Windows Phone 7 From a webOS Perspective

I’ve been working with and writing about Windows Phone 7 over at Windows Roundup for a few weeks now, and thought I’d take a few minutes to jot down some notes about Microsoft’s new OS from the perspective of a webOS enthusiast. Some of my impressions may surprise you, while others won’t. For a general overview, go check out my article at Windows Roundup.

Before I start, though, let me say: I remain just as excited about webOS as I was before deciding to branch out in my writing endeavors. Things are slow in webOS land right now, and likely will remain so until HP-Palm releases webOS 2.0 and/or new hardware (whichever comes first)—hence the slowdown in new content on this site. I’m writing about WP7 because I like to write about technology, and also because Microsoft is my next favorite company behind HP-Palm. It’s certainly not because I’ve given up on webOS or its prospects for being an industry-leading mobile platform.

Here are some areas of differentiation between the WP7 and webOS:

  1. User Interface
    Simply put, WP7 has a unique and elegant user interface with outstanding performance. In terms of overall look and feel, WP7 makes webOS seem entirely utilitarian—functional, but not so pretty. WP7, on the other hand, is simply gorgeous, with a host of transitions and a Metro theme (graphics and iconography) that make it a real pleasure to use. The performance—clearly optimized for the hardware, and utilizing the GPU for animations—is also stunning, and makes webOS on my Sprint Pre (even overclocked to 800MHz) painful to use in comparison.
  2. Hardware
    I’ve been using an HTC HD7, and while it’s too big for me and the camera takes terrible pictures (probably software-related), it’s built like a tank and performs flawlessly. I don’t need its 4.3” screen, actually, and I do miss a physical keyboard, but I can see now why some folks have complained even more loudly about the lack of new webOS hardware after trying out other platforms. My Pre’s screen seems tiny after using the HD7, and it doesn’t hold up so well in terms of build quality. Simply put, using the HD7 makes me feel even more strongly that HP-Palm need to get next-generation hardware out the door–yesterday.
  3. Ecosystem
    Microsoft has done a great job, for the most part, of integrating Windows Phone 7 with the more consumer-oriented aspects of Windows Live, Xbox Live, and Zune. In fact, the latter is simply outstanding—coupled with a Zune Pass, WP7 is by far the best music experience on the market. There’s nothing like tagging a song you’ve never heard before with Shazam, and then downloading it (for free), or the entire album it’s a part of, from the Zune Markeplace, right on the phone. WP7 simply takes music discovery to an entirely new level.

    Windows Live integration and Xbox Live integration are good, while still needing some fleshing out. However, the potential is there for Microsoft to have the best fully-integrated ecosystem in the mobile space. It’s unclear how HP plans to build out their ecosystem, although they’ve hinted that they definitely plan to do so. At this point, though, webOS essentially has no ecosystem, and so there’s really no comparison.

  4. Apps
    Microsoft has also done a great job of getting some mainstream developers to port their apps to Windows Phone 7. The aforementioned Shazam works great, as does the Netflix player with full streaming of instant content. After only a week on the market in the US, the WP7 Marketplace already has over 2,000 apps available. This is almost half as many apps as are in the Palm App Catalog after more than a year, which suggests that WP7 will catch up and exceed webOS in this metric in short order. In terms of quality, the apps in the Marketplace are a mixed bag, although it’s easy to make an attractive app in WP7 given the foundation provided by the Metro UI. I’d have to list apps as a win for WP7, as much as I appreciate some of the great work being done by webOS developers.

It might seem from these four points that I like Windows Phone 7 better than webOS, and that would be a mistake. To begin with, All HP-Palm needs to do is provide modern hardware with better build quality and performance, and #1 and #2 in this list will be moot. Yes, the WP7 user interface is lovely and pleasant to use, and webOS will likely never catch up in that department.

