If you’re scared say you’re scared.
See you all on Reddit this Fri! Will you think I’m weak if I admit I’m a little scared of you all? http://t.co/DhwVOXuZYz
— joebelfiore (@joebelfiore) April 28, 2014
And so he did!
Now this is not the first time Joe Belfiore, Microsoft’s Windows Phone guy, has entertained questions during a Reddit AMA. In fact he is a pro at doing the demos and answering questions and I suspect he will do just fine with this session as well.
In fact, he actually put some time into his replies and gave answers that discussed the issue/question and not just quick yes/no replies. A solid performance compared to many AMA’s you see.
Before they refreshed the AMA thread there were nearly 250 comments but just as the session began they started from a fresh slate and the questions came streaming in.
Although it took a few minutes for the replies to start flowing in he did begin with this general platform comment:
As you folks know, MS’ mobile strategy had a big reset back in 2009 when we changed our model for WP7. At the time, the iPhone had shipped with a new approach to mobile– touch enabled, big screen, new functionality. To react to this we had to implement a new system — a new UI, a whole bunch of apps we hadn’t built ourselves (interestingly: the old “Windows Mobile” that MSFT shipped didn’t even have a dialer– it had to be built separately by each OEM!)… and there was a LOT of work to get the same set of features built. So… I’d say we’ve acknowledged plenty of times over the past few years that we’ve had features missing relative to iOS or Android. Some of this was intentional decisions to be focused– we did NOT focus on Enterprise/Corporate at first– but then we did. I’d say with WP8.1 the feature gap is ALMOST completely closed. As mobile is much more mature now, it’s less likely that ANY platform will have ALL the features of its competition — and that’s what makes one platform fit certain people better.
From there he started replying to things and right off the bat had to defend decisions and priorities the Windows Phone team made.
When asked about broken promises and Windows Phone users feeling like second class citizens:
Let’s talk “broken promises” and “second-class citizen” treatment. We sure as heck try not to break promises. the thing that’s tricky is WHAT YOU PROMISE.. and it’s amazing how much the internet gives things a “life”. Last summer we said we’d enable developers to get updates separately from the carrier-approval process. It took us longer than we would have liked to roll — this out… but the reason for that was a combination of work we had to do to implement the program AND the fact that the updates we were shipping early in the year wouldn’t have had as much value for existing phones. We knew we had BIGGER updates coming later– the Update 3 last year not only had some solid features in it for everyone (rotation lock, driving mode, storage sense updates) but also carried Update 2 with it. BY THEN it really mattered to get it out. Plus we knew 8.1 was coming, so we wanted the system up and running. In this case I’d say it took us longer, but I wouldn’t say it was a “broken promise” (though I can see how people felt that way for some months). On “second-class citizen” treatment… Microsoft DOES NOT treat WP as a second class citizen! We have a very senior, well-funded team that has amazing support from our senior leadership and from other groups. What does happen time to time is that teams who are working on cross platform work make prioritization decisions (or are limited by the nature of WP itself) such that features show up on other platforms first — we are a company about devices AND SERVICES and when you think about something like Skype it’s important that they remain compelling and competitive on other platforms as well. As a general rule, we work with teams to make sure WP users aren’t lacking in benefits… and all the teams here are getting better and better at this… Skype now has WP-specific benefits, the Remote Desktop client is out, etc.
In reply to the inevitable app related question he said:
There’s no silver bullet here… Apps, like most things in software development, are a marathon, not a sprint. And I’m not claiming we’ve nailed it – as you point out, there is more work to do. Fundamentally, the ISVs who write these apps are making business decisions about how they can make the most money– and as WP has grown, and as MS has invested time & money in the apps, and as the platform has gotten better/stronger… more and more apps have shown up. So — sitting in 3rd place, it’s tougher for us to get the apps– but I do think that we’ve made great progress in the last couple of years. We’re not resting on our laurels. We (and not just we.. I) are visiting ISVs, looking for ideas that can help them grow their volume and user engagement, providing them with funding and development help – and in some cases we are even using our own team/devs to write apps ourselves. You’re seeing these results through both well-known apps SHOWING UP (Instagram last year) as well as higher average user ratings per app on the store – we look at ALL sides of the issue. Right now we’re MOSTLY focused on continuing to GET the key apps– although lately with more of these present, we’ve shifted a bit towards improving the current ones. You mentioned Skype and FB — on Skype, we have new version in development that our team (and me) have been using and it certainly helps with perf– we’ll keep going– and on Facebook, we’ve been working with FB on an update to that app too, targeted for the June timeframe – this update brings improvements to perf, having full-width photos in the newsfeed, and seeing photos & comments at the same time.
Note: In a follow up reply on this same thread Belfiore confirmed the company is in talks with SnapChat to get the service on Windows Phone.
Then someone asked if Cortana would ever be able to turn Wi-Fi on and off based on location and Joe said it was a cool suggestion. Funny thing is – it already exists. See my post from 18 April entitled Automatic Wi-Fi on Windows Phone 8.1.
Another question came in about the lack of Google services/apps on Windows Phone:
We think we’ve developed an awesome platform with Windows Phone, and definitely look forward to welcoming Google’s apps on it. We have these apps high on our “want list” so it’s something we’ve invested in (ahem, YouTube) and are absolutely willing to continue investing in. Unfortunately, the apps are Google’s and I can’t say when they will act. Only our friends in Mountain View know timing. You should ping them! (often!)
