Software Ecosystems has a very broad, strategic definition of ecosystems:
A human ecosystem consists of actors, the connections between the actors, the activities by these actors and the transactions along these connections concerning physical or non-physical factors. We further distinguish between commercial and social ecosystems. In a commercial ecosystem the actors are businesses, suppliers and customers, the factors are goods and services and the transactions include financial transactions, but also information and knowledge sharing, inquiries, pre- and post-sales contacts, etc. Social ecosystems consist of users, their social connections and the exchanges of various forms of information.
To put it plainly, Apple is probably the best example of a locked up and valuable ecosystem. Apple control everything from the production through distribution, operating system, apps, developer communities, support and more. And they control it with a tight fist. That's why you might not get exactly what you want, but what you get works well.
It's into this world that any new SmartPhone or SmartPhone operating system must tread. It's a tough path. Remember when the iPhone came out? No 3G, only Edge. No cut and paste. Crappy apps. You remember the moans and groans? But it got better. And because we have dominant SmartPhone platforms like Apple, Blackberry and Nokia now - consumers have a lot less patience these days. They don't want to wait for an ecosystem to be ready.
Windows Phone 7 (WP7) suffers from this. A little. The apps aren't quite there, in terms of range and quality (the Twitter app, for instance is horrendous). The interface still needs a few tweaks (Mango update is out 1 September 2011 - exciting times!). The developer community isn't quite excited enough, possibly because there aren't enough users yet (chicken and egg if there ever was one). And if there aren't enough users, there isn't enough buzz to get those crazy "make-you-feel-like-part-of-the-in-crowd" applications like BBM on Blackberry or Instagram on iPhone.
That aside. I want to make it absolutely crystal clear that this is the first Microsoft product to have excited me since Office for Mac 2011. I like Windows Phone 7. I really, really like it.
I haven't seen such a fresh and unique take on an operating system in a long time. Android essentially copied the iPhone and added a bunch of clumsy widgets. Windows Phone 7 has come up with a really beautiful and original interface - that works.
The topic my two favourite podcasts (TWiT and The ZA Tech Show) have been hammering on about lately is: even though we like it a lot, will we BUY it? Time will tell. WP7 will make a bigger splash when it gets released on a new range of Nokia handsets shortly.
Let's get to the pro's and con's of the phone and Samsung Omnia hardware.
CON'S (those itsy bitsy frustrating things that make us howl but hopefully will be fixed by the time this platform is ready to mainstream in South Africa)
- Samsung Omnia feels a little light. Isn't it odd how we want phones that are smaller, thinner, lighter - but when they go too light, they feel a bit cheap? Crazy humans.
- You have to pretend to be an American. Or a Brit. If phone manufacturers and platform developers don't consider us a market, they should bloody #$!@ off and leave us alone. It is SO FRUSTRATING to have to pretend to be an American or a Brit in order to get access to an app store (email address, physical address etc). This usually results in slower speeds and having to buy overpriced vouchers from dodgy sites (at least it does for Apple). I think WP7 is a bit better, but I got that big "Not available in your country" when I used my default SA-based Windows Live Account.
- App Store / MarketPlace speed was pathetic.
- Back to the US / UK Windows Live Account issue. What if I was an XBOX player? An avid one with heaps of gamer score and achievements. Bye bye data. Agh! Look, there's probably a way around all of this, but as I said, the high standard of consumer electronics devices and user experiences in today's world - means we don't want to try. We just want it to work.
- Search function inside core phone apps (contacts etc.) isn't great.
- Web/Mobile search is Bing only (from what I could gather). That's OK, Bing has pretty pictures - but I really don't think the Bing search results are as good from a South African point of view.
- Wireless functionality on the Samsung isn't great. It doesn't auto connect to my home wireless as often as I'd like (which is every time)
- Couldn't get the Maps to work properly. It just didn't pick up my local area. Could have something to do with the South-Africans-have-to-pretend-to-be-Americans-to-use-technology problem mentioned above.
- Email client is OK (I imported gMail). It's a little slow. Not very, just a little. Setup was easy though.
PRO'S (sing hallelujah, sing it, sing hallelujah!)
- Screen colours, resolution and available touch space - beautiful. Look, it's not quite the Retina display on the iPhone, but I reckon it'll compete easily with most Blackberry, Nokia and Android handsets out there.
- User interface, touch responsiveness - all great. I love the tiles, it's a great new way to visualize data and applications - and it's got legs. Microsoft can do a lot with the interface to differentiate the phone, without losing the simplicity of big, balshy tiles.
- The integration into social networks is phenomenal, and practical. I try as hard as possible to keep my head out of the geek cloud and realize that the man-in-the-street consumer is usually very different, with very different needs to the tech-heads I know. Allowing your phone contacts, gMail contacts and Facebook contacts to seamlessly merge together is fantastic. And when I say seamless, I refer to automatic profile pictures updated, auto de-duplication across the networks, the person's last status update appearing alongside their telephone number (conversation starter: soooo, you were out last night hey?)
- XBOX integration = awesome.
- Games = awesome. I finally tried out Plants vs Zombies and can now (kind of) see what all the fuss was about :)
- Camera hardware on the Samsung, not bad - good enough!
- Microsoft Office integration looks great. Everything from Outlook to Excel comes with an app and what seems to be advanced functionality. Something like OneNote could really come into its own on a device like this. And of course, Microsoft SkyDrive for cloud storage. The whole picture is really coming together.
- There are some super cool "little"things that they've thrown in as well. For instance, when you have new messages, there's a little :-) icon that appears on the Messages tab. No message gives you :-( and too many messages brings up :-o. Awesomesauce.
There we go. Hopefully that gives you a balanced view of my Windows Phone Experience (#WP7experience). When this OS comes to Nokia, I predict beautiful things. We need to remember that Nokia still DOMINATES both the SmartPhone and Feature Phone market in South Africa.
Image from Pocket Now: http://pocketnow.com/windows-phone/windows-phone-7-screenshots-not-a-microsoft-priority and Socialble.co: http://sociable.co/2010/10/04/microsoft-to-launch-windows-phone-7-on-october-11/windows-phone-7-os-screenshot/