiar Jumplists for searching for apps with the beginning letter.
  • IE9 – As JoeB mentioned, IE9 on the Windows Phone will have the exact same rendering engine as that on a PC. Now, does not mean that we do not need mobile web targeting the phone form factor; smartphones still have a small GPU & memory. But with HTML5 & the same rendering mechanism, differences in regular & mobile websites will start to shrink. The demo showing how the phone uses the audio/video tags of HTML5 to keep media running in the background is phenomenal. So, I think this will be a huge scale-tipper for enterprises looking to have a single unified mobile web presence. Web developers FTW!
  • APIs – There are north of 1500 new APIs in the Mango toolset. 1500 !! This includes a gamut of ways we developers get to tap into the phone’s motion sensors, camera & audio among other things. I do not know much; but believe the augmented reality folks are rubbing hands in anticipation.
  • Toolsets – This to me is mind-blowing, given that WP7 development IDEs are among the best any mobile developer can get. The app Profiler should be very cool if it lives up to what was demoed. A lot of WP7 apps, including few of mine, could use performance tuning. We developers have got to understand the nuances of coding for a small device; repercussions of choices on UI, component & background threads.
  • Multitasking – This combined with fast app switching, should be something I would rejoice with as an user. However, I am a little wary of how things are laid down in the development tools around the existing ways of tombstoning. How does the OS soft-suspend an app? What are the expectations off the developer? I hope as the Mango toolsets are released, we shall see more guidelines from the product team on how they envision this unfold.
  • Notifications – This is a good one too. I was running a WP7 dev session & somewhat asked why is it that a Push is needed to update a Live Tile. If the user has a shopping list app & marks things off, all the current data is on the phone. Why then do we need to make a service/MPNS round-trip to update the Live tile? Well MSFT seems to have gotten the feedback as well. Enter Background Notifications, Live Agents and multiple Tiles per app with deep linking. Again, we will have to see how the implementations work out and how we may have to adjust future apps.
  • SQLCE & IRC – I am not an expert on either of these topics; but seemed like good stuff. I think I have the seen the community provides toolkits & ways to get around these limitations in the past. Good to know that they are right out of the box in Mango.
  • Emulator – Again, this is freaking awesome. How many times have we wondered if there was an easy way to simulate accelerometer & location data on the WP7 Emulator? Well, wait no more with the Mango toolsets. The fact that Bing locations services can be used to set up to provide a chain of location data to the emulator apps is phenomenal.
  • Silverlight & XNA – This is something I have personally not missed; but I have heard from multiple XNA folks that they would like to bring 3D modeling to the Silverlight apps. And, so it happened!

Yes, I know what you thinking. This is a fanboyish post with all praise! Kinda true .. haha. There were a few missing pieces that were rumored – Silverlight5 on WP7 & Silverlight runtime for the Xbox ecosystem. True – but a lot of right steps were taken today and as a Windows Phone developer, we should take to heart the commitment to the future of this ecosystem. As Matt said in this post (here), luck happens more often to folks who plan & prepare. Share the love, as every developer matters.

Adios!

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