Microsoft just launched its Windows Phone 7 Series, a new version of its mobile OS that features a completely new user interface, based on the lessons learned with the Zune HD. By the way, this might be the greatest contribution of the Zune HD to the world… So how is Windows Phone 7 and should you keep an eye on it?
Just like so many had hoped for the past year, Microsoft has been building upon its Zune HD experience (and possibly codebase) to provide a faster, more responsive user interface. Today’s demo was convincing, and while it was hard to judge without using the phone itself, things were were certainly fast enough! (The phone was connected to a big display via USB). I suspect that it will be comparable to the Zune HD and it is possible that Windows Phone 7 Series might actually be as responsive or more responsive than the iPhone 3GS.
The user interface is based on “tiles” that are visually simple to process and friendly for fingers. It is also consistent will all the applications, from the photo album to Xbox Live – it’s a clean break from Windows Mobile 6.x.
For HTC user interface fans: I think that it is dead. It has served its purpose, but although it is shiny, I’m afraid that Windows Phone 7 is better.
Apps, Social Networks and services
Microsoft gets it now: opening up little and integrating non-Microsoft services is a good thing. People care about Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, etc… and Microsoft seems ready to add whatever is necessary to provide a good user experience. This is good and we’ll have to see just how open they will be, but so far it looks like most of the very popular stuff has been covered.
Some of you might wonder if Microsoft has a centralized service like Motoblur: they don’t. All the data requests are done directly from the device to the different services. While this might be lighter than a centralized service, it might also be more taxing on the battery if you do sync to a lot of services. On the other hand, you really get real-time data for all services, which is not the case with Motoblur. Microsoft has assured us that they have been working really hard to make the process efficient.
I expect Microsoft to be much more “open” than Apple is when it comes to apps. The hope is that things like Google Voice and Skype over 3G will be available.
Microsoft has been very clear that it will seek consistency from all its hardware partners. I have been told that a better qualification process will also make sure that consistency is indeed respected for all devices. When I asked if we would see devices with a physical keyboard, I could not get a straight answer. I understand that the launch is still far away, but the devices have to be designed in the next few months – so knowing if QWERTY keyboards are allowed (or not) should be very important today. We will see, but I was surprised that keyboard-based devices were not a “no-brainer”. (Please build keyboard devices!)
Nothing was demonstrated, but we do know that Xbox Live is supported, so it is now possible to play (in some ways) with other people from different platforms (PC, Xbox, Winmo7) – or you could also imagine that you continue playing, in a different form, when leaving your home.
Bing and Maps
Obviously, Microsoft is using its own search and mapping services. I’m not a fan of Bing at the moment, but we’ll see. I hope that one can use a different search engine and mapping services (maybe via an App). I’ll keep an open mind.
All in all, the demo was convincing and the maps seemed to work great. We’ll have to see if it is as cool over 3G (versus WIFI at the press event). Maps support multi-touch, a feature that is still missing on U.S Android phones, so I wonder how Microsoft got around Apple’s patents (the Zune HD uses multi-touch too). Microsoft also said that the gestures are identical to the ones in Windows 7.
The browser uses the same code base than Internet Explorer on PC. For a programmer, it’s probably like a curse, but it has the advantage of being “better” (than previous Winmo implementations) because webmasters have taken many IE “problems” into consideration when building their websites. In the end, we’ll have to try and see how good it really is. On WM 6.5 I thought that the browser was still not better, or equal, to the competition.
Music and Multimedia
“All Windows Phone 7 will be a Zune” – that pretty much sums it up. I think that these phones will do very well with media and they will have access to the Zune App, from which one can rent music (my favorite way of consuming songs”. With the latest hardware, I would expect the media experience to be -at least- equal to the Zune HD, so that would very, very good.
The Photo Hub demo was also interesting: photos can come from many sources: the device’s camera, a sync with a PC, Facebook and other cloud services. However, they are all accessed via a common user experience. We’ll have to try it, but we like the idea – a lot.
If you need to edit an Office document in a pinch, Windows Mobile has always been the best platform to have. Now, beyond the “it works”, I’ve never been a fan of working on productivity documents from a small display – it is usually just a painful experience. Now, I know that it is a major source of question for non-windows platform. While we don’t know the limitations, it is probably safe to say that Windows Phone 7 will be the best Office mobile platform.
Backwards Compatibility: Unknown
Microsoft does not want to communicate on the compatibility of Windows 6.x application. Given that a total compatibility would be seen as a “commercial advantage”, I can only speculate that partial or no compatibility is in order here. But we won’t know before the end of the year, when more details will come out.
There you go, this is an overview of Windows Phone 7 Series. Overall, I think that this is a very good update, a real break from the Windows Mobile legacy. I was pretty sure that Microsoft would re-use the Zune HD experience, so I was not disappointed – it was the best thing to do. I know that many Windows Mobile users were hoping for the same thing. However, the devil is in the details, and we will have to test it before we can pro
nounce a final judgment on this Smartphone OS. Microsoft is known for learning after a few iterations and it looks like “7” is indeed their lucky numbers. Microsoft now has to execute on delivering the good and hope that its partners will come up with great designs.
Do you have questions or remarks? Drop a comment and I’ll try to reply ASAP.