Windows Phone 8 Unravelled (Part 1): Three Screens and the Cloud
“3 screens and the cloud” has been one of Microsoft’s high-level visions since as early as 2009. Windows Phone 7 was one step in the right direction, so was the Metro-revamp of the Xbox interface. Windows 8 promises a great stride in the unification of desktop and tablet interfaces. Now, with Windows Phone 8 Microsoft seems to be almost getting there if the leaks suggest true.
A little bit of context first: “3 screens and a cloud” denotes Microsoft’s efforts to unify experiences across their 3 platforms: the phone, the PC, and the TV (the front-end of the Xbox media experience). The definition has since been expanded to include tablets to the mix, but the stated motto still says 3, considering Windows 8 tablets and desktops under one roof. Microsoft argues that these four screens encompass nearly all of the personal computing experience, and hence try to make experiences across them seamless by unifying the interfaces (read Metro) and allowing seamless syncing and streaming.
As it turns out, Windows Phone 8 (which until yesterday was known by its developmental code name “Apollo”) is supposed to bring a near-seamless integration with its desktop counterpart, Windows 8. Besides the similar branding, probably shared advertising campaigns and closed launches; these are going to share large parts of their software, including “the kernel, networking stacks, security, and multimedia support”. This is a something that might get lost among the larger stuff like the comprehensive hardware upgrades and business upgrades; but this probably is the best part for developers and for Microsoft in the long term.
Windows Phone will allow developers to port their desktop Metro applications to the phone with very minimal changes. Developers can largely use the same code from desktop applications, make a few platform-specific tweaks, and run it on the phone. And the user, he gets pretty much the same experience on the phone and the tablet. This is not unlike the promise Nokia’s Qt held until the axe fell on Symbian and MeeGo platforms.
In the long term, this means that Windows Phone’s largest problem, the app-shortage, will get automatically cured – Windows being the near-ubiquitous desktop OS, no developer will hold back from developing for Windows; and once they develop on desktop Windows, they have no reason not to port the same to Windows Phone, as the rewards will certainly overpower the effort involved. In the short term, Windows Phone 7’s 100,000 apps (as expected by Microsoft for the Windows Phone 8 launch timeframe) will suffice as WP8 will allow full backward compatibility with WP7 apps.
This cross-compatibility also points to unification of the Windows Stores, where you’ll need to buy an app only once and run it on both the phone and the desktop; or updates delivering seamlessly across platforms.
And let’s not forget the cloud part of the equation – Microsoft looks for nearly seamless SkyDrive integration to be natively available on both Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, which makes file-sharing bliss; or with which you can practically store your entire assets on the cloud. Also expected is the eschewal of Zune in favour of a more integrated “syncing relationship with a dedicated companion application”. We don’t know what exactly that means, however, we can infer a much more streamlined syncing experience from what it sounds.
Ultimately, this is the goal that every ecosystem has to aim for. Google has mostly gotten the cloud part right with Android devices tightly coupling with GMail, Contacts and Calender; and Apple is in the right path with iCloud. Microsoft however puts this aspect upfront as a primary goal – and with its already established cloud and desktop endeavours, much more seamless integration, and more platforms than any of its competitors have; they might gain an edge in the game.