Microsoft's Silverlight for mobile to muscle iPhone
Zoomier, touchier, less Appley
Mix 09 The planned mobile edition of Microsoft's Silverlight media player is shaping up to be a touchy-feely alternative to Apple's iPhone.
Microsoft has told The Reg that Silverlight for Mobile will now include all the features found on Silverlight for the desktop, including Deep Zoom , which lets you keep drilling and drilling into a picture while retaining crystal-sharp clarity on minute details.
Scott Guthrie, vice president of the .NET development platform, told us unequivocally: "Deep Zoom will be in. Our goal is to keep the experience between desktop and mobile basically the same."
Last October, when we spoke to the Silverlight for mobile team at Microsoft's Professional Developer Conference (PDC) a big question mark  was hanging over Deep Zoom's inclusion. The problem was Microsoft felt issues like latency on a mobile phone network combined with limited processing on the handset could slow down the zooming effect crippling the user's "experience."
What appears to be changing the equation is Silverlight 3, released to beta this week at Microsoft's Mix 09. Silverlight 3 introduces hardware acceleration missing in previous versions, something Microsoft apparently feels can overcome local processing issues.
Silverlight 3 also introduced support for multi-touch - the ability to poke and pull applications, as you would on the iPhone using two fingers, for example. Other features in Silverlight 3 would help particularly when it comes to streaming video. Smooth Streaming detects and automatically switches video quality based on CPU and bandwidth.
Multi-touch combined with Deep Zoom would raise the prospect of drilling into things like maps or photos on phone, as you can on the iPhone.
"The nice thing about Deep Zoom and one of the reasons it is compelling is you can start with a very small image or asset and as you go in you are not pulling in the entire image. You are just pulling in a tile for that region. If anything, Deep Zoom is more relevant for mobile," Guthrie said.
"Something like Deep Zoom coupled with hardware acceleration and multi-touch means you can start to do some pretty interesting things on the phone."
Windows and beyond
This touchy, stretchy platform would potentially not be limited to just Windows-Mobile devices, as Silverlight is browser-based so can straddle devices. Also, Microsoft is conducting a large private beta that includes different handset manufactures, service providers, and operating-system companies. Nokia, meanwhile, has already said it would put Silverlight on its handsets, which opens the prospect of Silverlight on Symbian.
As for Windows, Microsoft has already discussed Windows Mobile 6.5 as having touch, but it hasn't gone into too many details. This is really coming across as a point release, though, with attention already focusing on its successor operating system, Windows Mobile 7.0.
In a further change from last October, meanwhile, Microsoft has decided against a public beta of Silverlight for mobile this quarter.
Guthrie said Microsoft felt "pretty good" about the feedback it's getting from the private beta. He would not provide a date of a public beta.
Things could still change on the features that go into Silverlight for mobile, given this is a pre-beta, and especially given the thinking last October was different.
Microsoft, though, is under twin pressures. First, its own: to deliver a player that isn't fragmented, lets developers use the same tools and techniques, and lets users work with Silverlight, exactly the same on mobile and desktop. Even slightly different players would not allow this to happen.
The other pressure would be coming from demanding phone, service, and software companies. Lumpen experience is not tolerated in this consumer-facing world, where the price to entry is a system that's pretty much invisible. It must reliably serve up video and data to a broad audience.
In a world where handset manufactures and service providers have struggled to find a decent alternative to Apple and the iPhone, Microsoft and Silverlight could be their hope. ®