Shifting Gears


Last year I moved over from supporting developers on SharePoint to testing software for Windows Mobile. This was the driver for my move from India over to Redmond last July. There have been a lot of developments in both the Office Server space as well as the Windows Mobile space. For reasons of my sanity, I will be blogging more on Windows Mobile starting now.
Windows Mobile 6.0 was the last release more than a year ago. Over the last year, there were a lot of developments and some interesting releases. Microsoft has a partnership with several operators and several OEMS. These two terms are very important to how Microsoft does business in the Windows Mobile space. From this perspective, operators are network service providers who maintain and operate cellular networks. In the US, the ones that we work with are T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T and Sprint. Across the pond, in Europe, it is Vodaphone, Softphone etc.
OEM's on the other hand, are the companies that actually build the phones themselves. For instance, we work closely with HTC, Samsung, Motorola, Toshiba, etc. These are the companies that build the phone and its hardware. The question then is, what does Microsoft do in terms of having the phone in the hands of the end consumer?
There are two major groups within the Mobile division. One group is the OS team, and the other is the commercialization team. The OS team, works over a long cycle, that would involve market prediction, product planning etc, and chalk out and architect a strong platform, which for the purpose of this post, is analogous to cookie dough. These guys would work off of the latest Windows CE platform and create a extendible platform on top of that. Each of their releases is generally a major architectural change from the previous release. However, since the release is analogous to cookie dough, this is not what gets to the market. Of course, no one would want dough if they were shopping around for a cookie would they?
The commercialization team on the other hand is responsible for ensuring that the cookie dough gets baked into a delicious cookie that can get to the market. So this team works with OEM's and operators in a triad to figure out the combination of the network and hardware that a particular release would be shipped on. For instance, the team could work with HTC and T-Mobile to chalk out the requirements that they have for T-Mobile to sell the device. This would generally require understanding the new hardware features the OEM has introduced, such as say GPS capabilities, touch capabilities, or 3G network capability etc and then plug that in with new services that the operator might be planning. This generally translates into a new feature set which actually makes into the store.
On a time line scale, there is a lag of 2-6 months between the OS team releasing a new platform to the device being in the store. Of course, the operators and OEM's keep coming back with more and more improvements or changes to their feature set, or with questions or report some problems that need to be fixed. These get fixed in incremental fixes that are then commercialized in varying timelines. This is a very iterative process. For instance if a version x.0 is released, then there would be some devices that would ship with x.0, there would be some that would ship with x.0.1, some with x.0.2, etc. These are generally minor fixes or tune ups that certain operators or OEM's need. Then there would be a major holiday/summer push with say a x.1.0, and so on. The process would then repeat, till the OS team would release the next major release.
So as you see, there is a major emphasis on ensuring that we enable the OEM's and the operators to build and market their devices and services (enable being the keyword here). This is very easy considering that a lot of effort and planning is done to ensure that the platform is extensible and takes into account a variety of requirements that can be made at a later stage. For instance, the extensibility of the platform allowed HTC to convert the standard Windows Mobile 6.0 pocket PC interface and expand it to add Touch and gesture support via the HTC Touch that is available on Sprint networks. This extension was created by HTC and is now part of the new HTC Touchflo platform that is being targeted for a line of devices (www.htctouch.com ).
More recently a targeted experience was created for T-Mobile with the Shadow device. This required creating a new Home screen, specifically targeted for T-Mobile, which had the T-Mobile branding and colors etc. Of course, this kind of work, exposes new requirements, and enables us to create application platforms that can be extended. As with the Shadow work, we were able to create a application platform, that could help us create better user experiences in the future.

When one looks at the process above, it is obvious that the drivers for improvements are based off the direct customer feedback that the operators receive from the users. This feedback is then channeled back to us via product bugs that are prioritized and then actioned. Of course, since the feedback we receive from the Operators is weighted by their urgency in commercial viability of future devices, some actual user scenarios or pain points get overlooked. I am hoping to make this blog a place where I can have some interaction on what scenarios are causing you pain.

There is a lot of great work happening in the Windows Mobile space and with the recent announcements at the Mobile World Congress there is definitely a lot of interesting stuff lined up for this year.

~Harsh




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