Throwback Thursday: My First Year with Windows Phone

Then and now: Samsung prototype (2010) and Nokia Lumia 930 (2015)
Then and now: Samsung prototype (2010) and Nokia Lumia 930 (2015)

Digging around through my old gadgets this week I found a few interesting and semi-historical hardware devices. The original iPhone. A Palm Treo running Windows Mobile 6 Pro. The original Windows 8 Slate. But none triggered the same reaction as the Windows Phone prototype handset that I used throughout summer 2010 before Windows Phone first shipped to customers.

It was an interesting year. Excited by Microsoft’s plans for Windows Phone, I immediately contacted some friends at Microsoft to express my interest in writing a book, which I did: Windows Phone Secrets was the first-ever book published about Windows Phone. But here are a few interesting notes about the time between the Windows Phone announcement at Mobile World Congress that February and its initial release in late 2010.

Windows Phone 7 Series. The initial name of the product was Windows Phone 7 Series, an attempt at highlighting what Microsoft perceived to be a key differentiator with the iPhone: Unlike Apple, Microsoft would be going to market with multiple partners, each of which would be offering different devices in any of three form factors, or “chassis” hardware specs. That name was dropped. As was one of the form factors.

As sweepingly innovative as the first iPhone. The thing that struck me most about Windows Phone at the time—and this still holds, five years later—is how obviously and strikingly innovative Windows Phone was compared to the devices of the day. It looked at how people might accomplish things and didn’t just do it differently, it did it better. This was what first attracted me to Windows Phone in the first place. Not that it was Microsoft—I had abandoned Windows Mobile for iPhone and never looked back until Windows Phone was announced—but that it was better. Just like iPhone had been better in 2007.

Two days of hands-on time. Eager to get started but plagued by delays in Microsoft getting me a device, I visited the campus in May 2010 to sit in a guarded locked room in the belly of an almost abandoned building on campus and was allowed to pour over every interface on the device. Because I couldn’t take it home, I laboriously photographed and/or documented in text every single screen. Remember, I was writing a book. The prototype I had use of at the time was an ASUS device, I believe.

A prototype Windows Phone handset after signing in with my Microsoft account.


A peek at the notes I took describing every screen in Windows Phone 7. Yep, it was this detailed.


Kin gets in the way. Between announcing Windows Phone 7 Series and shipping the first Windows Phone devices to the public, Microsoft launched (and then killed off) the ill-fated KIN product line, which had been hastily rebranded to seem like it was part of Windows Phone. This was a distraction, but one that would end quickly. One snarky interaction I remember clearly: I’m waiting in the reception area at the KIN PR event for press and a journalist from a major PC publication comes in. He sees me and says, this is about phones, what are you doing here? To which I replied, it’s a Windows Phone. What are YOU doing here? Dick.

Old-school. Windows Phone was made by the old Windows team, so the original version was developed much like Windows used to be. So there were milestones like “RC1 escrow”, RC1 and the like. Here’s a shot of the RC1 escrow, from the emulator.


Executive meetings. In late May, I met with some of the folks responsible for bringing Windows Phone to market and was delighted to discover that many were former Windows guys whom I knew quite well.  Here’s a quote that will kill you: “We recognize that not delivering updates was a major problem with Windows Mobile,” I was told (no names, sorry). “But we are now in a position where we have the system in place to effectively and reliably deliver updates to users … more quickly with more predictability and across all the devices out there.” Here’s another one: “From a developer standpoint you can just target Windows Phone like you do with Xbox 360 because it’s abstracted for you. It’s one platform. Users can have experiences that span these platforms.” Sound familiar?

Names are important. One of the early things I pushed for with the Windows Phone team was that they needed to consistently and accurate name all of the items—panels, pages, screens, whatever—in the Windows Phone UI. They did not do this for v1, though there were various promises, and I eventually decided that the only accurate way to name all the UI elements was to use the developer documentation and use the names that developers saw. This sometimes resulted in some weird disconnects between the names I used and the names (or more general descriptions) that Microsoft used officially. They eventually cleaned it up.

