Why Windows Phone 7 doesn't desperately need more powerful devices this year

As you have probably already noticed I was at Mobile World Congress this week so I had the opportunity to play around with some of the latest and most powerful handsets ever created. This year was obviously dominated by Google’s Android platform which took center stage at the convention with essentially every OEMs demonstrating or unveiling products running the immensely successful OS. What does it have to do with Windows Phone 7 hardware ? Well if there’s one thing that really garbed my attention it is the fact that not a single Android device I played with was as snappy and smooth as the Samsung Omnia 7 device I had in my pocket (or any iPhone model). Yes some of the devices on display were running non finalized software and probably hardware too but this has already been the case with retail devices like the Galaxy S and Desire HD which feature more powerful hardware than all the currently released WP7 devices (you can watch my 7 minutes long Galaxy S II video here).

I will repeat what I have been saying for a while: Android is the new Windows Mobile. OEMs want to differentiate their the products and one of the best way to do this is to use the latest and greatest chipsets, screen technology or other fancy hardware components. But as an end user, why should I care about the newest Exynos 4210, TI OMAP 4430, Tegra 2 if it can’t provide me with the same user experience as the now nearly 3 years old QSD8250 found in my Windows Phone 7 device? Similar to the old Windows Mobile days; OEMs are using Android’s “openness” as a test bed for their new CPUs and chipsets and are pumping out devices with crazy hardware specifications to show themselves in the press and sell device purely based on check list features: Dual-Core CPU ? Check. XX Mpix camera ? Check. 3D Cameras? Check. Huge Screen? Check etc. The issue here is that device manufacturers are more interested in time to market so optimizing the software to work with the hardware is just an afterthought. It’s not Google’s job to code the driver for the Samsung Exynos or for TI’s OMAP4. Google doesn’t even want to get the browser to use GPU acceleration for smoother scrolling and panning so the device manufacturers shouldn’t even count on the big G to give them any kind meaningful help in this department (Samsung has apparently implemented GPU acceleration to the browser in some unreleased Galaxy S firmware builds).

HTC has apparently learned the lesson a long time ago and has instead decided to milk the same SoC for while and instead just improve it’s Sense software layer every time it releases a new batch of devices. The end user is in both cases being presented with less than optimal solutions / offerings: On one hand you have new hardware that goes totally unused (Samsung, LG) and on the other you are buying exactly the same hardware but with an updated software layer (HTC).

Now let’s go back to Windows Phone 7 for minute. Take a Google Nexus One/ HTC Desire and compare it to the similarly speced WP7 devices. Which one is the snappiest and offers the smoothest UX? Same for the HTC HD2 running WM6.5 compared to the same device running Windows Phone 7. Microsoft has several big advantage with WP7 compared to Android. First, the have enforced strict HW guidelines and are currently only supporting Qualcomm’s Snapdragon SoCs and their Adreno GPUs. Secondly the Adreno GPUs are closely related to the Xenos GPU found in the Xbox360 so the company was already quite a bit familiar with architecture. Thirdly they control the APIs (Direct3D Mobile through DXGI and probably Direct2D for IE9 Mobile) unlike Android which relies on OpenGL ES and the drivers developed by the chipset manufacturers. The Windows Phone 7 ecosystem is like a console ecosystem with one set of drivers and APIs all controlled and certified by Microsoft while Android is more like a PC ecosystem filled with tons of different hardware configurations, driver versions controlled by nobody (Qualcomm even told me that OEMs don’t really bother including the latest drivers in the devices just because they are more concerned by the shipping date of the handset than with the end user experience. For example, as of right now the SE Xperia Play is the Android handset that has the latest Adreno 205 drivers).

Who would have thought that Microsoft would be able to easily port IE9 (which requires a DX10 GPU on the desktop) to Windows Phone 7 which only runs on a relatively old Adreno 200 GPU (DX9 capable) ins such a short time? Now take a look at the current state of the Webkit on Android: Yes it’s blazing fast at loading web pages on those super powerful handsets but after that the UX is simply anticlimactic because of the lack of HW acceleration. This is supposed to be fixed in Honeycomb on the tablets right? But where’s the smartphone version?  From what I have seen at MWC the touch responsiveness of the Android 3.0 tablets varies greatly from one device maker to another. So once again Google’s lack of control of the hardware and drivers is going to hurt the end user.

