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New 'Tango' low-end devices cannot run Background Tasks [Developers]

Earlier today we called attention to new changes being brought about with the release of Windows Phone SDK 7.1.1, the release supporting 'Tango' in all it's low-end/budget glory.

We also mentioned in that article that only 5% of apps wouldn't run in the new hardware configuration, which is down to the amount of memory they utilise whilst active. However looking over this msdn page  (opens in new tab)we wanted to make it crystal clear to our community that in fact there is a limitation for our new friend the Lumia 610: it won't run Background Tasks.

Specifically, generic background tasks are not supported for devices with 256MB of memory. A perfect example would be the background task used to update the live tile and cache in our own app. These types of tasks are known to developers as Periodic tasks and Resource Intensive tasks (if you want to understand the difference I recommend reading this overview (opens in new tab)). The potentially good news is that some types of background task, such as the background Audio agent which is used for playing music or podcasts after the app has been de-activated, look to be supported still.

A question therefore which I put to our readers, is this the first sign of platform fragmentation? Can we still state that "you get the same great Windows Phone experience on any handset"? Or is this a reasonable omission for the sweeter price spot?

Update: A quick clarification as some of our commenters aren't too sure, this does not affect fast app switching (part of the multitasking functionality) and nor does it affect push notifications which generate live tiles or toast messages. I'd also like to state that if apps make use of Background tasks Microsoft have provided methods for developers to identify when a "mid-tier" device is being used before trying to enable the task, thus allowing users to continue using all other features of the app in question.

Update 2: Justin Angel argues (very well) that this is not mobile fragmentation, as technically developers will write code once which can then be run on any Windows Phone platform, although developers may still be required to test for these mid-tier devices and run functions of their apps in accordance. Instead Justin suggests that this classifies as 'device differentiation', in the same way as not having a gyroscope or front facing camera in your device.

  • I know its all about the dollars but there comes a point where if you want a smartphone you have to just spend another $10.
  • Comment: Liked
  • The Lumia 710 is about €90 more expensive than the 610 will be. That's a 50% increase, which is hardly $10. This extra is more than a day's work for a lot of people in first world nations (including me) and probably a week or months worth in "developing" countries. 
  • It would cost the manufacture less than $5 to put 512MB ram in instead of 256MB.
  • That we agree on completely. I guess they're think they'll earn more this way or something. 
  • Ah, that's a bummer.
  • There is always going to be fragmention. The best thing MS can do is let consumers be aware of what this phone can and cant do.
  • Agreed
  • Unfortunately, mostly what it can't do...
  • This sucks, webos managed to multitask with 256 Mb of ram, same with Symbian and windows mobile
  • We should be clear this does not affect fast app switching/resume which is a large part of the multitasking in the OS
  • I don't like it at all. People who want smart phones are willing to pay a lofty bill for data plans would surely have enough money for nicer phones anyways. The news if this and also the update that carriers can block any update really worries me. Then again, apple has some missing features such a siri on older generation phones but multitasking and live tile support are a essential part of what makes windows phone what it is. Sad.
  • I don't see where it says that this kills multitasking. Fast App Switching is still present.
  • It is possible to own a smartphone with only a prepaid dataplan and wifi in certain strategic places, isn't it? 
  • Agreed. It really boils down to educating the consumer through the point of sale, be it online materials or the in store salespersons. The worst thing that could happen here is the consumer thinking that this WAS a full featured Windows Phone. Nothing spreads faster than bad publicity. And bad incorrect publicity for the platform would not be good for growth at this stage.
  • This is likely going to lead to some unhappy customers since we all know that cell phone salesmen can't be trusted to tell the truth (or even know the truth). Maybe Microsoft will call these Tango phones "Windows Phone 7 Starter" or something to denote its lower level of functionality.
  • Well most of us that had windows phone from day one didn't have apps with live tiles yet we still loved windows phones.....hey if I could get one of these with att unlimited feature phone plans I'd sign up.
