Windows Mobile 7 completely re-invents itself

by ron on February 16, 2010

image Windows Mobile 7, which has been rebranded to a new name of “Windows Phone 7 Series”, is a completely redesigned system.

Ok, let me voice a few gripes I have with just that initial paragraph content.

Firstly, if you are going to completely redesign something from the ground up, and on top of that you’re going to be choosing a new brand name for what you’ve just built, then you can’t call it “series 7” rather than “version 1.0”.

Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand how most people are nervous about a 1.0 release, and it may be better to tell them that it’s really a version 7 release, but you and I both know that this is BS.

If you look at the interface, it seems that they heavily borrowed code from the Zune HD, so a name such as “Zune Phone” may have been a much better fit.

Secondly, I can’t help but keep wanting to slap Microsoft around every time they come out with one of these awful long-winded names.  This would have been a great time to choose a nice and catchy short name.

“iPhone” vs “Windows Phone 7 Series”.  The latter really rolls nicely off the tongue, right?  I guess I should be happy they didn’t call it “Windows Zune Phone 7 Mobile Edition with Software Assurance”.

For the sake of simplicity, I’ll call it just “Windows Phone” for the rest of this article.

Windows Phone is new from the ground up

I’ve never had any issues expressing my contempt for all prior versions of Windows Mobile.Microsoft thought they could simply redeploy the Windows user experience into a phone in order to make it a familiar experience for users. The implementation of this strategy was nothing short of terrible.

I also found using a stylus extremely frustrating.

The great news is that Windows Phone is a completely re-engineered phone operating system from the ground up.

imageMicrosoft have borrowed some design aspects from Apple (simplicity / minimalism), mixed it in with their Zune HD technology, and have now come out with a minimalist, clean, modern and funky interface which is vastly superior to any prior version of Windows Mobile.

That being said, I’m not sure I’m a fan of the new design. Having some of the letters of main screen headings sliced off and seeing the first two letters of every sentence on the adjacent screen is definitely different, but to me it doesn’t provide a clean and simple look.

My gut reaction is feeling that the screen resolution isn’t sized properly and it just doesn’t feel right. Perhaps I’m just not artistic enough to appreciate this…

Here’s a 22 minute video showing you the user interface in detail. Note that you’ll need Silverlight for this.

Consistent user experience across vendor phones

Prior versions of Windows Mobile allowed phone hardware vendors to completely customize the phone experience to their liking, using Windows Mobile as a base.

Microsoft have realized that it’s important to keep a consistent and uniform user experience across all of the vendor phones, so they are now imposing rules and guidelines which phone vendors have to abide by. Phone vendors will be able to add extensions to Windows Phone, but the user experience and user interface will need to remain consistent. All phones will also need to have 3 hardware buttons: one for “back”, one for “home” and one for “search”.

No desktop sync software for contacts/email/calendar

There is no longer any desktop sync software for contacts, email or appointments via ActiveSync.These items are now synchronized over the air with the cloud. Music and video sync comes through the Zune Desktop software.

Note that the Zune Desktop software will only work on PCs (no Mac support).

Internet browser

As you’d expect, the built-in internet browser is Internet Explorer.

Microsoft also go out of their way in telling you that it’s based on the same code of the full desktop Internet Explorer client.

I’m not so sure they should be calling this a “benefit”.

Initial trials suggest that the this mobile version of Internet Explorer won’t be as fast as the browsers available on the iPhone or Android phones.

Integration with MS Office

image Not many details have been made available about the integration with Microsoft Office applications yet, but the screenshots suggest integration with both MS Office apps such as OneNote, Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, as well as integration with Microsoft Sharepoint Server (for business intranets).

Prior Windows Mobile apps will not port

Since this is a completely redesigned platform, Microsoft have decided that prior Windows Mobile apps will not be able to be ported across to the Windows Phone.

