The ugly side of Windows Phone 7: Marketplace

Before I start my rant, let me preface this post by saying that I do really like WP7, from a consumer perspective (it's very responsive, good looking, and just plain fun to use) and a developer perspective (language and tools are a breeze to use, there's a lot of helpful info online, and the community is great).

However, it's not all good. There are some severe limitations to what is allowed. For example, there's no third party multitasking, no raw socket access, and no clipboard. Yes, at the very least the clipboard thing will be addressed in the first update sometime in early 2011, I know. These limitations, however, are due to a very demanding schedule of releasing a completely redesigned mobile operating system. In other words, they're understandable, and they will be fixed in future updates.

But there is another limitation that is not so understandable. It cannot be attributed to the release schedule of the OS because it is not new. It is, as the title of this post suggests, the Marketplace. It has existed officially since 2009 and leaks of it have been seen since 2008. And yet, this software is still unrefined. More than that, it's buggy.

Let's start with the consumer perspective. The biggest issue is random freezing in the Marketplace app. This happened all the time with the pre-production device I had (but I can't complain about that - it's pre-production after all) and it still happens with my production device today! It's especially evident in areas of bad reception. When scrolling down a list of apps, the Marketplace freezes (hangs) until the next part of the list is downloaded. Sometimes this works properly and I get to the bottom of the list, where the "Loading..." text resides, but most of the time it freezes in the middle of me trying to scroll down, which is extremely irritating, to say the least. It baffles me that such a bug got through QA.

Another major consumer issue is search. One would think that it would have been fixed by now, after all the problems that were experienced with Windows Mobile 6.5 Marketplace searching, but no. Keyword search still doesn't work. Also, for some reason, searching in a subsection of the Marketplace brings up results for all apps and games as well as Zune music, with no apparent section bias, which tends to result in a huge number of entries through which the user has to sift in order to find what they were actually looking for.

The last consumer issue is the lack of an official Web-based app viewer. Yes, there's the Bing Visual Search with its astounding lack of deep linking, and the various third party app viewer websites, but an official one is sorely missing. Since one exists for Windows Mobile 6.5, I assume this omission is scheduling-related.

Finally, let's move on to the developer perspective. For the most part, I've been pleased with how easy it is to submit an app. The Silverlight-enhanced wizard actually seems to have been designed well. However, there are other issues. One is that developer verification is completely screwed up. There are forum posts all over the App Hub from developers complaining of being stuck at one stage or another. Personally, I'm stuck at the stage of verifying bank information. According to a forum post that I can't find at the moment, that error is normal and will go away upon the first payout. That's just idiotic and reeks of awful coding and/or policies. Most organizations, when trying to verify bank account information, do one or two sub-dollar credits and immediately debit them back, and ask the user to verify the amounts of those credits. Microsoft, apparently, doesn't want to do that, and will instead verify bank details when it's actually time to pay the developer. Not very professional, especially if there end up being verification issues.

Another problem is that app "fulfillment" tracking is, well, non-functional. According to yet another forum post, it will become functional in January 2011. Why? Nobody knows. If I didn't have any way of tracking app usage for Network Suite, I'd be extremely angry. As it happens, I do have a way to do that, since most requests have to go through my server, and I can log them to the extent of figuring out unique users. So I'm less upset about that than I could have been.

Overall, the Windows Phone Marketplace is a disappointment right now, but if Microsoft really is serious about WP7 (and I believe they are) then these issues should be fixed pretty darn quickly.

EDIT: I forgot to mention the most infuriating consumer-side bug. When viewing screenshots, they rotate (and consequently resize) with the phone's orientation. That shouldn't be happening because, chances are, if you're trying to look at a screenshot horizontally, it's probably a landscape-mode one!

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