However, that’s not to say that webOS is inherently unpleasant to use—it’s not. It just has a simpler UI paradigm that works well within its overall framework. However, while a simple UI can work just fine, that’s only true if its performance is commensurate. webOS suffers greatly, however, from lag, stuttering, and other obvious performance issues that seriously detracts from the experience. Put webOS on better hardware, and its real advantages could shine through.

And as we we’ve known and loved about webOS from the very beginning, those advantages are significant. Multitasking, universal search (Just Type), and Synergy remain real webOS strengths, even on today’s hardware.

Multitasking

I talk more about this here, but suffice it to say that Windows Phone 7 is essentially a unitasking mobile OS. While the core apps such as email, Zune, and such are able to run in the background, nothing else can do so. Worse yet, some apps save their state (kind of) when they’re closed (which is pretty much anytime you do something different with the phone), and some don’t, leaving the user to wonder what will happen when an app is launched again. When using WP7, I’ve pretty much conditioned myself to only start a task—say, posting on Twitter—if I know I’ll be able to finish it without interruption.

webOS, of course, is the complete opposite. It invites multitasking, making it seamless, elegant, and eminently easy to use. Because of this, webOS is by far the more productive environment.

Universal Search

Soon to be called Just Type in webOS 2.0, and to become even more useful, the ability to search from anywhere in webOS is vastly superior compared to WP7. First, it’s a bit confusing at times what will happen when you hit the WP7 search button—will it search somewhere in the current app or start the Bing search engine? Second, it’s also not possible to do something simple like search for an app. If you want to run an app, you need to scroll through your app list—and mine’s already long enough to make doing so a bit tedious. It’s nice to be reminded just how great universal search really is in webOS, and I can’t wait to experience Just Type in webOS 2.0.

Synergy

WP7 allows contacts to be pulled in from multiple sources, but it doesn’t do nearly as good a job of de-duplicating information and presenting it clearly and concisely as does webOS. If a contact has a cell phone number in, say, Facebook and your Google Contacts record, then that number shows up twice in the contact record on WP7. In webOS, of course, it only shows up once. The same is true for email addresses, addresses, etc. As far as I’m concerned, webOS didn’t just start the concept of integrating info from any number of sources, it remains—by far—the best at it.

Conclusion

I’ve been making the claim for a some time, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that HP-Palm should trademark “The Productivity Platform” as a tagline for webOS. After using Windows Phone 7, I stand by that recommendation. webOS is by far the more productive platform than WP7, at least (and I believe that holds true for Android and iOS as well). Yes, it’s slower and, yes, the hardware needs some upgrading, but in terms of being able to get real work done, webOS continues to shine.

If Windows Phone 7 had even some level of rudimentary multitasking—say, the same as iOS 4.X—then a decision between WP7 and webOS would be much more difficult for me. I love the Zune integration, the Netflix client, and the overall look and feel of WP7. But in its current unitasking state, WP7 simply could never replace webOS as my primary platform.

Comments

  1. What webOS is missing is a unified multimedia hub à la Zune. The music app and video app on my pre 2 are exactly the same with the pre+. In few words: boring… No new codec are supported,there is no native cloud music streaming service. I hope HP and Palm will bring to webOS 2.x some goodies. There is another thing I cannot explain while my pre 2 is much FASTERrrrrrrr than my pre plus when I navigate through my photos in the photo album app, it’s still laggy with 1Ghz CPU. Where is the promissed GPU acceleration?

Trackbacks

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Juliano Moraes, AboutwebOS. AboutwebOS said: Windows Phone 7 from a #webOS enthusiast's perspective: http://bit.ly/cR4FnO @HP_PC @Palm #wp7 #windowsphone [...]

  2. [...] There’s another platform that’s garnered some interest since its release a few weeks ago (November 8 in the US): Windows Phone 7. I’ve been working with and writing about it over at Windows Roundup for some time now, and thought I’d devote this week’s column to give a quick overview of my impressions from the perspective of a webOS enthusiast. For a more general overview, go check out my article at Windows Roundup, and note that this is an update of an article I wrote elsewhere. [...]

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