Interview

A Phone, A Cloud, A Platform - A Windows Phone Perspective

Sriram V Iyer
14th Feb 2012
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One of the cool benefits of being part of the YourStory tech team is the ability to participate in all-women App Meet-up despite not being one.

YourStory.in along with Microsoft Bangalore held an App meet-up to create Women entrepreneurs and also to share the awareness on participating in the Mobile App ecosystem among the women.

During this event, I got an opportunity to sneak up and catch up with Harish Vaidyanathan, Director – Evangelism for Microsoft Windows Phone platform, oh yeah another guy at the event! The whole experience for pleasant and we got more info that I had expected! (I expect a lot, btw!)

One of the problems faced by the developers is to optimize their apps for too many screen sizes. Having a standard screen size has greatly helped the Apple iOS ecosystem.  How are you dealing with this issue, and do what is your plan to address this issue? Needless to say, the Google Android platform also has to face this issue. Are you working on any technology that would adapt the content to various display sizes?

Harish: We have Silverlight as the core platform for Windows Phone. However, we have a great support for HTML5 too! Once the content is encoded in HTML5, a part of the responsibility is delegated to the browser to optimize the content for the relevant display. We feel this is an easy way out, for developers to work with HTML5 on Windows Phone. Apart from this benefit, they would have the ability to port their apps to other platforms too!

We see that Microsoft is positioned well with their Cloud Solution –Microsoft Azure and their Windows Phone platform. What is your take on Mobile / Cloud integration?

Harish: I would like to elaborate on the new path Microsoft is taking altogether going forward. Microsoft used to be a ‘software platforms’ company. From here, we are transitioning into a Devices + Services Company. E.g., we are involved with Windows Phones, Xbox etc and also have services around these. We actually do not limit our services to Windows only! For e.g., our cloud-drive solution ‘SkyDrive’ is available on iOS and Android. OneNote is available with Android too! You’ll see that, going forward, there would be a lot of integration between cloud and mobile, and Microsoft will not limit its services to Windows devices only!

Amazon is doing some pioneering work on splitting the computation between mobile device and the cloud, with their Silk Browser for Kindle Fire. Also, Siri also does a lot of background work on the cloud servers. Does Microsoft plan to have any similar technologies to split the computation between device and the cloud so that the processing power on the phone is not limited to its processor?

Harish: Microsoft's TellMe already does this – May be we don't publicize this much. Even here, the voice processing is split between the device and the cloud. You'll be seeing more of this in the future. (He then showed a demo of his phone sending an SMS based on his voice command!)

What do you think about Microsoft’s support for programming languages while programming for mobile devices?

Harish: Windows Phone has Silverlight as its core. Currently people can develop on C# / Visual Basic for the Windows Phone platform. They can also program using HTML5 / Javascript using the PhoneGap programming platform.

Is support for more programming languages planned? You recently open-sourced IronPython and IronRuby! I was expecting to see support for those languages to develop for the WP7 platform.

Harish: (Smiles) – The reason to remove support for IronPython and IronRuby was strategic – But, you’ll definitely see support for more programming languages going forward!

So, can I look forward programming in F# for the WP7? Is it not possible to develop in F# and use it for WP7?

Harish: I am not sure if there is support for F# coming – Actually, the closest approximation for a Windows Phone app is a RIA (Rich Internet Application) built for Silverlight (to run outside a browser) – Though there is a lot of commonality in the CLR (Common Language Runtime) between regular Windows PC and Windows Phone, the executable formats are different. So it may not be directly use F# to code for WP right away!

To summarize, Windows Phone might not have had a great start. But, Microsoft has a history of pulling of the seemingly impossible with their innovation and patience! (See Xbox, Internet Explorer, Bing!). Windows Phone story seems to have all the ingredients of a winner – A great development platform, good hardware, good programming language support and innovative features. All it needs is more attention from app developers and some great hardware to script its success. In the end, with this strong competition between Android, iOS, Blackberry and Windows Phone, it is the customer who always ends up as the winner!

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