  • Is it at all possible that this limitation that seems to kills Live Tiles, which is a huge part of what makes WP7 awesome, can be a temporary thing until Apollo brings in the new Kernel which should theoretically allow this due to its small footprint.
  • I'm hoping there would be a some sort of notification center included in Tango. This backgroundless tradeoff has some potential to break a main selling point for wp7 (live tiles). Lets hope there's more to this. On the other hand this would still be an awesome phone at 200 dollars without contract.
  • Push notification live tiles won't be affected by this, nor will tiles updated whilst the app is running
  • Because your more familiar with these sort of things then I am, If the live tiles, push notifications, fast app switching and background music player won't be effected what exactly does this limitation limit?
  • Some live tiles will be affected, if the developer has used a background agent to update the live tile. Ultimately, periodic tasks can run for a max of 15 seconds and run once every 30-60 minutes on the phone, during the 15 seconds of run time us developers can do a fair amount with them. Most will download new content so it's cached ready for the next time you load the app. A lot will update the live tile with the new content. Of course there are many other ways the periodic task could be used should the developer have some useful result in mind. However, the other way to achieve a live tile is through push notifications, where information is pushed out from a service to any phones which are subscribed to retrieve them. This information can also be used to update a tile or display a message, and is not limited to running once every 30-60 minutes. This type of live tile update would still work on the mid-range 256MB devices. Hope that's clear, it's pretty late as I type this...
  • Thank Jay, your the best and that's an excellent description. See ya on your next podcast :)
  • I'd take that the WPCentral app probably won't work with the 610 then.
  • How so? He wrote exactly what is affected, the live tile, push notification, and app data caching.
  • Spot on, and guaranteed that I'll send out an update before then to optimise for the lower specs and notify the right users that they won't have certain festures
  • the downside is that what is advertised won't always be what's delievered
    that leads to dissapointment
    There needs to be a difference in the brand.  WP7lite?
  • I would be annoyed if my live tiles stopped updating. But, does it matter to someone in, say, some very rural ex-Soviet place who gets their first smartphone? Or, for that matter, someone in the west who lacks the regular income stability needed to sign a proper contract and who has to dig deep to buy the phone retail with a prepaid card?
  • How about a WP update that adds functionality, rather than creates an exhaustive list of existing functionality that manufacturers are now free to omit?
  • Tango does add the multiple message attachment to SMS feature, which apparently some people have been clamoring for.
  • I think this is a horrible decision. This will just continue to fragment and confuse users looking to purchase into the WP environment. Fragmentation and confusion is not how you're going to get a platform to gain traction in this day and age.
  • "continue to fragment"... When did it start? Ppl do love doom and gloom...
  • I believe the original article said live tiles would not work. That appears to not be the case and I more or less retract my statement. I still don't believe Microsoft and Nokia should participate in the race to the bottom, although it appears there is a lot of money to be made there.
  • This is NOT fragmentation - this is feature differentiation: there are high-end phones with more software features supported, and there are cheaper phones with less features supported. Just like PCs, tablets, cars, etc.
    Fragmentation is when phones are left behind without updates 6 months after release; fragmentation is when developers cannot use new APIs because majority of the phones don't support them.
  • And by the way, Tango supports live tile updates via push notifications - aka the 'proper' way that does not involve extra code running on the phone.
  • I agree with you, I'd actually love it if Microsoft provided a push notification infrastructure rather than asking us to host it ourselves. But I don't see that happening
  • They already host the most important bit...
  • Assuming you mean the Azure platform, true, but require us to buy instances etc, I'd like to see a nice simple push framework that we could hook into without the need to write up an Azure module and deploy it etc. But I realise that's a lot to ask!
  • No, that's not what I meant at all - Microsoft hosts push notifications servers that can be connected to by third-party web services to schedule and deliver notifications. Since you already have a powerful web server for WPCentral, I don't see why you couldn't support push also.
  • Pick nits about terminology all you want. The fact of the matter is, excessive amounts of choice just confuses the masses. They'll get information overload and just go with what their friends have (iOS or Android) Android has the bottom of the barrel segment already. I don't think Microsoft should be racing to the bottom.
