Update (19th March): I've added some additional info I received at the end of the post.
It's been a funny week. My blog usually receives a few hundred visitors per day. This weekend, I published a post titled "Why I'm Close to Giving Up on Windows Phone 7, as a User and a Developer", sharing my frustrations with Windows Phone 7. I hoped that someone from Microsoft might read and respond to it. I wasn't really expecting the attention the post got during the last 24 hours.
The post had over 40,000 visitors in a 12-hour period yesterday (which cost me exactly £0.00 in hosting - go App Engine!) and was republished by BusinessInsider. Today, I had a call with Brandon Watson, Director, Dev Platform & Ecosystem and Ben Lower, Senior Product Manager, Dev Platform & Ecosystem.
This was somewhat unexpected.
Given they'd taken time to call me, I thought it was fair I take time to post some of the things we discussed (I hope I understood them right - the line was pretty bad). It sounds like they're taking the feedback seriously and didn't seem too annoyed with the bad PR I might have created.
Weak UK Launch / Knowledge of Operator Employees
The fact the UK launch was weak (to say the least) didn't sound like a surprise to Brandon. He explained the marketing budget was of course much smaller than in the states and that it's difficult to get info into shops (Microsoft are far divorced from the stores).
This certainly explains the poor support my colleague got from Virgin, who didn't seem to know what the Zune software was or why there had been an update. However, I wonder whether this is the whole picture - it seemed to take a long time for stores to even start getting their first handsets, so I still wonder whether a problem supplying the devices resulted in a deliberate reduction in marketing during the first few weeks.
I think this is something Microsoft must work to address. Apple have their own stores across the country, so the people selling the devices are their employees. Microsoft don't have this luxury and will need to work far harder to ensure the same quality of information and hardware availability at point of sale.
Retrieving Error Logs from Retail Devices
I brought up the issue of my SMS bug. I was willing to help Microsoft to try and diagnose the issue if they could get logs from my device. Brandon pointed out that the real issue here was that the parts of the software that allow sending of logs to Microsoft are removed from retail builds of the OS - only developer builds are able to do this.
This seems a little naive to me. There are a ton of developers out there that are very good at reporting bugs and they'll almost all have retail devices with a retail build of the OS. Brandon said he'd discuss the possibility of having this functionality included and enabled when a phone becomes developer unlocked. I think it's really important this is done if Microsoft want to be able to track down and resolve issues in a timely fashion.
SMS & Bluetooth Bugs
Brandon said he'd try and find out whether the SMS and Bluetooth bugs I specifically mentioned may be fixed in NoDo. I'm not too fussed about the SMS issue (it's never happened since), but the bluetooth issue happens daily and is so annoying to me that I'll seriously consider swapping phones if it's not addressed soon.
No Way for Users/Devs to Report Bugs
I was really frustrated with not being able to report bugs in WP7 to Microsoft in a structured way. Developer-focused products at Microsoft use Connect, but WP7 seems to be excluded. People are more than happy to help by submitting bugs, if they knew where to send them!
Ben suggested the idea of using a service like UserVoice to allow collection of issues and voting. I'm not sure why this would be better than Connect, but it sounds like a reasonable idea. Even a wiki page would be better than the "current system"!
I had a quick search and noticed there's a Windows Phone 7 Community UserVoice forum already. Not sure if this is official in any way, but if not, I do hope an official account is set up and monitored by Microsoft.
This is quite a big one, but sadly, the one with least info. I suggested it was ridiculous that such a big company can take so long to get an update out. Brandon pointed out that in reality, bigger companies move slower. I don't really think this is a good excuse - if policies and processes mean it takes 5 months to release an update, then the policies and processes need improving. If a big company can't work as efficiently as a small company, then the big company should act as smaller companies.
You probably saw the recent blog post by Eric Hautala. He's the new guy, and his job is delivering updates. Eric's appointment looks like acknowledgement that Microsoft know they have work to do in this area, so we'll have to see how things evolve.
No Visibility of Incoming Fixes / Release Notes
I raised the issue of nobody knowing what's in NoDo other than the few features that have been announced. Brandon agreed that some sort of release notes should definitely be included (and are, for many of the development products) and said he'd look into it. Apple provide release notes for all of their updates, though I'd prefer to see Microsoft go one step further and publish them before the update. If Microsoft need inspiration, they should take a look at how Blizzard manage releases for World of Warcraft; Patch notes are posted and updated constantly before launch, and go into great detail. I'd love to see this kind of transparency from Microsoft.
I think I've covered the main points we discussed. The conversation was positive, but it was only talk. It'll take time to see whether Microsoft is really moving forwards. If I receive any additional info or responses from Brandon or Ben, I'll post about them.
One thing is clear from this experience; Microsoft care about developers. Apple failed to respond to the massive WiFi issues in iOS4.2.1 during the 5 months it took them to fix it, whereas within 24 hours of my post getting attention, I'd been contacted by around 6 Microsoft employees, including Brandon Watson. Let's hope the enthusiasm for getting in touch with me turns into results.
Update (19th March):
Since posting, I received a little additional info:
Connect is still being used for Windows Phone 7, though it is restricted to certain closed/invite-only programs (eg. for MO/OEMs/Devs that had development devices pre-launch). A public connect will require a better structure to deal with the volume of cases. I got the impression this is being evaluated, though no commitment.
UserVoice is also being evaluated as an option for user (non-dev) feedback. Fingers crossed if this doesn't pan out, we get an equivalent at least.
It seems that these guys agree that being big isn't an excuse for being slow, and they're committed to improving things and making things move efficiently.
MIX. April 12 - 14, Las Vegas. ;)
Also - Brandon sent me a link to the Windows Phone 7 update schedule. There's some excellent info there. I looks like MS are really taking user feedback onboard - this gives me faith :-)