This is not to say that Windows Phone 7 should be stuck with the current QSD8250. New high-end WP7 devices are going to be announced later this year because technology evolves at a rapid pace and Microsoft will obviously want to support higher resolution screens and video formats (and yes they are working on new Chassis but the Nokia partnership which was decided only last Thursday changed some of the plans), more graphically intensive 3D games and applications but the point here is that they are in no rush to do this because they can squeeze a lot more out of the first generation Snapdragon SoC than what is possible with Android. Everything I just said so far also applies to Apple’s iPhone which is quite similar to Windows Phone 7 and I personally think that there’s no need for Apple to switch to a dual-core SoC for the upcoming iPhone 5 given that the A4 is still powerful enough for 99% of the tasks (but if they do then you can be sure that they will have the software to take advantage of it). Android is obviously a really great OS that I enjoy using it on a daily basis thanks to all the features it supports but Google should really stop the madness and take over control of what should or shouldn’t be done on the platform. OEMs are loving it right now because they are free to do whatever they see fit but I really think that it will hurt the platform in the long run when people start to realize that they paying for hardware that most of the time isn’t used all or just paying for a software update (HTC..).

What Windows Phone 7 is in desperate need of is software updates filled with differentiating features and third-party access to more APIs so they developers can create more exciting and advanced applications.

This is obviously just my opinion so feel free to leave a comment below and follow me on Twitter @MobileTechWorld.

  • Gust3

    I don’t own WP7 so I can only comment on what I see. I know people who own it. They do seem to love it. I looked at it and instantly want it. I own an Droid X and see nothing wrong with it, but I’m living with its own quirks (GPS that stops working and requires reboot, hard to manage many icons, slow at times, difficult to browse on web so I use apps most of time, cut and paste is hard to use). The biggest problem is lack of momentum. Certainly give it time, but I don’t see effort from Microsoft thats coherent. They got it out the door, which is the first step. The second step is selling it. MS often relied on OEMs to sell. This mentality needs to change. OEMs are not often naturally concerned with this. So who should sell it? Carriers like Verizon? Maybe. Verizon isn’t sold and the CDMA version isn’t out there to be sold. Do we keep giving it time? Time is not on MS’ side.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001395218690 Pantou Ekang

    i have to congratulate the author…
    Really good job…

  • Viruela22

    This was the best article, I must congratulate the author, is what I think, point by point.

  • Viruela22

    I have a htc surround and from the first day I am in love with wp7

  • http://twitter.com/bijuishere Biju Nair

    for a tech savy shopper all this makes sense. for a person who is at the cell phone shop, bullet points matter. The reps says this assdroid has a dual core processor and front camera, they will fall for it.

  • http://www.twitter.com/dotcarbon dotCARBON

    I love this article. It’s good analysis and stops all the whining about WP7′s camera.

  • Super2online

    Agreed, however, what would happen if Nokia started putting new chip sets in from ST-Ericsson with dual core ARM processors and 2G, 3G, TD-SCDMA, HSPA, HSPA+ dual carrier and LTE FDD/TDD networks. Check it out:

    http://mobilitydigest.com/with-mango-comes-new-wp7-chipsets/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+MobilityDigest+%28Mobility+Digest%29

  • http://twitter.com/Phanatron P Holmes 3

    Have to agree with the author. Hardware differentiation only drives up the cost of the phone. The only reason a dual core processor is necessary in a phone right now is because of the inefficiency of the OS.

  • http://www.mobiletechworld.com MobileTechWorld

    Yes Microsoft’s main issues with WP7 are execution (updates..) and Marketing…

  • http://www.mobiletechworld.com MobileTechWorld

    Don’t hold your breath though… :)
    Saw that while browsing the Reuters new on the Omnia 7 (via the Samsung Now app) and posted about it here: http://www.mobiletechworld.com/2011/02/18/st-ericsson-hopes-to-be-part-of-the-windows-phone-7-future/

  • http://www.mobiletechworld.com MobileTechWorld

    Thanks!

