Windows Phone 7 Series imitates Apple's iPhone in the worst ways

For years, people have accused Microsoft of being an imitator, rather than innovator. Finally there is evidence: The ways Windows Phone 7 Series imitates the very worst of Apple's iPhone.  Unless there is the strangest of coincidences -- like two students having the same wrong answers on a high school history test -- Microsoft is imitating Apple, using the same strategy to make the same mistakes. It's either imitation or incompetence, and out of fairness I assume the former.

The first imitation is the most baffling: Limited multitasking. Like iPhone, Windows Phone 7 Series will allow multitasking for some of its own applications, but not others. When open but not in use, third-party apps go into a pseudo-off ("dehydrated") state. By comparison, Google's Android, Nokia's Maemo or Symbian OS and Palm's WebOS all multitask (e.g., run background applications) just fine.

CNET's March 8 "Ways Android beats iPhone" expresses my sentiments: "Unlike the iPhone, Android devices like the Nexus One by HTC (pictured here) can multitask and run background processes. And how much do we love that notifications bar? A lot." As smartphones extend -- and someday replace -- the PC, multitasking will become a must-have feature.

Does Microsoft not understand this? People take multitasking for granted on the PC, which will make its absence more  noticeable on the smartphone.

The Wicked Taskmaster

Case study: Joe Wilcox. Whenever out and about, I frequently use multiple background applications: Any combination of email, camera, instant messaging, music player or radio, news reader, RSS reader, Twitter or Web browser, among others. Then there are the widgets pulling down live content to the home screen(s). Given the phone's form factor, there generally can only be one visibly active application. But others run in the background. So it's possible to talk on the phone (with Bluetooth headset) while taking pictures and sending them to blog, Flickr and Twitter. Surely, other smartphone users reading this post have experienced similar benefits.

Microsoft's multitasking -- or lack thereof -- imitation will look really bad should Apple allow background applications to run on iPhone OS 4.0. Such change would bring iPhone OS on par with other multitasking mobile operating systems and make Windows Phone 7 Series look out of date even before the first devices reach market. Apple has got to do something to chip away at Symbian OS and hold back the Android army. Multitasking would be big.

To overcome some of the limitations imposed by truncated multitasking but deliver a pseudo-background application experience, Microsoft will follow Apple in another way: Like iPhone, Windows Phone 7 Series will use push notifications. It's a wild workaround -- using push to deliver, say, Facebook, IM or Twitter notifications instead of running the apps or, better, widgets in the background. It's the difference between sometimes and real time.

Waste Not, Paste Not

Another imitation follows something iPhone used to not do but Apple fixed (finally) in iPhone OS 3.x: Copy and paste will be MIA. Windows 7 Phone Series will include a pseudo copy-and-paste feature, that, for example, would "take an address and view it on a map, highlight a term in the browser and do a search or copy a phone number to make a call," according to a statement from Microsoft. "Instead of the user manually doing a copy and paste in these scenarios, we recognize those situations automatically and make them happen with just one touch." Right, but what about third-party applications? There's no copy and paste -- pseudo or real -- for them?

That question segues into yet another way Microsoft is imitating Apple. Google and Nokia offer open-source operating systems and applications platforms. Microsoft could copy from their playbook and open the development war chest. But n-o-o-o-o. Microsoft is taking an approach even more closed than Apple. Like Apple, Microsoft is effectively shutting any potential platform competition from third-party developers. Microsoft is doing this by reversing years of development philosophy: Windows 7 Phone Series won't support native applications. Developers must use the Silverlight runtime for apps and XNA for games. There are claims Flash 10.1 would run natively.

Microsoft talks big ecosystem with respect to Office, Windows, Windows Server and even Windows Mobile (now called Windows Mobile Classic). What exactly strong Windows Phone 7 Series ecosystem does Microsoft hope to generate without native applications? Mozilla already has cancelled its Fennec browser for Windows Mobile Classic and Windows Phone 7 Series; no native application support is stated reason.  By the way, the Silverlight approach feels like Java in the 1990s. Write once, run anywhere -- in this case wherever Silverlight is supported.

Making Small Sense of Nonsense

Looked at differently, there's a strange sensibility to these Windows Phone 7 Series imitations because of how they hang together. From a grand product perspective, why should third-party multitasking be necessary if the only native apps are Microsoft's? Then there is copy and paste. Last I checked, copy and past isn't fully supported by Silverlight, which partly would explain limitations imposed on Windows 7 Phone Series developers. Related, as perviously stated: Pseudo copy and paste is for native applications, and they're only from Microsoft (unless Flash makes the guest list).

If Microsoft must imitate Apple, how about extending desirable features, like supporting native applications? Apple limits platform competition through the developer terms of agreement. For iPhone developers it's Apple's way or the highway. The Windows Phone 7 Series would benefit from imitating Apple's terms limitations and what Apple, Microsoft (with Windows) and most other major platform developers support: Native applications.

So what do you think? Is Microsoft imitating Apple? Does multitasking matter? Or is Microsoft treating multitasking just right? Should Windows 7 Phone Series support native apps. Please answer these questions in comments.

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One more question: Do you plan on buying a Windows Phone 7 Series smartphone?

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