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July 13, 2010 / Joe Osborne

Student Insider Feature Series: Todd Brix and the Impact of Windows Phone 7

Associated Press’ Windows Phone 7 news application

Thanks for clicking your way into the Microsoft Student Insider Feature Series, where I get the incredible opportunity to speak with some of the movers and shakers of Microsoft’s various product offerings. While at MIX 10 last week, Jeremy Bray (Microsoft’s Windows Student Insider) and I sat down with Senior Director of Product Management on the Mobile Communications Team, Todd Brix. As you may have already guessed, his dreams are pretty much filled with dancing Windows Phone 7 devices, touch screens aglitter. Let’s get right into what’s in store for us this coming holiday season.

Normally, these types of products have a specific target audience be it enterprise or casual. Brix claims that Microsoft is trying to create something that brings those two walks of life together.

“We’re trying to build an experience that spans their personal life, their work life and the fun and playful things they do around that all the time,” says Brix referring to the Windows Phone 7 target audience.”That’s really the genesis of what we’re doing.”

The Windows Phone 7 team has accomplished this through apps and services that blend the consumer with the professional with fun services like Xbox Live integration or Zune functionality and useful ones like the Microsoft Office hub, according to Brix. It would be interesting to see a business professional use a Windows Phone 7 device to pull up documents during a meeting using the Office service only to check his Gamerscore compared to his work buddies’ during lunch. More on what Windows Phone 7 means for you and I after the break.

Speaking of Zune, a good question is what is the fate of the quirky little music player in the face of the Windows Phone 7? According to Brix, Zune ain’t goin’ nowhere.

“The Zune experience is one that people want on their phone, which is why we brought the Zune audio and video playback experiences over to the Windows Phone,” Brix explains is the reason why Windows Phone 7 has Zune integration. “A lot of the [Zune] code is used in Windows Phone 7.”

However, Brix feels that there is going to be a market for people that want dedicated media playback devices. Why, you ask? Music fans like a lot of music.

“My Zune HD is 32 GB. I don’t know if there is going to be a 32 GB flash [memory] that’s going to be available from all of the OEMs, for example,” Brix contemplates. “So if I have a really large music collection, I might want a dedicated device.”

Microsoft plans to continue its support of the current Zune HD as well as with future versions of the device, according to Brix. Also, expect to see the Zune media marketplace service squeeze its way into various “screens and platforms”.

The Harvest on Windows Phone 7

Coming back to the star of the show, we all know it will support both Silverlight 4 and XNA Game Studio 4 as means to make Windows Phone 7 games. With two tool sets to create games, how will it be decided which games include Xbox Live integration?

“In terms of achievement and leader board integration, that’s only going to be available to what’s called ‘Xbox Live enabled games’,” Brix explains. “That’s a manager-publisher relationship we have between the Xbox Live Team and a set of publishers… and we’ll support both [Xbox Live and non-Xbox Live enabled games].”

According to Brix, Windows Phone 7 game developers will have the choice whether to go with Xbox Live integration when creating their games and other avenues of social integration will be supported such as Facebook Connect.

So, since a lot of games developed through XNA and Silverlight 4 can be quite identical regardless of platform (see The Harvest demos on both PC and Windows Phone), will we be able to buy a game or app once and have it translated across platforms? That’s a no-go, according to Brix. However, there will be ways to expand our game and application experiences across platforms.

“There’s going to be some interesting innovations that different partners will announce surrounding companion app experiences,” Brix alludes toward some interesting speculation. “So, maybe you buy a game for the Xbox [360] console… and by doing that you also get a free companion app experience that’s also available for Windows Phone 7.”

While this model already exists for many MMO titles such as Blizzard’s World of Warcraft Armory app, those both cost some coin and are pretty limited to games that already offer those services through a web browser. It’ll be interesting to see what developers think up to accompany games that generally don’t offer these services via the ether already. A Grand Theft Auto altered reality game (ARG), perhaps? I’d be so in (I need to get around to copyrighting this stuff).

While games are always fun, let’s get down to business. If you haven’t noticed by reading my reflections on MIX 10, I’m weirdly excited by Windows Phone 7’s “I’ll Be Late” calendar feature and was anxiously awaiting to find out exactly how it would work.

“We’ll be integrating calendars from a wide range of providers as well as all email accounts,” Brix divulges about how the feature will operate. “So, you’ll have one calendar that kind of shows you a merged view of your personal calendar appointments that you might have on Windows Live with your business appointments you have from your Exchange server, for example, and be able to see a unified view of that.”

Graphic.ly on Windows Phone 7

For you developers out there, Jeremy asked what the process would be like for getting your application or game approved and ready to sell or distribute on the Marketplace. According to Brix, Microsoft will both conduct and publish policy and technical tests that scan your app or game according to a set of criteria your product must pass before approval.

“We’ll go through and test each of those [policy criteria such as lewd content or potential malware presence], but we also publish those policies as well,” says Brix on how the process will work. “Here’s the criteria and here’s the tests… that you can go run yourself and know whether or not your application will be certified.”

So what type of lasting impact might the Windows Phone 7 have? Well, perhaps it will contribute to the survival of traditional news media through new and interesting advertising models.

“I think what you saw of the AP app [the Associated Press app demo during the keynote] is the example of a company taking advantage of the panorama design aspect, which introduces a whole new kind of user interaction model where people can relate and interact with content,” Brix speculates for the future. “I do think it’s a big opportunity, particularly for companies who focus on news and text activity to build those kind of experiences.”

According to Brix, every app — potentially including the awesome Graphic.ly comic app — that was demoed during the MIX 10 keynotes were built in three weeks or less. If this is what is capable in just that time, imagine if given months of development and design time. We shall see how Windows Phone 7 effect the future of not only mobile user experiences, but the fate of media driven technologies (and the media that support them).

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