  • http://www.mobiletechworld.com MobileTechWorld

    :)

  • http://twitter.com/EJ1024 EJ

    The only reason they dual core is because ANDROID is just way to slow.
    I agree androids loads the webpage fast, that’s only the good thing. Playing around the web page is a struggle.
    Wp7 is only 4 mos old, and I must say its the best phone I ever had, its not yet mature, but it does its job.
    Att is doing a good job advertising wp7, tmobile on the other hand are busy swiping at iPhone 4 with mt4g.
    There’s a lot of complain about the updates etc….. I think most of the complainers are the same ANDROID users that wants to jump on the band wagon.
    Wp7 is just a sample of the future WINDOWS PHONES
    WP,HD7.

  • Anonymous

    this is what people need to understand. If the software isn’t optimized it doesn’t matter how many cores you have. The hard part is if you are only going to have phones every 12 months then you have to saturate every form of media with ads for the phones that are out. Articles like this is the reason I continue to come to this site. Keep up the good work.

  • AnonGuy

    This article is so good I want to have this blogger’s babies…

    Quintuplets good with you?

  • http://twitter.com/bySeon Seon

    What a great article! Really presents some valid points and backs it up too with such good research!

  • Anonymous

    Agreed. I have both an iPhone 3GS and a Droid Incredible and, while the DI provides more features, and a lot of those features are welcome, what good are they when the user experience is so woefully sub-par (particularly when compared to that of my iPhone)?

    It has full multi-tasking, but I have to continuously drop running apps with the task manager to preserve my battery (whose life is abysmal). It has copy and paste, but I feel like I’m having an aneurysm every time I have to select text. The browser loads pages quickly, but navigating a site is janky and generally not pleasant.

    I think MS is on the right track here by ensuring a homogeneously satisfying experience on all devices, and working closely with manufacturers (and even providing all the drivers) to ensure they don’t mess up the overall UX. That’s one thing Android fans don’t understand. Your feature check list means nothing if using those features is an unpleasant experience.

    You can have two dozen cores and if your animations, games and apps still skip, you’ve accomplished nothing.

    How long did the iPhone go without copy and paste? 2 years. Without apps? 1 year. With a sub-par processor? 2 years. Yet, regardless of what was missing, Apple ensured that they provided a great experience, and look how that turned out.

  • Tawann

    You know the scary thing is…I have owned almost every type of device, but have always been some one drawn to Winmo. Having now switched to Phone7 from the prior winmo I found my self forced to change the way I was thinking, which was very much to the desciption of the above author. OEM development had such grip on O.S. development that the consumer became so overly focused on what the newest shiney product would look like versus how it would work. Phone 7 definitely has show us how relying on the capable right now, can sometimes be more user and developer effecient then to rely on the incapable and often sometimes inflated later on. Currently using the Samsung Focus since its release date. It has yet to fail me in almost anyway, and updates will make it near perfect.

  • WP7 User

    Ppl are raving about dualcore on Android phones, IMHO Android needs dual battery pack. WP7 shld provide an option to the user to disable multitasking on their WP7 phones when multitasking is available on WP7.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with the author, Android is feature packed but, it’s too diverse, too inconsistent(UI) and the UI lags. It feels like an unfinished product.

    Google should definitely take charge, there are too many problems with Android, there is no UI hardware acceleration, they should ban third party manufacturer skins and they should take charge of updates, the updates now are controlled by manufacturers and carriers whose interest is to make you buy new devices, that is BS! If I’m paying 600+ euros for a phone, I should be getting updates till the phone simply can’t run the new software anymore. Galaxy S is a VERY capable hardware but it’ll never get updated past 2.2 Froyo.

    There is just no stability, consistency and no guarantee with Android, I’m not buying an Android phone till all the above mentioned problems get sorted.

    WP7 is very smooth, although I don’t like the tiled interface, it still is much, much smoother than any Android device running on the latest dual core hardware.

