My impression has been radically changed after MIX11. Microsoft have done a 180-degree and started listening, started caring; they have created an exciting new platform where I feel very welcome and included and have possibilities.
However, when I first looked in my inbox and saw an invitation from Nokia
to attend the MIX11 conference in the USA, I thought it might be a mistake, so
I asked several questions before accepting the invitation. I made a mistake,
thinking it was a Nokia conference where I was going, and groaned when I found
out that it was actually a Microsoft developer conference. The impression I had
of Microsoft was one of stern, strict, non-creative business people. Everywhere
I had ever been in the world and met Microsoft people, I always got the hand
held up saying, “We don’t fund apps.” And “We are not interested in fashion.
It’s too small of a niche market.” Not only that, but I discovered that the
conference was being held in Las Vegas—the city of sin—quite
fitting for a male orientated geek company. Although I knew that Nokia were in the midst
of creating an agreement with them, I was lamenting the lack of development of
Meego, thinking QT may be a wasted time, and the death of symbian.
As I waited in the airport of Chicago O’Hare working on some
projects, an African-American American Airlines baggage collector man sat at my
booth and we began talking. I told that I was off to meet Microsoft people and we talked about how was Microsoft going to turn around
the mobile industry and their "big corporate" brand image. The man said that he loved Google,
and Apple–he positively glowed when he talked about Google as if it were a religious experience. I asked him what his impression of Microsoft, he said they
were a big corporation that didn’t listen to what people wanted–they did not care about the user and he didn’t feel that they would listen to him or talk to him. He said that
that was their mistake: they didn’t listen to what the people wanted and they
gave the impression that they didn’t care. I continued on, wondering why Nokia was partnering with them when Forum Nokia was all about listening and interacting and supporting their developers.
On the 11th April was the opening of the
workshops and I attending the HTML5/CSS3 stream taught by Stephanie Sullivan.
Not only was I totally struck by the number of women in the audience who
clearly were web developers, Stephanie Sullivan was a brilliant presenter
giving a clear, practical breakdown of what HTML5 is and what CSS3 is capable
of, along with mapping out the possibilities of where it is all moving toward.
She gave code examples, tips, and reality checks. Everyone in the audience was
thrilled and asking to have a copy of her slides. When she announced she would
post them online I finally stopped snapping every one. The slide that was most
gripping for me was her five screen breakdown of the different layouts she
created for the one site. She recommended starting from the mobile up because
the mobile HTML5 site is the most simple and building up from nothing is easier
than trying to pair down from everything. Made total sense. She talked about
what were the HTML5 web standards that were not yet accepted by all browsers
and how to get around IE6 problems: she just tells the client that if they want
an exact copy they have to pay more, otherwise they are going to get something
paired down and simple. When I asked her after her workshop: web app or mobile
app, she said that she believed that a native web app was the way things were
going to go. And she said it really depends on the situation and where you are
designing geographically. The most thrilling fact that I found out from
Stephanie Sullivan is that she was a fashion model in the 80’s and modeled in
Italy and USA before she became consumed by coding. She is thrilling and a
great inspiration for me. Meeting her (besides windows 7 phone environment
which I will get to) was indeed the most thrilling event at the MIX11
conference. At 38 she decided to teach herself to code and she would never have
considered it if she had not been exposed to it by chance through a week course
she had to take for a job she was working on. I recorded her whole story here
along with her opinions of how the web and mobile are going forward.
Invigorated and after a great vegetarian marked lunch (such
a great surprise to have everything clearly marked with ingredients) I marched
off to the windows 7 phone workshop feeling a bit better. I had even found a
new friend who flew in from Perth, Australia to be at the event and was super enthusiastic.
The windows 7 phone workshop set it clearly in my mind that
Microsoft was indeed the best choice Nokia could make. I believe that it will
become a dominant phone operating system should they be able to work out their agreement. Microsoft has indeed taken their very
bad experience from windows mobile and turned it into a very unique, data
driven, user interface. Small details that set it clearly apart from the pack,
such as “the tilt” (when you press a button, it tilts at a corner), “the active
tiles” (they gave an example of the Quantas app which updates you and alerts
you that you’d better get a move on to the airport if you want to make your
flight, along with one touch to see your itinerary), “the panoramic scroll”
where the next items you can scroll horizontally to peek out at your giving a
little hint to the user that there’s more to see, and “the flip” where the
items wipe away one by one in a page turning effect. Sexy. Smart. At first I
was confused by the speaker saying, “If it’s not glass why try to make it look
like glass. If it’s not 3d why try to make it look 3D.” Later I understood that
he was talking about why the interface is flat 2D tile like instead of rounded
and button-ish like iPhone.
