Engadget has just posted a piece on how Microsoft is “only” releasing Windows Phone 7 in five languages and how they’re omitting and/or limiting XBox Live, Zune and Windows Phone Marketplace for other languages (at least for now).
I’ll discuss the challenges Microsoft faces with the global rollout of its XBox Live and Zune services for Windows Phone 7 in a later post.
In this post I’ll discuss the challenges of globalizing the Windows Phone 7 user experience:
Global Text layout 101
Most printed text today is flowed horizontally across the page/screen, from top to bottom.
This is true for most Alphabetical writing systems such as Latin-based languages (e.g. English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Greek) where text is read left to right, from top to bottom (LRTB):
Languages such as Arabic and Hebrew flow text right to left (RLTB):
Although many (primarily East-Asian) Logographic languages have a long tradition of flowing text vertically (e.g. Chinese, Korean), most modern dialects of these languages primarily print the majority of their text horizontally left to right, from top to bottom (LRTB):
However, some languages continue to flow text vertically for more traditional or formal documents, signage, envelope addresses, business cards, etc.
Other languages, such as some used in the Philippines, are read from the bottom of the page upwards.
How does this affect the Windows Phone 7 User Experience?
For the Windows Phone 7 user experience (called “Metro”), Microsoft drew inspiration from the primarily textual themes, adorned with simple iconography, that we’re exposed to daily in our every-day life:
Text is used throughout the Metro experience to not only describe each activity, operation and page. In Windows Phone 7, application experiences expose a horizontal panorama between multiple “pages” of a given experience:
Within a given panoramic “page”, one sees the edge of the text and items on the page to the left or right, visually indicating to the user that there’s more to see if one wipes one’s finger to the right or left:
Note also that the title of the current “page” often exceeds the width of the page to indicate there’s more room on the right, encouraging users to pan horizontally.
While this is a fresh, compelling and highly engaging user experience, it offers obvious challenges when it comes to globalizing the Windows Phone experience. How will this user experience handle right-to-left languages such as Arabic and Hebrew? How will the user experiences support Logographic languages such as Chinese and Japanese? What happens when you run a French (LR) application on an Arabic (RL) Windows Phone?
Rather than trying to solve these problems prior to the launch of Windows Phone7, Microsoft is choosing to support Latin-based LRTB languages at launch. Support for other languages will be delivered incrementally in subsequent updates.
I applaud Microsoft for NOT trying to boil the ocean: It’s not yet clear how the challenges of globalizing the Windows Phone 7 user experience are to be solved. Why make the rest of the market wait until they have solved all these problems? Doing so would be crazy!
Microsoft is doing the right thing in releasing Windows Phone 7 for Latin-based languages first and adding support for other languages later. It may be frustrating to those interested in Windows Phone 7’s “Metro” user experience who will not see local language support at RTM, but an incremental approach and product rollout is the best approach Microsoft could take.
If you feel strongly that you want Microsoft to support your language, be sure to contact your local Microsoft subsidiary and make your voice heard. Contrary to commonly expressed opinion, the company DOES listen!