  • http://twitter.com/sts_fin Jonne Backhaus

    If im going to buy a phone for 600 euros, I would like Copy paste and Multitasking on it. just my five cents.

  • Kaness

    I’m a WP7 fan, loving my Optimus 7 but having used my dad’s Galaxy S, I have to say Android has an appeal to it. Its diverse, you have the same foundation, personalised by the manufacturers later on, but it’s a different experience moving from phone to phone. I played around with a HTC. Hated the UI (sorry HTC users) but I enjoyed the Samsung’s UI, and then came the deal breaker, app compatibility, where app A works on old and new Android Os-es app B didn’t -_- Google has done a great job. But gotta hand it to Microsoft, I want a standardised feel, acroos manufacturers and it gave me that =) kudos MS, but pls rush that copy/paste thing Android guys are killing me over it O.O

  • man1up

    Well written sir! It has made me secure with deciding which OS was best for me, and your points were objective and IMO true.l

  • http://twitter.com/xraybies Jacob Dole

    Priorities:
    1.- Battery life! I want 1 week without charging
    2.- Reliability; 0 crashes
    3.- Fast text input.
    4.- Apps. Secure storage…

  • Jbb421

    Ive often told people that android is the new windows mobile with google hype behind it they look at me and go huh then when i show my points they start calling the fanboy tag….. ive used Windows mobile seince 5.0 all the way to 6.5 then swapped this year for an android device…. i honestly diddnt think it was much of an upgrade yeah the marketplace was nice and the MASSIVE dev community but other than that meh…. now im going WP7 this april i really cant wait the only thing scaring me is knowing how MS is with their updates. Great article thank for the reading…. sorry for the useless rant lmao

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brenden-Nickless/1109178914 Brenden Nickless

    i think we’re all in agreement about the points made in this article. i found the Xbox 360 comparison particularly interesting–it really is quite similar in its execution: MS’s control over the content and also its performance optimisation and even hardware similarities…just like with the 360. the idea of having a 360 *in my pocket* as WP7 and its technology improves is VERY exciting.
    this is done so beautifully unbiased, the way it SHOULD be! Android has its performance and (dare i quote Jobs…) ‘fragmentation’ flaws, WP7 has its marketing, execution and updating flaws, and when it was young, iOS had its own teething problems with apps (and lack thereof) and its slow performance. but indeed the one thing wp7 does right in my opinion, is provide a solid, and smooth user experience with what it brings to the table, just like iOS does. Sure the two are not the most flexible or ‘open’ systems, but it seems to be those same reasons that ensure they work so well.
    WP7 is 5 months old. imagine what it could do with another couple of years of consistent app development, bug fixes, and a new, diverse range of powerful phones. Nokia’s ovi maps integration may just make it the perfect package…maybe they’ll bring Angry Birds over ^.^

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brenden-Nickless/1109178914 Brenden Nickless

    this april sounds like the perfect time to check out WP7. the NoDo update should (had better!) be out by then, bringing copy paste, faster app switching and whatnot other good stuff we’ve been looking forward to for about a month now.
    I have a good feeling about windows phone. i bought into WP7 late feb, early march, and was lucky to get an omnia 7 off some guy on ebay for cheap :P best AU$400 i’ve ever spent. even though the OS still seems a little rough around the edges it’s still awesome value, considering the phone retails for at least $700 unlocked here, and the iphone 4 is a ridiculous $1000. Like the article says, don’t be fooled by the old processor specs on wp7 phones; MS has gone and completely optimised the OS for a smooth experience on the hardware it’s got (like the xbox 360), rather than the google way and built an open source but terribly optimised and power-hungry system.
    wait for nodo, then go nuts, i’m sure you’ll love it :P

  • Flvaio Gomes

    Very nice… i totally think so… My girl has a samsung galaxy s and it´s a powerful phone but it´s jerky. I really hope that microsoft get their things straight and start showing how a phone must be maid… Hopefully too, NOKIA will help with that.

  • NoName

    Windows PC, Windows Notebook, Windows Phone. I am mad …