If only Microsoft continued to innovate from the days of the Pocket PC, when the mere act of having a mobile computer in your hands was cutting edge. When using a stylus was cool, a PDA was just a PDA and Palm was king of the jungle. If only. The landscape has changed dramatically since then and the smart phone giants, Apple, RIM and Google have taken almost all of Microsoft’s market share, but alas Microsoft is back with Windows Phone 7, but can this new operating system bring back any glory. With the new giants on the block and Apple, RIM and Google miles ahead, only time will tell, but in the meantime let’s see what Windows Phone 7 is all about.
What is Windows Phone 7?
Windows Phone 7 (WP7) is a totally new mobile operating system and platform from Microsoft. Microsoft (MS) is hoping to repeat the success of Windows 7 for desktop computers , which earned a ton of respect from a host of naysayers and critics. Windows Phone 7 is likely to do the same, despite the fact that the name itself causes confusion.
So what’s so special about Windows Phone 7?
Everything! No Joke, Everything. My first impression of WP7 was – its slick, its fresh.
The first thing you will likely notice are the squares on the Start Screen. Microsoft MS, refers to them as Live Tiles and they come alive to show real time social network status updates. You can add as many tiles as you want and additional tiles can be accessed by scrolling down and then shifted around as you wish. From the Start Screen as well, you have access to email, SMS, contacts, voicemail and pictures. Also from the Start Screen you can click on the arrow on the top right to access your full list of Applications. This way you don’t have an overcrowded Start Screen trying to be everything to everyone at the same time. So from there you can launch MS Excel or PowerPoint or whatever application you desire.
Think of each Tile as a doorway into what MS now calls hubs. It’s a really cool way of organizing the various activities of our lives and makes the experience that much more integrated. So for instance, click on the People Tile and you gain access to all of your contacts with a really intuitive way to sort or filter.
Clicking on the Pictures Tile brings will bring up the main Gallery along with options for your albums, Camera roll and Favourites. The mosaic option will show recent photos and under the What’s New menu option, WP7 will also bring in photos from Facebook friends and other social media services.
Every windows phone will have a Search button and once clicked you will see Bing’s now infamous photo of the day. Doing a search on your WP7 device with Bing, will show results based on the GPS location of the phone. So you will get localized results, along with breaking news relevant to your search term and other more general info related to that topic.
If you are a One Note user, and if not, you should be, using One Note on WP7 is amazing. For example, you can launch One Note and instantly create a document with pictures, notes and voice recordings and then email it to one of your contacts. Once again WP7 has made the process intuitive and powerful, since you aren’t limited to a text note or a voice note or a pic. One Note on WP7 simply integrates everything.
Browsing the internet on your WP7, will utilize MS’s very own Internet Explorer. The browser will have all the touch screen functionality common place today, thanks capacitive displays, which will be standard on all WP7 phones. Functionality such as, multi-touch, pinch to zoom and double tap to zoom. WP7 will also allow tabbing of web pages so you can have multiple tabs saved. Addresses and phone numbers embedded on any web-page will also be clickable and you can initiate a phone call, map an address or leverage Bing’s decision engine to access reviews. Another cool feature from the results of a search is WP7′s Nearby, which will provide various Points of Interest in close proximity. WP7 also has a Pin to Start feature where you can save web pages you like to the start screen for future reference. Pinning a web page to the Start Screen will add a new Tile at the bottom of your Start Screen. It’s still unclear at this time if WP7 will support other browsers like Firefox or Google Chrome.
We’ve all used a computer running Windows and certainly used MS Outlook. For millions of business professionals MS Outlook is such an integral part of ones day that Windows Mobile still does the job for many. With WP7 the Calendar is so smartly designed it makes accessing the information you want seem simple to find. You can sort the calendar by day, month or agenda view. Agenda view gives you a short snippet of your daily appointments and you can double click on any appointment and get all the details along with links to any maps or search capabilities leveraging Bing. Another cool feature of WP7 is that you can integrate multiple email accounts and designate them in your calendar by colour as personal or professional.
So what about my music? The Music & Video Tile on WP7 looks and feels like Zune. If you are unfamiliar with Zune, it’s MS’s entertainment software platform. Once you click on your Music & Video Tile, you will see Zune’s main menu of options to access your, music, videos, podcasts, radio and marketplace. If you are a Zune subscriber you will gain access to an infinite library of music without doing any work, which is simply amazing.
Checking email on your WP7, will feel a whole lot cleaner. The clutter has been removed and the information most relevant to the email is given prominence. Specifically, the sender is shown, the date and the first sentence or so of the email. You can also sort or filter your inbox in a number of pre-defined ways. For instance, you can sort your email by unread messages, highest importance, flagged messages, etc.
If you took a look at Start Screen closely you may have noticed something very exciting in the image. An Xbox Live Tile or put differently, your Games hub. With WP7 you will be able to play Xbox LIVE games on your cell phone. And we aren’t talking about childish feeling games, we are talking about high intensity action games with the full Xbox gameplay experience. Games like Assassins Creed or Halo Waypoint. There will be two types of games, Xbox LIVE games and non-regulated device games, which don’t have to be designed for XBox alone. With more than 23 million people on Xbox live, however, this is sure to be a hit with the gamer community and MS will have several games available in the marketplace at launch. Lastly, many of the XBox Live tokens will be present on the WP7 experience, such as avatars, gamer scores and achievements and credits.
For an early side-by-side comparison of Windows Phone 7 versus iPhone 4 versus Google Nexus One, this video blog is a must see.
Who will make Windows 7 Phones?
HTC, Samsung and LG Electronics continue to be the principal Windows Phone 7 device vendors being mentioned at this time. We know HTC has had a long standing relationship with MS and the HTC HD2 has been rumored to be the first device to run WP7 for some time.
As reported at the Windows Mobile Congress, Dell has communicated quite openly their plans to work with MS and support Windows Phone 7 phones. The Dell Lightning has been one such rumoured device and images can be found on the internet. Whether or not this device will make it to production is left to be seen, but we are confident Dell will have its selection of Windows Phone 7 phones in time for the holidays.
Are you sold yet?
With Windows Phone 7 it’s clear that Microsoft has focused a ton of a attention on the user experience and more specifically the consumer experience versus the business user. By integrating the Zune design elements in the overall theme of Windows Phone 7 , Microsoft has demonstrated their commitment to making a product that feels polished. With Windows Mobile it always felt as though you were using a desktop computer shrinked to fit on a mobile device but MS has made some key decisions to ensure performance and experience aren’t compromised in WP7. For instance, Microsoft is not allowing custom skins on their device at this time and they have also communicated more stringent hardware requirements to improve controls and ensure a more consistent experience and performance. With Windows Phone 7, Microsoft has given themselves a fighting chance to remain relevant in the mobile space and reclaim some respectability in the mobile race.
So when and where can I get a Windows Phone 7 phone?
Windows Phone 7 devices will hit the market in mid early November in the US and Canada as MS has committed to a simultaneous North America wide launch. Pricing will be fairly standard ($99 – $199 on 3yr contract) for smart phones as MS doesn’t want to price their devices out of the reach of the larger smart phone market. The other good news is that Windows Phone 7 phones will be available with all of the carriers.
So what do you think? Are you impressed?
Can Microsoft, take a bite out of Apple, squeeze a Berry or take the steroids away from Android?