Windows Phone 7 was formally announced in Australia earlier this week. We saw general reactions go from its-yet-another-Microsoft-disaster to hey-thats-not-bad-at-all. Microsoft has worked hard to dissociate Windows Phone 7 from Windows Mobile – its previous unsuccessful attempt at a Mobile OS. This time round, the focus has clearly been on simplicity and usability. And surprisingly the OS does deliver to that message rather well.
So what is Windows Phone 7 all about?
First up, the Windows Phone 7 OS is very different to the current market leaders Apple iOS and Android at a very fundamental level. Navigating through the phone feels rather like browsing through a glossy lifestyle magazine. Big web 2.0 fonts, friendly menu names, smooth scrolling and intuitive navigation. It is all about ease of use.
Before Phone 7, Microsoft worked as a partner to handset makers creating software to meet different handset requirements. This time they’ve tightened the reins and with Windows Phone 7 control the user experience to a much greater degree, something Apple has been doing from the very start.
As an aside, Android is showing strains of being pulled in different directions by different manufacturers. Application developers need to customise apps to work well across all modifications in the Android eco system as was made clear by the challenge faced by Tweetdeck to make their app work across all variations.
Navigation and User Interface:
Windows Phone 7 opens with a handful of customizable live tiles on the home screen. This makes a welcome change to the ubiquitous grid of icons initially popularised by iPhone. These tiles can represent many things – messages, music, applications, web pages, calendar, news, individual contacts, specific map locations, documents, photos and more. All data is updated on the fly so you can check in on the latest messages, updates, pics and whatever else in one single view.
Then there are the hubs. Everything is set up in hubs that integrate feeds from various sources.
The People hub has your contacts, and a view of all that they are doing including their pictures and social updates across Facebook, Windows Live and other networks. You can send out your own updates to all your networks using the ‘Me’ card.
There’s a Music Hub, a Games Hub, a Pictures and camera hub and so on. Handset makers can create their own hubs like HTC have done for HTC Mozart to create a branded area with links to their app stores etc. Through all this navigation remains impressively clean and intuitive.
This side by side comparison with the iPhone clearly demonstrates the difference in philosophy between the two platforms. Incredibly, the iPhone comes through as technology/application focussed while the Windows phone is more experience driven. Talk about role reversals!
Windows Phone 7 comes with native support for a variety of Microsoft applications. Search is powered by Bing; single view email combines feeds from Outlook, Exchange, Live, Google and Yahoo; a handy calendar app, IE mobile which was redeveloped from scratch to be a lot faster than its predecessor; and also a HTCsense.com style ‘Find my phone’ service that uses the Windows Live account to track the phone location and post a message on its screen. Then of course, there’s Microsoft Office including mobile versions of Word, Excel, OneNote, Powerpoint and Sharepoint.
For more applications there is the Marketplace hub, perhaps this OS’s greatest weakness. No amount of aggressive developer outreach programs is going to match the width and depth of the App Store, and to a lesser extent of Android Marketplace, at least in the near future.
Windows Phone 7 makes heavy demands of the phone hardware. Microsoft have specified stringent and quite aggressive hardware requirements that include –
Candybar form factor
Large capacitive touchscreen
Minimum 1GHz chipset
5MP camera with flash
At least 256MB of RAM and 8GB of internal memory
Ambient light, proximity and accelerometer sensors
Three physical buttons – Start, Search and Back
This heavyweight specification for processor speed and memory comes at a cost, and the result is that Windows Phone 7 will only be available on higher end phones and plans. Compare that to Android running on LG Optimus, free on a $19 plan.
Even though the Windows Phone 7 is an excellent first release, there are many areas that still need polishing – switching between apps is not easy or intuitive unlike iPhone or Android. No flash and HTML 5 support yet. No copy-paste in this release, the same functionality that iPhone was lambasted for. And no laptop tethering, so you can’t use the phone as a modem. The biggest drawback this OS will face is the lack of a robust application marketplace. It has taken years for the Appstore to reach its current level of 100,000 apps, and it will be hard for MS to convince developers to port their apps to yet another platform.
Worldwide the Windows Phone 7 will be available on 10 phones, in Australia we’ll see 5 of them. The new phones will be available officially from the 21st of October. 2 phones from HTC – Trophy (VHA) and Mozart (Telstra), 2 from LG – Optimus 7 (Optus) and Optimus 7Q (Telstra), and 1 from Samsung – Omnia 7 (Optus). Microsoft named Telstra as its launch partner though phones are available through other carriers as well.
It does appear that Microsoft have it right this time round. They’ve managed to shed their Big Bully image and created a pretty decent product. We wish Windows Phone 7 well, if for nothing else then for fact that they don’t claim to have changed everything, again.