Interview with Jay Ongg of Microsoft on the Shadow and Neo

We sat down this week for a virtual interview with Jay Ongg, a Senior Development Lead at Microsoft in the Windows Mobile Team to discuss Windows Mobile and new developments his team has finished creating.

Jay’s group recently completed the new Neo interface for T-Mobile’s Shadow smartphone, which is powered by Windows Mobile 6 Standard . This new interface is graphically stunning and yet is no iPhone imitator (which wouldn’t be possible as they were developing it long before the iPhone released). It’s made this class of smartphone far easily and more enjoyable to use. So much so that T-Mobile has declared this new phone part of a ‘Fun’ line of phones.

Read on for the full interview!
GadgetNutz: Please introduce yourself and tell us about your background and what you do at Microsoft.

Jay Ongg: I’m Jay Ongg, and I am a senior development lead at Microsoft I work in the Windows Mobile Devices team, where we ship most of the WM versions out there. Sometimes I work on features/fixes in order to ship specific devices, but I also work on generic platform enhancements Our team listens to customers for features to enhance Windows Mobile. I grew up in New York, got a Bachelor’s and Master’s from MIT, and worked at two startups before joining Microsoft. I’m happy to be here.

GN: Sounds like you have a varied background – tell us, what are some of the best things about working at Microsoft? Other than being guaranteed a position in the new world order of course.

JO: I think that Microsoft is a fun place to work, but it depends on the group. Like any big company, there are different cultures across groups and divisions That said, I think Mobile Devices is a great area, and oftentimes I get to see the types of work involved in getting a device out there into the market. Not to mention, it’s fun to have these little gadgets around.

GN: Will Neo be made available for current Windows Mobile-based phones or will it only be available for future phone releases?

JO: Neo was targeted and built for T-Mobile, so it will be a T-Mobile only release.

GN: With the recent integration of voice commands into Live Search – how will voice commands and voice recognition be integrated in the rest of the interface?

JO: I’m not involved with the voice command effort in Windows Mobile, so I’m not sure what we will do in the future Remember that Microsoft is big, even the Windows Mobile division.

GN: Exchange seems to be more difficult to configure in Windows Mobile than BlackBerry BIS and BES – are there plans to make exchange a more user friendly experience for the end user?

JO: Windows Mobile is constantly looking on improving usability This can be seen on recent WM6 devices that have come out, where we introduced a new email setup wizard. Expect more improvements in this area since we are going to continue improving our usability story throughout the device.

GN: I’ve been looking everywhere for something to improve the dialing/callerID screens! These tiny icons just don’t look good anymore. Any plans to integrate dialing and caller ID screens into Neo with contact photos made larger and make this part of the user experience more visual?

JO: Well, the dialing/callerID screens are not part of the homescreen (thus not part of Neo) Microsoft does provide hooks for OEMs to hook into, and they have the ability to make the caller ID screens bigger/better/nicer. But as modern phone hardware improves (especially in terms of RAM and battery life), we will take advantage of it.

GN: Will a copy/paste feature, like Vito Copy/Paste, ever be integrated into Windows Mobile (non-touchscreen)?

JO: Cut/copy/paste is an interesting feature on Smartphone, and something that has been investigated before, however if we do it on a non-touch screen device, we need to take the time to ensure that it is done in an accessible and intuitive manner. We definitely hear the users’ pain on this.

GN: Are there more interfaces in the works or is Neo the focus for now? Will Neo make it to touch screen-based devices?

JO: Neo was a partner engagement with T-Mobile, something that we’re very proud of Currently we can’t discuss any future plans surrounding this brand new device/software.

GN: How much was HTC involved? It seems like they do a lot to push enhancing of Windows Mobile across much of their product line.

JO: Yes, HTC is great in general with our devices For the Neo homescreen, the behavior was driven by T-Mobile requirements, as well as our User Experience team HTC drove the rest of the device.

GN: Will the plugin architecture of Neo be documented so that other people can supply more features (such as Weather display, program launcher, etc)?

JO: Right now Neo isn’t extensible by ISVs. Remember that this is a V1 product and once there is more adoption of the device/interface, extensibility by third parties might be more feasible (greater impact to the community in return for the effort to allow extensibility).

GN: What do you see as the advantages of Windows Mobile compared to the iPhone and to BlackBerry and Symbian OS systems?

JO: One of the biggest advantages WM has over the other OS’s is the dev platform The SDK is free and usable once you have Visual Studio. You can write code for it in multiple languages (any .Net language, or C++, Java, etc.). There is a pool of millions of Windows developers out there who will only need to pick up a few device/tool-specific skills in order to hit the ground running with Windows Mobile development In fact, if you’re a C++ developer, contact me for a job.

A corollary with this is that there are thousands of applications that work on Windows Mobile. So you can find almost anything you want Businesses benefit by having quick ramp-up time for developers for in-house apps as well.

Windows Mobile has a solid story when working with different carriers and networks, as well as e-mail providers It integrates with Windows Live (IM and e-mail) easily On my device, I personally use e-mail, Live Search, Contacts, and Internet Explorer the most. If I’m somewhere in line, and have 5 minutes to kill, I just whip out the device and browse the web or respond to some e-mails.

GN: Was Neo a response to the iPhone or did it come out of the increased visual nature of Windows Vista and other Microsoft products?

JO: Believe it or not, even though many pundits think that Neo was created to combat the iPhone, that’s not the case. Given ship cycles, dev/test time, and release processes, we wouldn’t have had time to spin up a project and ship it by now if we started after the iPhone shipped The iPhone actually was announced in the middle of Neo development.

GN: Can any of the default applications (such as Web Browser) be replaced to call other applications (Such as Opera, Opera Mini, Netfront)?

JO: Right now, Neo calls browsers specifically as per T-Mobile’s requirements (such the WAP browser to hit t-zones) There’s no supported way to change this.

GN: Although the recent version 6 has been faster, the Windows Mobile OS seems to be somewhat slower to process tasks that are quicker in other Mobile OS systems, like the Blackberry OS. Will this continue to be addressed in future versions?

JO: Performance has been something that Windows Mobile has, and always will be concerned with. Our team has been working hard to improve it. This applies to both device speed/UI as well as stability and device health in general.

GN: Finally – let me extend a big thank you to you for taking time out of your schedule to answer our questions. Please, also let everyone on the Windows Mobile Team know that we thank them as well.

JO: You’re welcome! Thanks for this opportunity.

The following images are development graphics from various stages during the development of Neo – these were released on the internet freely and were not provided by Jay Oong.

Written by Kermit