What Windows Mobile Needs, from a Developer Perspective

I’ve been thinking a lot about Windows Mobile 6.5 and 7.0.  Everyone is very focused on the user experience that Microsoft will provide.  Will they show the hexes or hide the hexes… Will it have Multitouch or not?  Zune integration?  Will it be more stable?  These are all great questions, but as a developer, none of them are the right question for me.  I mean, I want the Zune Marketplace on my WM device, no doubt about it.  However, there’s one thing I want more than any other as a developer.

WPF for Windows Mobile!

Yes, that’s what I want as a developer.  I want my .net, but I want it pretty and usable.  Is that too much to ask?  Let’s face it.  The .net compact framework is extremely powerful once you get past the UI.  But the UI is what makes the experience, and CF is sorely lacking.  WM isn’t competing against dumbphones anymore.  It’s competing against the iphone and the Pre and others like it.  Each of these devices does a tremendous job of making applications easy to use, and, dare I say it, fun!  WM, not so much.

Why not WPF?

I can think of a few reasons why we don’t have WPF.  I have no inside knowledge; these are just guesses.

  • Memory?  Maybe WPF will take up too much memory on these devices.  Newer devices come with a significant amount of memory, so don’t think this is it, at least not with devices that will officially support 6.5+.
  • Non-touch screens?  This is a biggie.  Many WM phones don’t support touch.  It’s much easier to create a Winform app that can be controlled with buttons than it is to create a WPF app that is built from the ground up for touch.  It can be done, but it would take more work.  My response to this is that MS could just make WPF for touchscreens only.  I’d rather not see this, but I’d prefer it over not having WPF at all.
  • No developers to get it done?  Maybe Microsoft just got caught resting on their laurels when the iphone came out.  Maybe they simply didn’t recognize that their UI would be mocked the minute iphone v1 was released and the first comparisons went online.  It continues to amaze me how I see small companies come out with great, innovative software that is better than MS, but when MS sets out to do something, it seems to take forever.  I have to believe that a WPF v1 could be released in a matter of a few months with the right resources on the job (I hate it when other people do this to me… presume to know how quickly something *should* be able to be done, so I beg forgiveness if I am way off base here).

Those are some reasons I can think of off the top of my head.  I’m sure there are more reasons.

Now, there is one wildcard in all this…

Silverlight for Windows Mobile

MS has announced that Silverlight will be released for Windows Mobile.  Since Silverlight (v2+, at least) is a subset of WPF, this really shows that it can be done.  I don’t count SLOOB (Silverlight Out-of-Browser, in v3) as a viable alternative, since it runs in a sandbox, and therefore is too limited for many apps I, and others, would want to write for WM.

So, what to expect?

I have no expectations.  I wish I had inside knowledge.  I have none.  I was extremely hopeful that MS would announce WPF for WM at Tech-Ed, but they didn’t.  I’ll continue to hope.

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John West

John West is an independent technology consultant who specializes in using technology to improve business processes.  That means that technology for its own sake isn't worth much; it's value only comes from helping people do things better, cheaper and faster.

That said, he spends way too much time testing cutting-edge gadgets that often come with promises of making things better and faster, but often fail to live up to those promises.  And they usually fail on the cheaper front as well.

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