  • I got to agree with boarder2, to a certain extent. It should just be able to have 512 RAM. It shouldn't be much cost difference. :/
  • High-end phones with single core CPU, a crappy Adreno GPU and 512m of RAM and 16gb for storage. It's a nice high-end spec. For 2009...
  • Ok, so since the beginning we are using a generation(s) old hardware in order to prevent fragmentation, and now, in 2012, when the iPhone has a dual-core CPU and quad-core Android are coming, MS decides it's time to allow fragmentation for an even lower spec than the current one?
    I'm done with WP7. I love the OS, the UI et. al, but I can't pay $500+ in a Lumia 800 or Titan which under the hood is basically the same thing of my old Optimus 7 without feel riped-off.
    I will wait for WP8, but no more WP7 for me. I'm tired to be a beta-tester.
  • This won't affect you purchasing the Lumia 800, which is an awesome device that I absolutely adore
  • JayTBennett, English is not my native language so I can't say the things well.
    What I am trying to say is I would love to see MS thinking forward. I think it's about time to have the option to buy a dual core WP7 with a decent GPU to see new games coming, the battery life improving and specially, the "safety" to know that a $500 WP7 of today will still have a nice performance in 2013/14 with the incoming updates.
    If we still are seeing Single core CPUs, basic Adrenos and 512gb ram until today in order to avoid fragmentation, now with this even lower spec MS lost their excuse, so bring us some REAL hi-end devides ;)
  • perfect example of marketing brainwashing people with useless un-needed specs.
    Spliter cell came out on Android phone with duel-core . we got it on single core ( same graphics and probably less lag) sure we dont have REAL RACING from Iphone... but what other game actually NEEDS duel-core 1G RAM ect... NONE!
  • Twinblades 2 :(
  • I think you should do yourself a favour and get a droid phone, we speak like a true droid user. Specs! Omg... Specs!
  • That's impossible. The CPU in the NEW 7.5 devices are much faster at the same clock speed.
  • I never really liked apps using Background Agents to update live tiles. I think Push Notifications are the appropriate mechanism to do this. Background Agents are essentially polling for updates, just seems inefficient when updates can be pushed instead.
  • ¨Specifically, generic background tasks are not supported for devices with 256MB of memory.¨ So, I think that the OS Live Tiles (like Me Tile) will continues equals today. Only third party apps will not. I will miss only wheather apps. :(
    Maybe, who knows, the OEM apps will continues support backgroung taks too.
  • no. 3rd party live tiles still work. they work trough push. like weather apps, a perfect example.
    live tiles worked before background processes even existed (everything pre mango).
  • I hate to be negative, but in my experience working with users, we are going to see a lot of irritaged users when the low-end devices roll out.
    If I had apps in Marketplace that featured Live Tiles or toasts, I'd be updating my descriptions now to indicate reduced functionality, and hope that will be enough to avoid getting slammed with a bunch of 1-star ratings from users wondering why the functionality is broken on their phone.
    IMO, if all it takes is 512 MB of storage to avoid situation, then 512 MB should be the required minimum storage size, even for low-end phones. The Windows Phone brand really doesn't need the bad press from an issue that is totally avoidable.
  • live tiles are not affected as long as they're push livetiles, means the ones who get info the moment there is info (like "new mail count" gets updated, etc).
    only if the app wants to run repeatetly in the background, it can't do that anymore. in my case, that affects an app that updates my location with help of a background process. typical apps like fb, news apps, weather apps, etc can still work perfectly fine.
    this affects BACKGROUND PROCESSES. not live tiles or toasts.
  • What a lot of people are not understanding is that this phone will be unheard of to most of us in a couple months. This is for developing countries. Not people who have much of an option or care that it's not exactly the same experience.
  • You do realize that these specifications are aimed at Developing/Emerging markets. Therefore, the "fragmentation" we will probably be the same for everyone in that particular market. So, if a customer goes to a store to choose a device, they're most likely to all be Tango devices, all with the same limitations. Also, I would keep in mind that the carrier networks in these markets may not be so great and the low specs and data usage of the devices is a reflection of that.
