Windows Phone 7: The Surface Paradigm

WP-vert-webHere is part of my analysis of the recently announced Windows Phone 7 Series, the brand new platform for Windows-based phone devices. I want to analyze and draw some conclusions on the User Experience of Windows Phone 7, how it compares to Surface and the technology capabilities of Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) and Silverlight.

The question I want to try to answer, is where are we going with the surface paradigm? I think I have some compelling ideas of a future vision that fits well with what has developed on the Zune devices and the future release of Windows Phone 7 devices.

Disclaimer: Parts of this post is based upon assumptions about the technical implementations, details which are at present time unknown and will be revealed more in details at the MIX10 conference. Details of Windows Phone 7 are not the topic of my postulation of a surface paradigm, which is by itself disconnected from the phone experience and applied to computer interactions going forward.

Live Tiles

The most interesting concept unveiled with the Windows Phone 7 announcement is the new dashboard experience. It’s a refreshing change and a bold move away from the desktop concept of icons and applications. Instead of a desktop computer paradigm, with icons on a desktop which launches applications, there is instead a dashboard with, what Microsoft calls, live tiles.

The live tiles are like web parts on a portal, such as iGoogle and Netvibes. Most computer users are already familiar with this concept and it should feel natural for it to move onto the mobile device.

What these tiles represents are usually status information, count of new email, SMS messages, updates available and so forth. This concept is available on the iPhone as well, but in a more limited manner than what potentially will be possible on WP7. Below I’ve included screenshots from both the Windows Phone and the iPhone to illustrate this behavior.

WP7_Tiles  iPhone_Status

Live tiles can display up-to-date information, both as text and animated content content such as a slideshow of your favorite friends from your contact book.

Each of these live tiles will have the possibility to connect online to the web. Whereas the iPhone apps, needs to implement push or can only update the item count whenever the user actually launches the application.

Surface Hubs

Applications have traditionally been dialog based. This is true for for most desktop OS and mobile OS today. Even the iPhone works mostly in dialogs, some applications uses a sliding concept for moving between states, but it’s still just dialogs with an animation.

Up through the years, we’ve seen many different prototypes and technology demos from individuals working on research projects, such as Deep Zoom, where the user is no longer bound to the physical boundaries of the pixel resolution on their device. Other touch demos, or even demos that replicates the “Minority Report” experience, often relies on a surface of items that the user can navigate and manipulate. This is where the application hubs on Windows Phone 7 represents a change.



Developing new applications for the Windows Phone 7 will most likely be based upon XAML, and either in the form of a WPF or Silverlight runtime. Additionally it will probably include support for XNA based games and applications, though I think the information rich applications such as the People hub shown above, will be XAML-based and have it’s own tools and framework just for those specific types.

Microsoft Surface

From what I’ve experience with the Zune software, devices and the announcement of Windows Phone 7, I predict that the Microsoft Surface experience will move towards a similar user experience, both in regards to the dashboard with live tiles and the surface hubs paradigm for the applications themselves.

While Microsoft Surface today only comes in form-factor of a table, in the future the same foundation will be used for computer interaction on all surfaces, in the home and in the office. Walls will become screens and there will be sensors and cameras that takes input from human interactions.

Surface today has a static launch surface, it’s basically a computer desktop with animated application icons. It would be smart of Microsoft to implemented the same concepts from the Windows Phone 7 onto the next generation Microsoft Surface. With the huge surface area that Microsoft Surface tables normally has, a lot of that space is wasted in most applications and especially from the launch experience as you can see in the screenshot below.


Surface is the new Touch

In few years time we won’t be talking as much about touch-computing as we will about surface-computing. With technologies such as “Project Natal” for Xbox 360, we will see the birth of human-computer-interaction based upon gestures recognition really taking off.

I’ve been disappointed in the lack of development of rich interactive applications on the desktop using Windows Presentation Foundation. WPF is a technology that is already a few years old, though there are few cool applications for Windows that I was expecting to see. WPF is the way to build touch-based applications for Windows and there are not many out there. With Web 2.0 and the open and public APIs of social media services, it’s strange that there are not more applications available that integrates the data in a seamless manner.

There are undergoing development in this area, with Microsoft doing some great technology demos of Facebook, WPF and Silverlight. Check out these screenshots: And the Facebook preview: These are the kinds of experiences that will bring joy and fun to the desktop again.

I think this change is great and I’m super excited about the potential in experiences and services that will be developed. What do you think?

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