Windows developer Kevin Hoffman has some thoughts on one of the many areas in which Windows Phone 7 and iOS are fundamentally different.
"In a traditional, app-centric system[,] the application has complete control and the user must go through it in order to get at any piece of information," he writes in a recent post on his blog, Kotancode.com. "In a hub-centric system, the information is in control and apps (or even small pieces of apps) are summoned at will to do things with, for, or related to, that information."
(Hoffman is a software developer with a Connecticut company, an author of several books on Windows development, and in his spare time, writes iPhone apps.)
The example he uses to illustrate his point is sharing a photo on your phone. In a "traditional, app-centric system" -- the iPhone -- you have to go through a series of applications. For example, just to email the photo you first have to go to the app that controls the specific photo you want to email: you can't do it directly from the iPhone's email app. But if you want to send it to someone who's NOT IN your email contacts list, such as someone from your Facebook or Twitter or other social network account, you have to shift between multiple applications.
By contrast, he says, Windows Phone 7 organizes your data into areas, called Hubs, for example the Pictures Hub. Once there, you select a photo and WP7 in effect makes available a range of capabilities for you, drawing on different applications.
"Without ever leaving the context of this photo, the system knows which applications are able to add extension capabilities to that photo. This means that from this photo, you can send it to someone via e-mail, you can share it on Facebook, you can share it on Twitter, you can (and yes, this is real, I’ve seen this in screenshots) automatically treat the photo with the word “FAIL” and submit it to the FAIL blog. And because contacts are also a hub [the People Hub], contacts can be injected into the list by other applications that know of additional sources of people."
This kind of "integrated" experience, and how different it is from the iPhone, has been evident since Windows Phone 7 was unveiled last February. But a surprising number of observers seem oblivious to it, as was shown last week in the Infoworld column declaring Windows Phone 7 a "disaster." But it is obvious to developers working with WP7, as several responses to that column made clear.
In the comments to Hoffman's blogpost, a couple of his readers suggested that Apple could achieve something similar by applying the Mac OSx concept of "Services" to iOS. For example, "pilky" wrote: "Any app could register that they offer a service for images, and any app could bring up a services menu for a given type. This way any app dealing with photos could say “show a service menu for photos” and it would be given a list of actions all the other apps on the system provide, including email, tweet, upload to flickr, edit etc."
I asked Hoffman about this via email (and he's since posted a brief reply on his blog), and he's skeptical that Services could, or should, be used with iOS.
He writes: "I'm familiar with them...Services allow a measure of app-to-app communication but only if the app operates on the same kind of file and/or data [as the other app]. Many iPhone apps aren't really file-centric to begin with. I think even if Services were introduced, they would really only alleviate some of the "app-centric" problems with internal Apple applications. Right now app-to-app sharing can be done via iPhone-specific URLs, and there's even a website for sharing those URL schemes...but I'd say less than .001% of the apps even use those types of URLs."
Even if Services were implemented on the iPhone, "the UX [user interface] to support them could be cumbersome and convincing developers to 'play ball' with services would be difficult as well."
There's a lot of focus on what WP7 is missing. But the big ones -- no multi-tasking, no copy/paste, etc -- have all been known from the start. And none of these omissions has hurt the iPhone. As more mobile developers work with WP7, they seem to be discovering the unique elements of Microsoft's new mobile platform, and what they can do with those elements, and the impact that experience will have on the endusers, the final arbiters of whether WP7 will succeed or fail.