  • Doesn't seem to be a big deal. Does not affect tiles or fast app switching. If you had to remove something which will leads to a noticeable difference between low end and mid range, this isn't a bad choice. I suspect the alternative would of been a lot fewer compatible apps on 256mb devices.
  • Its depending how you swing the word. I say no, its not defragmentation.
  • Interesting article...
    I think something is being missed in this conversation, and that is the market's which "Tango" will be targeted at. 
    These low specs are to make the phones cheap, and to allow Nokia to make enrodes against Android in developing countries, like Kenya.  I mention Kenya because of this ZDNET article: "Windows Phone prospects in the developing world | ZDNet "
    In it, the author notes that most buyers purchase their phone without a contract, making a low up front cost an important thing.  He then goes on to say that one of the biggest expenses of a smartphone is the data plan, and most of the carriers offer data on a prepaid basis, and it's still expensive.
    Now say you have a high end "non-tango Phone" and have the Pre-paid data, with all the background tasks, and live tiles updating, you could blow through your data limit, and get socked with overages(if you have that), or if you are paying on a per byte basis, you would be charged for that updating, even when you aren't using your phone.  But then you have a "Tango" phone, because generic background services are disabled, you don't have to fear using all of that data.  But if you wanted to stream music/podcasts, you could.
    Also, if I'm reading the Windows Phone developer blog right, even if you target "Tango" with your app, if you run that App on a higher end phone, it will automatically take advantage of that new memory.
    Thanks for reading!
  • @J4rrod I'm not pissed because of these phones. I'm pissed because when I expect MS will finally come with a TRUE hi-end spec, they came with this.
    I was waiting a phone with dual-core CPU, a decent GPU, 1gb RAM and 32gb storage to replace my aging Optimus 7, and not because I'm a spec-whore, it's because I want a phone to last at least 2 years, after all, for the price they are asking for those "hi-end" WP7 now, you can buy an Atrix or Galaxy SII.
    I have a Xoom and I know how much Android sux, but at least I see Google going forward, not backwards. The only thing I want is to see MS going forward too, nothing more.
  • You should have known that was coming with Apollo. Everyone else did.
    Tango is necessary for Nokia. They have a huge marketshare primarily because of devices like this.
  • I think MSFT has put some effort into planning this release by launching it about three quarters of the time between the initial release and Apollo. Whispers about the next generation will become more frequent, and by this summer we will probably be seeing leaked specs from devolopment devices and so on and people will be looking forward rather than backward at this segment.
  • Feel better after yelling?
  • Tired of people getting mad over nothin'
  • First of all, while it's true that Android is gaining popularity among technology enthusiasts, like us, due to the dual-core and quad-core phone models that are being released, those aren't the phone models that are driving marketshare. Think about it - the Samsung Galaxy S II "only" sold 10 million devices... That's about 12 days worth of Android sales, given the 850,000 activations per day. Low-end Android devices that come in uncontrolled varied hardware specifications and experience are the driving force behind the OS. Microsoft is simply making an equivalent of those phones, in terms of price points, while minimizing the impact on user experience. At USD 250 with no contract, the Lumia 610 delivers almost all of the usual Windows Phone experience. Can you honestly say that about Android phones that cost the same? An Android phone at that price point* will have a 600 - 800 MHz processor, a QVGA  - HVGA screen, and most likely a 3 Mpx - 5 Mpx camera with no autofocus. And we all know how an Android phone with a 800 MHz processor with 256 MB performs (clue: no where as smooth as a similarly specced Windows Phone). Let's put it this way, if Tango can bring in more Windows Phone users, then Microsoft will most definitely end up putting more resources on the mobile OS, which would in turn speed up and improve the development of Apollo, and ultimately convince premium OEMs like HTC, Nokia, and Samsung, to bring devices for technology enthusiasts, like us. *Examples: Samsung Galaxy Fit, HTC Wildfire S, LG Optimus Me, etc.
