Microsoft have just announced their re-branding of Windows Mobile; the Windows Phone 7 Series at the 2010 Mobile World Congress, in Barcelona. The name may be a bit of a mouthful, but it’s clear that their new mobile operating system has taken a drastically different approach than previous efforts from Windows Mobile.
Every Windows Phone will have three buttons on the front of it: Start, Search and Back. This consistency will allow for a better experience for the user with hardware and software working together better – it’s a theme that Google’s also been chasing with their Android devices (such as the Nexus One) by encouraging manufacturers to use their 4 button template on the front of their devices, offering consistency across the board. This is definitely a step in the right direction as not only does it allow hardware and software to work better together, but also allows a much easier transition between Windows Phone devices.
In the live demo of Windows Phone 7 series, the Start menu seemed very focused on integrating mobile devices with many social networks, offering tiles that allow the user to navigate to their phone, email or social networks. Users can pin web pages or other aspects of the phone to their Start menu as a tile allowing for quick access to favourite pages or functions. The interface in general looks very Zune-esque and unlike anything we’ve seen on Windows Mobile before – it really is a drastic change from anything that’s come out of Redmond before.
Many pieces of software that come with Windows Phone 7 series were demoed to those in audience at Barcelona, including a very functional calendar which synchronises your personal calendars as well as Exchange calendars. In addition to this, Microsoft also showed off their Maps application, which comes location aware and complete with multi-touch. Integration between Maps and Bing search is also impressive, with the user being able to use location aware searches on Bing to search for nearby places. Naturally, you’ll also find a version of Internet Explorer on the phone, which is based on the desktop version of IE, and a “much more advanced browser than we’ve [Microsoft] ever shipped”. No word on Flash though, which could be a bit of a deal breaker for some.
As well as the software that comes with the phone, Microsoft also introduced another set of features called ‘integrated experience hubs’. Five of these hubs were demoed at the event, the first of which was ‘People’, which allows you to sort the people you know from various sources, such as Outlook and Facebook. This section is split in to various panes, separating your recent contacts, personal information and social networking updates. Anything can be added to your favourites by using the ‘Pin’ button to save whatever you want, so everything important to you is brought together in an easy to manage way.
The second hub demoed was ‘Pictures’, which shows galleries and synced items along with a social networking pane that allows you to view recent pictures from your friends on Facebook. The photo application also has Facebook uploading capability built in, so you can manage your Facebook albums and upload directly from the phone.
The third hub was a more surprising addition: the ‘Office’ hub. When you first open Office on the Windows Phone you’re given the option to create new pages and view the most recent things you’ve been working on. You can find your full list of documents in the middle pane and the final panel manages SharePoint. Unfortunately, Office itself didn’t get a demo, but it’s definitely encouraging to see Microsoft Office suite making its way to the mobile device!
The fourth and fifth hubs that were demoed concentrated on the fun side of mobile devices: the fourth hub contains Zune functionality. If you’re familiar with the Zune HD then you’ll be right at home with this pane, and you can listen to your music collection in a very familiar interface. The interface across the entire operating system seems very inspired by the Zune, with this especially visible in applications such as Outlook where all your emails are sorted in large clear formatting. It’s a clean interface and looks great to use.
The fifth pane is the one that everyone’s been waiting for… Games! The Games hub on the 7 series allows the user to integrate games on the Windows Phone with Xbox LIVE functionality too. You can manage your avatar and various updates from LIVE. Despite demoing the functionality of the Games hub, no game demo’s were shown to the audience, which was somewhat of a letdown, although hopefully we’ll be able to see some gaming action on the 7 Series at some point in the future.
The 7 Series is most definitely a completely different experience to what Windows Mobile 6.5 was, with a new strategy and design approach, perhaps you’ll no longer want to give your Windows Mobile an iPhone theme as design-wise the Zune-style interface is on par, if not better than Apple’s current offering? Microsoft made it clear in the keynote that it was crucial to work with partners on the 7 Series, for development opportunities and customer choices.
Although Microsoft will play a significant role in the 7 Series on devices, partnerships are still crucial, offering diversity to users. As Andy Lees, Senior Vice President for Mobile Communications Business, said “One size doesn’t fit all, people want different form factors”. Hardware launch partners include Qualcomm and many OEM’s including HTC, Sony Ericsson, LG and Samsung.
With the introduction of Windows Phone 7 Series, Microsoft will definitely be noticed by competitors such as Apple and Google, and hopefully we’ll see lots of great Windows Phone devices coming to the market before the end of the year. Watch this space – it’s going to be interesting!