The list of features missing in Windows Phone 7 — no multitasking of third-party applications, no copy-and-paste, no native Twitter client — has dominated forums and early reviews of reference hardware phones put in the hands of 1,000 developers last week.
Clearly, the pressure is on Microsoft to produce a stellar package for WP7, which will be on smartphones shipping this fall for the holiday shopping season. After what many in the industry saw as the collapse of Windows Mobile 6x — coupled with the death of Microsoft Kin phones — WP7 is seen as a do-over for Microsoft. And some believe WP7 should have more and better features than other smartphones, not fewer.
One exhaustive review of the Samsung Taylor by Engadget cited the lack of copy-and-paste or third-party multitasking as “two big omissions,” even though Engadget called WP7’s overall user interface “the most unique UI out there.” The site went on to praise the touch screen keyboard and the responsiveness and speed of the software’s touch capabilities.
The lack of multitasking means that the music player Pandora and similar applications will go into pause mode when in the background, meaning a user can’t browse the Web or type an e-mail with Pandora running. But music can be played in the background using Microsoft’s Zune music player.
Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of Windows Phone, said in an Engadget video interview that multitasking for third-party apps will come from Microsoft “at some point.” He said that WP7 is “like a new Version 1” for the company. New and different features in the UI include the concept of “tiles” and “hubs” for organizing data according to “people” or “music and video.”
Some developers on Windows Phone 7 Web forums who have bashed the lack of multitasking since March picked up last week on the lack of copy-and-paste. Not having that capability “is a pretty big deal,” wrote “joethecoder” on July 20. “[I am] not a big iPhone fan, but its copy and paste is really good and my Palm Pre works for text in e-mails and documents.”
A comment by “Trees” noted that copy-and-paste is “quite handy and well done on iPhone. I use it plenty and it’s going to matter, particularly if using Office apps is relevant.” Adding the feature should be a “simple problem to solve,” and while not having it isn’t a “show stopper,” having it would “win hearts,” Trees wrote.
That one issue is seen by some reviewers and developers as ironic, given that Microsoft developed Word for text processing and has incorporated the Office suite in WP7 as one of the hubs, with the ability to edit PowerPoint slides, launch and use Word and add data to an Excel spreadsheet, according to some early previews posted on Youtube
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As for multitasking, forum visitor “Binks821” in May called for services that would allow Pandora and other apps to play in the background: “In this market, it’s all about apps, and from the user’s perspective, [WP7] will be a no-go because the other two main competitors (Android and iPhone) will have better multi-tasking.”
The absence of a native Twitter client (Facebook is well-supported) earned the consternation of many early reviewers, as did the lack of a single in-box for various e-mail accounts. Other forum visitors asked for developer access to a gyroscope and direct access to the camera software so they could build more apps to sell in Microsoft’s marketplace.
Despite the tendency to focus on what is missing in WP7, one industry analyst urged patience. “I doubt that this will be the only version they release and they are committed for the long term,” Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney said of Microsoft. “They just have to convince everyone to stop bashing them and to give them a chance.”
Dulaney said the public should be rooting for Microsoft as well as Research In Motion, Android, Symbian and even Meego as competition against Apple “lest we evolve to a market like the PC, where there was one dominant player and everyone complained there wasn’t enough competition.”
Dulaney said WP7 is a “huge reset” and that Microsoft will “need time to get to a competitive position. They may fail, but they need to be given a few chances to swing the bat.”
Dulaney said the lack of multitasking “probably won’t hurt,” depending on how the final version of the operating system works when compared with the iPhone
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Jack Gold, an analyst at J.Gold Associates, warned against judging the final WP7 based only on what’s known about it now. However, he agreed that the lack of copy-and-paste “will be painful to many users” who want it for Office functions.
More important than the features ultimately supported in WP7 — or even which device makers build it — is which carriers sign on to sell the phones. “Verizon took on the Kin, [and] with the Kin disaster, Verizon my be a little leery,” Gold said.
A Verizon official refused to comment on its plans for WP7, and other major U.S. carriers could not be reached for comment.
Find out more about the Windows Phone 7 from ITBusiness.ca:
Windows Phone 7 technical preview: Hot and not
Why you should wait for Windows Phone 7
Windows Phone 7 slick, social and set to compete with iPhone, Android
Windows Phone 7: Three reasons it’s not just for consumers
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt’s RSS feed. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.