  • If I understand this with background task correctly, it's what you administer on the settings page for applications. I have only a weather app active now, but think some mapping/tracking sw also need it. It would consume memory, so it is sensible to disallow it w 256mb. I still want a 610 for my eight year old.
  • You do understand correctly
  • OFFICIAL WPCENTRAL APP runs in the background :(  JAY better get to work on a low end app :P  hehehe
  • Yeah yeah I'm working on it... :P
  • Well all the apps will work, just not in the way you want then to. I wouldn't call it fragmentation until there are apps "limited" to a device because of it's hardware.
  • Metro interface featuring live tiles; now without live tiles. Wasn't this the whole point of metro? Push doesn't count.
  • why doesn't push count? because that's the primary way to handle live tiles. background tasks are not the way one should update live tiles, partially because they are not live, but only infrequently running.
    and live tiles, the big feature of wp7 where there before mango, hence before background tasks existed.
  • I am so surprised at the worry expressed.
    Live Tiles could still work from inside the app. So a messages or pictures could still be put on a tile once the app is open.
    Background agent. Just runs a bit of code for 15secs per app per half hour. It can then update the tile. You can already turn these off yourself. They also downloads stuff when on charge for 10mins, so an app can do some harder work. This could be say all of the day news stories and images for offline viewing.... but a well written app will no doubt look again for news once opened. 
    So all in all not a big deal. I don’t think this phone is for people worried about upto date news feeds on live tiles. I think its for soccer moms who wont notice that the tile updated after an app was opened and not by itself.
    On top of that, I bet first party apps like eBay do still support background agents. They're just stopping it for of the street devs so that phone doest get bogged down.
    Also Windows 7.5 doesn’t support a many high spec things people are asking for.... new phones will be shown off at when Apollo is done. Even if a phone were shown off with a much faster CPU and a gigs of RAM what is the point in having it now? Just so you can load Bug Village 4 secs faster? Having high spec now is pointless, it would be like owning a Rocket car with no Fuel. 
  • Wait, will this affect live tiles? Sorry for being dumb but that's what I got from the article.
  • No, live tiles will still work via push notifications, just like WP did before Mango.
  • I don't have time to read all the comments so I don't know if this has been mentioned before, but since the article mentions live tiles functionality, I though I'd give my 2 cents. Background agents have nothing to do with live tiles from a developer perspective (at least not directly). A tile can be updated while an app is running, by the app itself. What happens if it's not running though? An option at that point is to run a background agent, which means that essentially an app will be active every X amount of time, thus you go back to the previous point (i.e. update the tile when the app is active). There is another way though, which is tile notifications (different from toast notifications). This means that a server will need to push the updated tile info to the device.
    Background agents are much more powerful than just updating live tiles, and the two are not connected in the way that many readers think. If an app uses background agents just for setting live tiles, I believe there will be workarounds (or MS can even enable an API that offers  a live tile agent). Worst case scenario, an app can update its tile only when it launches. On the other hand, it makes sense I guess disabling the full background agents, since having apps run in the background consistently is not a good idea on lower-specced devices.
  • This is ridiculous. 256MB of RAM costs less than $5. Just make the minimum 512MB and avoid this crap. What is Microsoft thinking?
  • Another person who can't read
  • I can't see this being a deal-breaker for most people. We only got Background Agents when Mango was released and we didn't have much need for them before that. Now that we have them, I've had to disable all but the HTC hub weather task as they tend to drain the battery, for little benefit.
  • Hey Jay - I think you should do a followup post that summarizes in simple point form the changes, as it seems that people are unnecessarily freaking out and not really understanding the live tile situation.
  • Bad move, Microsoft! People want consistent experience. This starts to look like different variations of Office suite.
  • I totally agree!
    Sasha @ Bow front aquariums
  • me too best food slicer
  • How about MS cut down on the cost of the OS itself, and we can have 1 GB of RAM for the same price.
    WP is still going nowhere. Too bloody expensive visavi performance, and not a single hardware feature that will entice buyers. Most exciting thing in the last couple of months = cutting RAM in half. Good night and goodbye WP.