I left the workshop totally mind boggled and already
starting to dream up apps but perplexed as to how to start. It all seemed a bit
complicated compared to Adobe Flash Lite environment. You need at least three
programs to make any app: Visual Studio, Blend, and Silverlight. Later I found
out that you can do simple apps in Blend, but the sad part is you can’t buy
Blend separately. I think that this is a mistake on the part of Microsoft. If
they were to separate out the Blend/Sketchflow into a lower cost application
development zone, they could easily convert over Flash Lite programmers and
light weight web developers. They could open themselves up to not-so-techy application
developers who could easily create apps to compliment their websites, which is
of course the Adobe offering to web developers to create mobile applications
easily. I think that Microsoft would do well to appeal to people on this level.
I was invited to the Nokia VIP reception, which was a nice
networking event for Nokia Champions, Nokia administrators, and Nokia vendors.
I had the pleasure to meet Purmina from Forum Nokia, another great woman
shaping the face of technology. I think the way she is taking the situation in
hand with developers by creating a direct dialog with us. I greatly admire her,
not only for being one of the brilliant women in technology, but also for how
she keeps so calm in the face of this tremendous storm to turn the ship around
and calm the cabin crew. I met some new Nokia Champions whom I had not had the
pleasure to meet before, and found another friendly face to hang around with
for the next days and bounce ideas off of from a company called xxxx. It was a
great opportunity to talk directly to the head of Nokia China and set up a
meeting for when I returned to China to talk about Fashion and mobile. The way
Nokia is making it possible for the Nokia Champions to touch the decision
makers is helping to bring opportunity to these select developers.
The next day was abuzz with the Keynote speech anticipation.
Indeed, a Microsoft conference is very different from Le Web, Nokia World, and
other conferences and developer events. One could feel that the crowd was
excited and full of anticipation. The most interesting announcement in the
Keynotes, besides the windows 7 phone was the Microsoft Kinect. That really
sparked my attention as I see a lot of fashion application for this tool. They
even gave away a free Kinect to anyone attending the conference. Let’s see what
can be done with it.
On the Wednesday was a lunch set up for Women in Technology,
which thrilled me because I thought it was very forward thinking of Microsoft
to have such an event at the MIX11conference. I of course sat at the table with
my new icon, Stephanie Sullivan. The theme was to create Leggo depictions of
the problems involved with attracting Women to technology. I loved the Leggo
depictions—some of which were very involved. I write a longer post about the Women
and Technology lunch here.
Finally, there are some things that Microsoft could learn
from Nokia, in terms of improving their developer conference. They could have
more booths to showcase the host of talent at the conference. They could have a
better networking tool (the Silverlight tool on the website did absolutely
nothing: not one Microsoft emloyee had any contact information on their
profile—what is the point of that?), a mobile website with the streams and
schedule, a live running flickr stream, twitter stream, facebook connect mobile
website (maybe Stepanie could help you out with that for next year). They could
have more experts on hand (when I went to the Blend booth twice they had people
there that did not know the tool), and make connecting to Microsoft developer
community clearer. I only met them thanks to Nokia. They could have the Connect
Lounge working more to connect people and get discussions going by creating
PODS where a Microsoft employee would start a discussion. They could have more
coding games (I saw the one they had was very popular and even had a line in
front of the door—I think a lot of developers enjoyed that activity) which they
would then announce the winners publicly and give notoriety to in the
community. They could have booths where you could take the “mobile challenge”
or the “web challenge” or the “Kinect challenge” and win the software for
example. I think they need more notoriety events. I know everyone loved the
Open Source contest for example. It’s always great to get noticed by the
community and showcased for innovation along with winning some prizes.
Microsoft, take note from Purmina and Forum Nokia.
Overall, I left the MIX11 conference totally happy with
Nokia’s choice to go with windows 7 phone platform, the impression that the
winds of change are coming and Microsoft is on an upswing. Judging from how
many times Microsoft said “we listened to your requests and implemented this
feature and that feature. It still leaves me with doubts as per how fashion and
women will fit in with both Nokia and Microsoft relationship—so far it is
indeed iPhone which is the leader in that arena with the most fashion
applications than any other platform and a app store that is very sensitive to
respecting women and not having illicit or sexy content in their store. Still
the iPhone remains the “fashion gadget” and “feminine phone”. Both Nokia and
Microsoft do not have a very fashionable image or inclination. However, maybe
that’s why Nokia invited me there—to see what could be done in this new
exciting era we are approaching. I see a lot of potential and agree that this
is the right direction for Nokia.