When asked about OS update announcements and release dates being so far apart Joe took a poke at the leaks, which naturally occur because people are looking for info, creating the longer lag time and not the announcements themselves:
The time-lag thing is tricky. It depends on: – what LEAKS. (we can’t prevent these, and they make people start looking for stuff that may be a ways off). – when we ANNOUNCE. We have to balance early announcements (better for ISVs to get apps ready on the new platform) against waiting to announce close to availability (more fun for end users because you hear about something and then, poof, it’s ready to go. Also — done right, this can help sales because people will hear excitement and then head to a store and find a phone ready to buy.) We are trying to strike this balance in a better way — with WP8.1, the announce was aimed at devs and just days later we had the developer preview in everyone’s hands, so the MOST motivated users (and there are a LOT of you!) can get the software quickly. We expect to keep our pace of updates similar to what we did last year– we are pretty proud that we shipped three software updates last year, and we’re already working on some cool stuff that I know you’ll like. On HARDWARE — it’s trickier. Up until now (welcome Nokia!) it was different companies doing this work, and they had to sync their schedules with ours. We do think that for first party phones, the acquisition will help with time to market… and you’ve seen us already announce new phones at the same time as announcing the software. I can’t comment on any new phones that might be coming– but of course Nokia and other partners have a bunch of stuff in progress. Last — we’re doing plenty to help HW partners get devices to market faster in general. At build, we showed some phone prototypes for India and China that partners took only a few months to get running. Overall, we feel like we have made some progress in getting to a higher velocity, but we know we have more we can do, and I think you will see us continue to accelerate where we can.
When asked about fixes that still need to be addressed in the developer preview Belfiore confirmed it is not the final version that we are seeing right now:
Developer preview is NOT final.. there’s client-side software fixes we’re still making, when UPDATES go out to existing phones they will come with “BSP” (low-level phone firmware) updates from the OEMs… and the Services (Cortana) are continually getting improved. SO.. when you get an official update or buy a new phone, it’ll be more polished than what you folks have now. In terms of timing… no specific dates to mention, and keep in mind that the software updates will vary by phone and carrier. Do keep in mind our history last year with updates to get a sense of how we think about this. In terms of the specific issues you hit — the dev preview has gone very well from our POV, with hundreds of thousands of “devs” having downloaded it so far (smile), and we’ve been closely monitoring feedback on the platform, features like Cortana, action center, etc. And since you mentioned this, it’s a good opportunity to mention our User Voice site –windowsphone.uservoice.com. The team uses this site A TON to help structure and prioritize feedback on what customers want to see in the product. yes, I read it myself and I FREQUENTLY send links to people on the team when I need help winning an argument. One of my favorite stories from a previous release about how we use User Voice was how you can now configure the button in the browser address bar to do what you want – e.g. favorites or tabs. Everyone who voted on that feature, THANK YOU for making your voice heard.
Xbox Music has seen updates since the Windows Phone 8.1 Developer preview was released but the overall sentiment about the app is generally negative.
When asked about music on Windows Phone and the devices becoming effective music playing devices Joe replied:
Music is a good topic for this AMA.. lots of interest! There’s a balancing act we’re trying to effectively walk here… (1) we have a super-valuable audience of subscribers who’ve been with us since Zune, and who value subscription, etc… and at the same time (2) we’re selling the significant volume of phones to people who are NOT Xbox Music (Zune) subscribers and (based on needing to pay a monthly fee) aren’t likely to become subscribers. They use music “simply”. SO … we’re trying to build an experience that runs cross device on your PC, your Xbox, your Phone– in a service-oriented way (think: cloud collection)… but simultaneously work for the hordes of people who manually sync content using the shell or iTunes. Getting both of these right has been challenging. We moved away from the PC Zune client in the interest of serving the broadest phone-buying audience in the way they already knew. We learned that many people who ALREADY USED iTunes or the shell viewed learning a new Zune client as a “speedbump” in the way of getting going on a new phone. So, we changed the structure to appeal better to those people. The new experience in WP8.1 Dev Preview will get us to one system that works GREAT for “ordinary sideloaders” (it works with the Windows Shell) AND for people who use multiple devices and are more “cloud-oriented”. it’s re-architected to handle both of these well– and in particular we’re shipping it as an app on the phone and have committed to regular updates which will make a BIG difference over the next few months. You’ve seen one already and more are on the way. Upcoming in the app: you’ll see perf improvements (we hear you!), better stability, UI improvements (some of you have been asking for a “swipe” to change tracks), etc. etc. Do take a “months” time view of this, as there’s plenty of stuff in the pipeline.
Another question that was bound to come up was when Cortana would arrive for other countries. It is currently only available in the US unless you change your phone’s location to US if you are somewhere else however, it turns out this actually helps Cortana learn different accents and usage patterns.
Cortana in other countries: We’re definitely working to bring Cortana to other countries. She tells us she’d like to travel. We’ve already announced that when we launch V1 after Beta, we’ll be in China and the UK as well as the US. We’re also hoping to get other english-speaking countries (eg. Canada, Australia) out relatively quickly as well. The challenge in doing this is we want the Cortana experience to be EXCELLENT for everyone -– and this involves not ONLY delivering great voice recognition for all the different languages, but also making sure that we have a great regional experience with local content so she doesn’t feel like an American!
If you want to see all of Joe’s replies during the AMA visit his Reddit user profile at http://www.reddit.com/user/joebelfiore/.
AMA’s on Reddit can be a confusing mass of comments and humanity. Checking things out via his user profile is the easiest way to see what was answered. If you want to see the question just click the context link below the answer.
What do you think of Joe’s answers?