Microsoft are hoping that developers see potential in the Windows Phone, and will start coding apps for the release of Windows Phone at the end of the year.

Zune integration for music and videos

image When it comes to videos and music, Windows Phone pretty much borrows an identical interface to that of the Zune HD.

You can also hook it up to your Zune Desktop software to sync content, and your Zune Pass subscription to get streamed content. For those of you unfamiliar with Zune Pass, this is a subscription service where you pay $15/month, and get unlimited music streaming plus 10 songs to download to your phone per month.

Xbox Live integration for games

image When it comes to gaming, Microsoft see this as a social experience, and are now integrating the Xbox Live service, which currently has 23 million members, with the Windows Phone.

This will allow you to interact with any other Xbox Live user, be they on a Windows Phone, or on an Xbox.

No flash in the initial release

The Windows Phone will not support Adobe’s Flash technology in the initial release of the product.Microsoft have stated that they do plan to support Flash though, but in an upcoming release/update of the Windows Phone rather than in the initial release.

No multi-tasking

There is no multi-tasking available on the Windows Phone. You’re basically just using one app at a time, just like you do on an iPhone.

I do like that they have a “back” button though, which means that you can go back in your history of used apps simply by clicking on the back button, rather than having to first go back to the home screen and then re-launching the prior app.

8 months until launch

The buzz on Microsoft’s launch of the Windows Phone is very positive.

Microsoft plan to launch this towards the end of the year, which means that’s still around 8 or so months away.

Why would Microsoft launch a new device with such a long lag time until release? There’s likely a few reasons for this, the main two being:

  • Developers need time to create apps for this new platform
  • If the launch is successful, as it seems to be, then people may decide to hold off on buying a new Android or Apple phone until they have a chance to review this new device

Note that in June or so Apple are expected to release their iPhone 4G, and it’s likely that there may be a new Google Android phone within that timeframe as well.

What about custom apps?

The Apple store currently has around 140,000 apps and may have close to 200,000 apps by the end of the year. This can be amplified further by the launch of the iPad in March, since apps for the iPhone can be natively ported to the iPad. No matter what anyone else says, applications matter. Apps are perhaps one of the major reasons for iPhone’s success, and will likely be a key factor in determining who will dominate the mobile market.

Microsoft have not yet made any announcements whatsoever regarding custom apps, other than that they encourage developers to get onboard and start coding.

Is it too late for a 3rd player in the mobile market?

It’s quite possible that Microsoft are once again too late to come to market with their brand in the phone market. If we look at what happened in the music market, even though the Zune HD is quite a nice device, Apple already dominate the music market with their iPod and iPhone. It’s unlikely that the Zune HD will make much of a dent in the market. The same thing could happen with the Windows Phone.

On the flip side of things, Microsoft are very patient and are willing to throw a lot of money at this market. Microsoft spent a billion dollars on the Xbox and took close to 10 years to become the main player in the game console market. So if they are serious about wanting a big portion of the mobile phone market, then it’s likely that in time they may do so. Note that their main competitors are Apple and Google, both of which have as much (if not more) cash than Microsoft, so it may be a tough battle to win.

Summing up

Overall, Windows Phone Series 7 is a huge step forward for Microsoft’s mobile division. I’m very glad to see the old Windows Mobile technology thrown out and starting from scratch with something new.

I’m also very glad to see Microsoft moving towards a simpler, more minimalist user interface design.

I don’t believe this trumps the iPhone 3GS, let alone whatever Apple have in store for us with the upcoming release of the iPhone 4G in June/July.

When Google released the Nexus One many thought that Google had effectively killed Microsoft’s chance of being a main competitor in the mobile market. Windows Phone 7 Series represents Microsoft being “born again” and establishing itself as the third dominant power in the mobile market.

It now seems that the mobile industry will be dominated Apple, Google and Microsoft. I don’t see RIM’s Blackberry smart phones surviving more than a few years, and I also predict that Palm will die off as well.

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