by Shane O'Neill

Windows Phone 7 Hands On: Two Features That Will Let You Down

Jan 26, 2011
Data Center

Windows Phone 7 doesn't play well with Exchange and has a disorganized app store, but an OS update could change all that.

In a post late last week I highlighted three Windows Phone 7 features that have a leg up on the competition: the simplified tile-based user interface, the Internet Explorer mobile browser, and better mobile access to Microsoft Office docs.

And now, for some bad news.

While I haven’t noticed any deal-breakers when testing the Samsung Focus that Microsoft graciously lent me, there are some features that let me down as an active smartphone user.

I left out the inability to copy and paste text because Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer specifically promised at CES that copy-and-paste functionality will be in a WP7 update “in the next few months.” Not exactly a specific timeframe, but you take what you can get with Microsoft.

Windows Phone 7 Marketplace
Windows Phone Marketplace search

is a tad broad. (Credit/Shane O’Neill)

So here are two Windows Phone 7 features that should be addressed ASAP. It’s likely that these two gripes will be fixed in the WP7 OS upgrade. But for the moment, these features — or should I say lack of features — are keeping a good phone down.

A Crowded Windows Marketplace

Windows Marketplace may have 6,000 apps and growing, but it still doesn’t carry enough popular mobile apps (No Angry Birds! No Pandora! No Groupon! No Dropbox!). But what’s worse is that the WP7 Marketplace is also a mess navigation-wise.

It’s laid out chaotically with too many categories and too many screens to swipe through. On the main screen, Marketplace provides a list of categories, with the app stores of Microsoft partners AT&T (AT&T AppCenter) and Samsung (Samsung Zone) getting top billing, followed by general sections “apps”, “games” and “music.”

A note on the AT&T or Samsung categories: please stop pushing partner-sponsored apps in my face; they should not even be there or they should at least be hidden.

The other screens on the Marketplace homepage are a jumble of thumbnail images of games, apps and music albums. Because I’m more interested in apps than games and music, I tap on the apps category and I’m greeted with another confusing interface with a different screen for All App Categories, Top Apps (4 listed), New Apps (2 listed), Featured Apps (3 listed).

When I try to search for an app — which is what most people end up doing — the experience does not improve. The search functionality in Marketplace is too broad. It can’t search by category, so if I want to just do a search in the “apps” section there’s no way to do it. The only search option is to tap the off-screen search “magnifying glass” icon and do a general Marketplace search that returns any and all games, apps, albums, artists and songs that relate to your search term.

For example, the term Fandango (for the movie ticket purchasing site) returns the Fandango mobile app, which is a good thing — but with that comes every musical artist, album and song in the history of recorded music that includes the word “fandango.” It’s a long list.

Is sloppy search the end of the world? Of course not, but Microsoft definitely needs to organize its crowded marketplace. The good news is that Microsoft has promised to “streamline Marketplace search to make it easier to find specific apps, games, or music. Press the Search button in the apps or games section of Marketplace and you’ll see only apps or games in the results.”

Well, right now there is no “Search button in the apps or games section” so this will be a welcome change.

The Exchange Disconnection

As soon as I took the Samsung Focus WP7 phone out of the box I tried to get it connected to my Outlook work e-mail account, thinking it would happen in a snap through EAS (Exchange ActiveSync). Surprisingly, I couldn’t do it, and I was really taken aback.

I thought these devices were designed to work seamlessly with Microsoft’s ecosystem. Syncing a Microsoft mobile OS to Microsoft Exchange was a no-brainer, I assumed.

Not so much. I was kindly informed by my IT department that connection to Exchange could not happen because WP7 phones do not support on-device encryption, which is an important mobile security feature that is supported by iPhones, BlackBerrys and newer versions of Android – also known as the competition.

It’s foolish to prevent users from connecting Windows Phones to Microsoft’s nearly ubiquitous corporate e-mail platform, especially as more and more consumers use their personal smartphones for work purposes. Microsoft would be crazy not to add more robust on-device encryption in its pending WP7 OS update.

For Windows Phone 7 to have a chance against the wildly popular iPhones, Droids and BlackBerrys of the world, some things need to change. Copy-and-paste functionality, on-device encryption and a Marketplace overhaul get my vote.

What would you like to see in the Windows Phone 7 update?

Shane O’Neill covers Microsoft, Windows, Operating Systems, Productivity Apps and Online Services for Follow Shane on Twitter @smoneill. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Shane at