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Why Apps Are Better on Windows Phone 7

By Jonah Sterling
Oct 26, 2010 5:00 AM PT

When Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone at Macworld 2007, he didn't just change the way people view their phones; he changed how they view their lives. Unlike the way they used the workplace-dominant BlackBerry, consumers wanted to use their personal iPhone as an all-in-one phone that could integrate their personal and work lives.

Why Apps Are Better on Windows Phone 7

C-level executives, as well as other employees, began to demand that their iPhones be their work phones -- even though they knew their IT department wouldn't support it.

Further, employees started to demand that they would only carry one phone -- and it would be the iPhone. Suddenly, these employees were not simple consumers of electronics provided to them and used without question; they became connoisseurs of technology -- and therefore of user experiences.

The Importance of User Experience and Consumer Friendliness

Why this dramatic shift with the iPhone? At the time, the iPhone's multitouch interface was a breakthrough in user experience. Average users easily grasped the technology because of its simplistic mobile interface, and they had access to features (such as contact lists, simple searching, and other content "at your fingertips") that had been exclusively available to geekier, more tech-savvy users in the past .

On top of that, the industrial design was an instant hit. The iPhone was sexy; it was thin and glossy, and it felt good in the palm of your hand. The market's enthusiasm for the user interface quickly led to the adoption of the iPhone in the workplace -- a major paradigm shift. Google's Android attempted to take advantage of this market shift, and RIM's BlackBerry is holding fast as the de facto workplace device.

Enter Windows Phone 7

While late to the game, Windows Phone 7 came out of the gate as a formidable and serious contender to iPhone, Android and BlackBerry. The Windows Phone is more enterprise-ready than the iPhone has ever been, without compromising on consumer friendliness. Rather than focus on sexy hardware, Microsoft put its energy into a sexy interface that functions on a variety of devices, and works for consumers at home, at work, and at play.

Windows Phone 7 is designed to bridge personal and professional lives. It provides an entirely new way to organize life and business within a mobile device. Using Windows Phone 7, Microsoft created a "Metro" design philosophy: social, shareable and easy to use. The Metro interface uses "hubs" to manage content. The hubs include People, Pictures, Music & Videos, Office, Games, and Marketplace. For example, the Pictures Hub will consolidate pictures from your phone, Facebook profile, and Flickr accounts so that all of your pictures are in one spot.

While other platforms have successfully offered full functionality and a variety of applications, the experience of using the devices and accessing the functionality and applications has been terrible. Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 attempts to provide a "delightful" user experience, from the time users unbox the phone and throughout their daily use of it.

It also utilizes a development platform using a common development language set: Silverlight, WPF, and XNA.

Why Windows Phone 7 Is Different

The development platform used to create WP7 applications may impact the market even more than the Metro user experience. Developing for Windows Phone 7 is significantly faster because of Silverlight and WPF technology. In fact, while it took six months to develop the IMDb iPhone application, the Windows Phone 7 application was developed in six weeks.

The development platform means that businesses can create applications faster, cheaper and better; that applications work on multiple screens and can be ported to multiple platforms.

Using Silverlight and WPF technology, design isn't as limited as it has been with other platforms. In fact, applications built for the Windows Phone can also work on a PC. The limitation of technology has been removed -- more exciting user experiences are possible, and the vision of a continuous experience across devices is now more achievable.

What Consumers Can Expect From Windows Phone 7 Applications

Consumers can expect WP7 developers to focus on the following design features, which were implemented by Microsoft to make it fun, simple, and delightful to use the phone and its applications:

  • New user experience with the Metro style. The Metro Style is focused on simplicity, legibility and ease of use. It directs users to the content needed, focusing on the content that the user cares most about, making the product simple and approachable. For example, a travel and ticketing application developed for SBB, a federal transport company based in Switzerland, follows the Metro guidelines while still being branded to SBB.
  • Hubs. Simple Navigation was key to designing Windows Phone 7's User Interface, and users will see content sorted into activity centers for easier navigation.
  • Morphing and mapping. This interactive visualization technique provides a user-controlled, animated translation from one map to another. It is a way to provide additional information that can be used to effectively relate to maps. In particular, users are able to correctly complete significantly more tasks using the morphing interface than with either a windowed or an inset interface.
  • Push notifications. Users may "subscribe" to various information channels to gain the information they need. Push notifications aren't unique to Windows Phone 7, but as mobile devices become hubs for all facets of people's lives, expect push notifications to take on greater importance.
  • More apps faster. Users will begin to see a plethora of applications coming to the Windows Phone 7. Applications that can take six months or more to build for iPhone can be built in as little as six weeks for Windows Phone. Users can expect to see more sophisticated applications that integrate multiple types of data to be highly customized to the user.
  • Apps available regardless of your platform. This impacts users in two ways: 1) It's relatively easy to translate an iPhone or Android application to Windows Phone 7, which means that companies can create multiple versions of their applications rather than be exclusive to one platform; 2) Because of the operating system of Windows Phone 7, it will be easy for developers to create applications that work on both users' phones and PCs. Rather than creating a second "mobile version" of Web-based applications, developers can create single applications that work regardless of the user's device. As the industry makes it easier to have continuous experiences from one device to another, accessing apps simultaneously on your desktop and your phone will take on increased importance.
  • Easy photo sharing and social behavior. The Windows Phone 7 is designed to serve the needs of social users. The camera and video integrate easily with social channels, and Hubs aggregate content from social channels as well.
  • Panoramic view control. In the same way users scroll up and down on their smartphones, Windows Phone 7 users can scroll left and right. It's a fun feature to use and loads quickly. For example, the IMDb database, which is vast and constantly updating, can be explored using the Panoramic view.
  • Multitouch behavior. Multitouch is not new to smartphones. What is new is the advancement and sophistication of multitouch interfaces. Multitouch screens allow users to interact in a more natural way, making it possible to carry out relatively natural motions, movements or gestures that they quickly discover control the application or manipulate on-screen content.

Windows Phone 7 is a big step in the burgeoning mobile device market. By launching a developer-friendly platform with Windows Phone 7, Microsoft is shining a light on the importance that applications increasingly play in users' lives. iPhone changed the game by consolidating work and play phones. With Windows Phone 7, we are seeing the next chapter, with the hardware taking a back seat to the software, and users customizing their experiences with highly personalized applications -- regardless of the device they are using.


Jonah Sterling is a group creative director for IdentityMine. He is known as much for his velvet blazers as he is for his mastery of user experience and software development. Conversations with Jonah may include explorations in thought-based navigation, the future of mobile devices (it's not what you think it is,) and his relentless pursuit of excellent software that people love to use.


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