Screenshots. Another thing I pushed Microsoft on was to provide a way to take screenshots of the Windows Phone UI. They did not add this capability until Windows Phone 8, and the only way Microsoft had internally to take shots was to use a special USB cable that would display the Windows Phone screen on a PC. Which of course required special internal builds of the OS, was very buggy, and was never provided externally (at least to me). Now, this is a problem because I needed to take screenshots of Windows Phone for the book. So I mocked them up—almost every single shot—using a combination of Photoshop, Microsoft Paint, and the few real UIs you could capture using the Windows Phone 7 emulator in Visual Studio. (You couldn’t sign into to your Microsoft account in the emulator, seriously limiting what you could capture.) If you don’t mind me saying so, I did a pretty great job of it, too.

Lock screen mockup
Lock screen mockup
Pictures hub mockup
Pictures hub mockup

My first Windows Phone. I didn’t get my own physical device until July 2010. That was a Samsung, and it was a fairly inelegant slab of a device with covers on the headphone, micro-USB and microSIM ports. And I still have it. And it still works just fine.


Finishing the book. I had worked on Windows Phone Secrets throughout 2010, but with our annual home swap coming up at the beginning of August, I really wanted to finish it before we left. Which I did: Using the prototype to ensure everything was described correctly, I finished the book just one day before we left for Europe. Achievement unlocked. And as I did with the iPhone in 2007, I was able to be one of the very first people to take Windows Phone to Europe in 2010, in this case three months before it was released to the public.


Zune. While Windows Phone was always designed to be cloud-first, you could sync it with your PC using the Zune desktop software. This interface was also the only way you could update the software on the device, since updates were too big to deliver over the air.


Launch event. Microsoft launched Windows Phone in New York in October 2010, though the first devices didn’t ship to customers until November.


First phones. Microsoft’s premier partner, AT&T, would ship three devices—the Samsung Focus, which I used for the next year, the LG Quantum, and the HTC Surround. T-Mobile delivered the HTC HD7 in late 2010, and CDMA compatibility—and thus Verizon and Sprint—came online in 2011.

Samsung Focus, left, and the Samsung prototype.
Samsung Focus, left, and the Samsung prototype.

Reviewer’s workshop. This is where I got in trouble and almost destroyed a few years-long relationships with old friends on the Windows Phone team. Speaking to reviewers—Microsoft later said it was supposed to be on background, though that is still not my recollection (My notes read: “This is a transparent conversation w/ engineering leadership – Just do not quote jokes for attribution [laughter]) —a senior Microsoft executive admitted that while carriers “were in control” when it came to updates, they understood that “end users want this value” and would not block updated. I interrupted the proceedings, told them that Microsoft could not trust the carriers, as they were evil and would never do what they promised. I was reminded that a representative from AT&T was in the room, and I told them I had no problem delivering this message to his face. This person said the plan on updates was to “churn things around more quickly,” that AT&T was “jointly incented” with Microsoft to deliver these updates. It wasn’t pretty. But, I was right. (“Unlocked devices get updates directly from Microsoft,” we were also told.)

First update: NODO. Microsoft had promised the first update to Windows Phone 7 would happen very quickly. Codenamed NODO for “no donuts” (a name Microsoft later claimed was not real), it was to add copy and paste, support for CDMA and a new chipset, many fixes and more. The plan was RTM in January and out via carriers in February. So. When did the first update really arrive? March, if you were lucky. I didn’t get it until April. This would start a trend, obviously. (I also found out about a subsequent “branch” of Windows Phone (again, old school) called Mango.)


Looking back on that first year, I can see that I immediately fell in love with Windows Phone and then subsequently felt the need to protect it, even against a Windows Phone team I felt was perhaps too naively trusting of the carriers that would indeed quickly and predictably screw them over. People often talk about the app gap as being the main issue with Windows Phone—and internal Microsoft documentation highlights this as the primary issue with the platform from as far back as 2011—but I feel like the carriers are even bigger problem. And perhaps one that Microsoft will never fix.

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