Interview With Brandon Watson From WP7 Developer Team

Two months ago, we decided to do interview with Brandon Watson, Director of Developer Experience for Windows Phone 7 platform at Microsoft. Though Developers were quite happy with the development environment for Windows Phone 7, they missed some elements and had many questions in mind. So we collected questions from our readers to interview him with those queries. We decided to drop some obvious consumer questions such as multitasking in WP7,etc as Microsofties would never answer them now. Here is the interview Q&A.

1)There is a divide between Silverlight for Windows Phone/Silverlight 4 and WPF 4 ? Your comments on it?

BLW – When development began on Windows Phone 7, we had to take some bets on technology. At some point we had to put a stake in the ground with Silverlight and say “we need to start.” When we did that, SL4 was not yet ready. They were very far along, but it wasn’t done. So we forked SL3 and pulled back what we needed from SL4. This why we have always said that the phone application platform was Silverlight 3+.

Insofar as WPF, when you consider what is required for a fluid phone interface, and the operating limitations of the hardware, plus the primary use cases of the phone and associated apps, it just made more sense to take a bet on Silverlight.

2)WP7 could use a database like SQLite for apps that require lots of data. Is there a reason Microsoft does not ship one with Windows phone 7?

BLW – The simple reason is “time.” Building an operating system is never easy. There seems to be a misconception that we simply took 6.5 and slapped a new UI on it. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As with any large development project, you have to make tradeoffs. There is a SQL database on the phone, and it is used by first party apps. We did not have enough time to build a managed API layer to interface with it. This is one of the top feature requests from developers, and we are aiming to make developers happy.

4) Too much “metro” will kill “metro”. Comment on this. Do you think all the developers should have metro as their design language?

BLW – I am not sure I understand the question. Metro as a design language is an absolutely amazing thing. Having spent time with some of the team that created it, I am blown away by the depth of the thinking that went into Metro. So much is communicated in such a small space. The heavy reliance on text versus chrome makes the UI so much cleaner. The ability to move through data landscapes, and not have to go in and out of data menus means that customers have a much better experience.

Now, as with anything, there is always a point where someone could overdue it. If you give developers a great canvas and amazing tools, with some guiderails, they can focus on delighting customers. Having to reinvent user interface models is not something every developer wants to do, nor should they have to. The great thing about Metro as a design language is that it never really gets in the way.

5) In the beginning of 2010 Microsoft was very clear that Windows phone 7 was for consumers, and those business users who can carry in their personal devices for work, but we have now seen a push by Dell and numerous case studies by Microsoft where they propose it as enterprise devices similar to Blackberries. At present however Windows Phone 7 still does not support private vertical applications and other enterprise management features. Is this set to change very soon, or has Microsoft changed their minds on their earlier messaging?

BLW – We have always viewed the current version of the phone as a consumer product. However, it’s a product that is meant to allow consumers to mix their work and play.

To properly support enterprise customers, there are many features the phone needs. Further, to enable proper enterprise LOB application development, most enterprises require that their apps be installed via sideloading or private marketplace – a feature that is not currently available with Windows Phones. That said, enterprise is a market space which Microsoft understands very well, and we are working with our major customers to enable the scenarios which are most important to them.

6) Some classes of applications are absent due to missing APIs. Could you address these individually?

1)Alternate PIM applications, as there is no way to access Task & Calendar items of a user.

2)Compass API – no Augmented Reality or even Compass apps

3)Video API – Again not Augmented reality, and even apps to scan barcodes

4)Sockets – Useful for a variety of apps

BLW – this is a top feature request and we are always working very hard to make our developers happy and successful.

Bluetooth – useful for P2P gaming for example or for peripherals

BLW – we’ve heard this from some people, but it’s not as major a request as the other 4 you listed.

There’s nothing to announce at this time, but developers will not be disappointed if they are investing in the Windows Phone platform. A great place to learn about the future directions of all of Microsoft’s platforms is the Mix event.

7) At present the lion share of gaming downloads are going to Xbox Live Games, which are also promoted heavily. Given this is not available to indie developers, is Microsoft doing them a disservice?

BLW – to be clear, when you say that the XB Live titles are promoted heavily, I want to make sure we are saying the same thing and using the same dictionary. Marketplace, in general, favors paid over free apps. We have heard from the developer community that they want to invest in a platform where they can make money, and we want to ensure we are enabling that goal.

The XB Live titles are generally the first to appear in the Marketplace listings, but not always. With that said, there are interesting games which are getting noticed by the XB team and given studio deals. Twin Blades is one such example. We are working on getting better about surfacing great breadth games for this pipeline, but the possibility for 2 guys (or gals) with a great idea to get noticed and given an XB Live deal is very real.

8) What about native SDK? Android got theirs later, should we expect Microsoft to provide a native SDK also, or just forget about it ?

BLW – if by native SDK, you are asking will we allow anyone to run C or C++ unmanaged code on the device, the answer is “not now.” Our primary concern is ensuring that there is a fantastic customer experience on the phone. We recently announced that we have satisfaction rates for the phone at 93%. That’s amazing. We attribute at least some of that to the fact that customers can buy apps that they don’t have to worry will trash their phones, and they don’t have to worry because of the managed platform.

Over time we will certainly relax certain restrictions on the phone, but we cannot compromise the integrity of the phone experience or the marketplace experience.

Overall our take home message is relatively positive – many of the missing features of Windows phone 7 is simply due to Microsoft running out of time, but good things are coming down the road, and we should hear more about it by Mix 11, April12th.

Thanks to Brandon Watson for the email interview.

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