You may have seen, and you may have fumed, at my not so subtle rant about Microsoft’s new mobile OS, Windows Phone 7, and how, well, it sucks. And in the interest of fairness, I think it’s about time I balanced the scales with a full blown appraisal of all that’s great about it.
Firstly, we have the UI, which I criticised a little in my previous article, but all in all I’d like to emphasise that I love it. I really do. Yes it has its little flaws and imperfections, but name me an OS, or any piece of software for that matter, that doesn’t and I’ll buy you a biscuit.
What I particularly love about the Metro UI, is how accessible all the information is. A good interface generally aims to have all the content available in the fewest number of clicks. That much is obvious, and in WP7 you hardly have to click at all, simply swipe to the side and the entire app is on view. It makes it a great deal faster to access all the functionality of the application, as it eradicates untidy menus, buttons and icons which, in iOS and Android, clutter the screen somewhat in my opinion, and instead loads all the content in one fell swoop. Yes, this has so far meant slow loading times for many third party applications, and probably increased data usage in apps which pull content from the web, but the much-anticipated Windows Phone 7 ‘NoDo’ update is set to reduce those loading times, thankfully.
What’s more impressive, though, is how carefully Microsoft has looked at the criticisms of Android and iOS, it’s major competitors, and tried to find a happy medium. The best example of this is with the software update procedures. Now I know you might be reading this thinking ‘hoooold on a minute, didn’t Microsoft f**k up on the first WP7 update attempt?’, you would be right, but it’s a fledgling platform and these imperfections, as always, will be ironed out (hopefully).
In theory, the update procedures allow for Apple-esque software update roll-outs, without the restrictions on hardware. And avoiding the other extreme, the hardware-software combination has not been allowed to be so fragmented as it is with Android, because the software is not open, but also because Microsoft has placed some pretty tidy regulations as to the internals of the hardware, and requests that OEM’s and carriers keep their devices no more than one update behind Microsoft’s own schedule.
Maps. That’s the next point. Bing Maps are pretty brilliant in my experience, offering turn by turn navigation along with impressively graphical representations of the area. On top of that, though, there is the rest of Bing. The search facility which is built in, identically to Bing on the desktop, offers information based on a background image, and this integrates with Bing Maps and Search to take you straight to the location of a place in Maps, or bring up results based on some interesting trivia. It’s quite a minor point, but it’s a nice touch and I have to say, it’s led to me using Bing more regularly, though not exclusively, on my desktop.
The article prior to this, arguing the opposite, criticised Windows Phone 7 for not having SkyDrive integration to enough of an extent to be deemed properly utilised. Having said that, though, there are areas which are. Xbox Live, another area which I criticised, whilst not entirely integrated with your Xbox 360, is pretty damn decent. You can use your same profile, same avatar and everything, keeping achievements up to date on both platforms and connect with the same friends.
That’s not what’s great about it though. What’s great, is that it has already attracted some relatively big titles, such as Flight Control, Rise of Glory, Fruit Ninja, Assassin’s Creed, Guitar Hero 5 and many, many more. There are more great games for WP7 than there are great applications, put it that way. Countless hours of fun, just like on iOS and Android, though I prefer how the games are kept separate from standard apps, and integrated into some sort of social scene, which has a lot of room for improvement, admittedly, but undoubtedly a great deal of potential.
Furthermore, Microsoft Office offers a great mobile office suite, superior to anything I have used on other platforms. So far only making use of Excel and Word in terms of creating documents or spreadsheets, but also PowerPoint viewing, which is useful to say the least. Again, there is a lot of room for enhancing the integration of the services, but it is promised that Office will be able to share with SkyDrive come the major Mango update. It will be warmly welcomed, I can tell you.
There is a lot great about Windows Phone 7, and I am actually excited about the direction that it is heading, offering a seriously viable and competitive alternative to the two which have come to dominate the mobile arena: iOS and Android. In many ways offering a happy medium, and integrating many of Microsoft’s core services that have made the desktop OS so vastly popular for so many years, is a recipe for success surely, and the deal with Nokia will hopefully strive to offer some fantastic software-orientated hardware, and will drive further improvements to the software. With Multitasking, Copy & Paste, Twitter integration and maybe even Angry Birds to come, perhaps this time next year we’ll see a very real threat to Apple and Google posed by a company that has previously struggled immensely in the mobile markets, but dominated so incessantly in recent decades, not just years.