Last week Zath got invited to the Microsoft offices in London, to have a sneak preview of what is in store for us with the new Windows Phone 7 operating system (OS) and also speak to Oded Ran (Head of Consumer Marketing, Windows Phone, UK) to see what answers he could give us to the various questions that are on our mind regarding Microsoft’s latest mobile phone platform.
One of the first things that strikes you when you look at Windows Phone 7 is it’s very different from the previous mobile versions of Windows, perhaps following the success of Windows 7, they are now wanting a mobile operating system which is worthy of being badged with the Windows (Phone) 7 name.
Also, many of the design successes from the likes of their media players such as the Zune HD have been used in this new mobile OS and choosing to leave behind support for previous versions of Windows Mobile has allowed them to create something new from the ground up.
In fact from seeing Windows Phone 7 in action, you see how their philosophy of removing the need for you to think what application you need to load to accomplish a given task, instead you are just presented with the options you might want to do, for example, to find the nearest pizza restaurant, you can just search without first thinking, do I need to be in search or do I need to be in the mapping application.
Another important design idea of Windows Phone 7 is that you can access your services, data, email and photos all simply integrated into your mobile phone using ‘the cloud’ including the use of Microsoft’s Skydrive online storage service, so you can access and work on files located on your desktop computer wherever you might be.
However, perhaps the overriding design concept is one of providing “a personal experience”, so despite fact the tile-based widget-like interface design being a constant that not even the hardware manufacturers can alter or skin to make look different, once you’ve logged into your online services and setup your homescreen with the self-updating information you want, no two users’ homescreens will be the same. The important part of this homescreen is the personal information of you and your friends.
For instance, rather than loading up a Facebook app to see what they are up to, you are presented with this information, either onto the home screen of your phone or when you look at their contact page, as are their recent photos etc — this immediately gives a talking point/reference if needed.
In fact, Facebook is tightly integrated into Windows Phone 7 and once you’re signed in with your account details, it will immediately propagate information and updates from your friends, including contact information — which for example, when somebody changes their mobile phone number, the task of updating information would be a one-time job on their part which would then be updated across all their friends’ phones with no action for them to complete. Obviously this holds great potential; however this future relies on people…
- Being on a supported social network such as Facebook (I still have friends who refuse to use any online social network)
- Having a compatible phone (other than Windows Phone 7, I’m sure this will be adopted on other platforms too in the future),
- Trusting Facebook with their more sensitive personal information such as mobile phone numbers (which after recent privacy concerns and the track record of Facebook opting users into making their details more public, may be a tough sell)
As well Facebook status updates and contact information, you can also browse your friends photo albums, easily comment on the photos, save, send or make them wallpapers for yourself (which is very easy to do and gives your homescreen even more personality) — essentially do everything you might typically do while browsing Facebook short of the Facebook Applications themselves, so no Farmville or Mafia Wars just yet, but I’m sure they’ll be an app for that soon enough!
Recently people have been mentioning the possibility of a Facebook Phone being released, I’m not sure if Facebook would want to get into the mechanics of building specific devices, I think they’d rather have tighter integration into the operating systems and if that’s the case, then the Windows Phone 7 handsets might be the first Facebook Phones.
The new version of the Zune software will also be released to coincide with the launch of Windows Phone 7 to provide you with the kind of smartphone and media management software that you would expect from this kind of device, who knows, perhaps it will work better and be less bloated than a certain iTunes 10?
Interestingly one thing that Microsoft will be offering that Apple doesn’t is the Zune Pass — an online music subscription service, similar to Spotify that gives you access to all their songs on a monthly subscription model.
The one thing that most of us have got very used to doing in the past few years with our smartphones is connecting them up our computers to backup, synchronise and update them. Although, because you had to remember you had to do it, perhaps it didn’t get done that often and given how important most people’s phone is becoming to them, the rate of change and chance of losing your data, that’s probably something you want backing up as often as possible.
With the new Microsoft Zune software you’ll need to connect up your Windows Phone 7 handset to your computer once to pair it to your wireless network and then from then on it will then use the wireless syncing to backup and keep your phone up to date, including transferring the latest content that you subscribe to, such as your favourite podcasts — without any conscious action on your part, it just does the work for you!
Windows Phone 7 App Marketplace
Microsoft has confirmed that there will be a certification for apps to be included in the Windows Phone 7 Marketplace and they have a 7 day promise to certify apps for developers and specific guidelines.
There are minimum hardware specs that manufacturers must meet to run Windows Phone 7, for example, at least 8GB of phone storage, screen size, resolution etc. ensures that it easier to run across a variety of handsets, for app developers it gives them a baseline to work from which should make developing easier and involve less de-bugging.
Which combined with Visual Basic dev tools, should give the potential for users to have access to more reliable apps available for download in a shorter length of time, so more apps for launch and more to follow shortly afterwards.
With so emphasis on drawing and sending back data from online services to provide Windows Phone 7’s personalised experience, one of my concerns has to be how much will you be using your mobile data connection? As with most networks having stopped unlimited data tariffs and data caps being reduced rather than increased, will you be paying a higher price of day to day usage of your mobile phone?
We were assured that Windows Phone 7 uses caching and low resolution image previews to help reduce the amount of data actually being downloaded, but I’ll be keen to see how much data is used by different people according to how they use their phone.
Future Windows Phone 7 Developments
As with all mobile phone operating systems including iOS and Android, you don’t get everything that people want at launch, but Microsoft have said that Flash support will be present in a future update and copy/paste functionality is being worked on, although due to Windows Phone 7 OS design, many processes of commonly used features shouldn’t require these functions anyway, so users shouldn’t necessarily miss them at launch.
Ever since Windows Phone 7 was announced, it’s been interesting to see Microsoft move in a different direction when it comes to mobile devices and hopefully this one will pay off for them, as previous user of Windows Mobile 5 and 6 phones, I’m very glad they decided to leave behind support for those legacy devices and start from scratch on something new that integrates so well with other online services.
From what I’ve seen of Windows Phone 7 so far, I’m very interested in it, just as I was in Android when I had an iPhone and moved to the HTC Desire, it’s something new and different, but offers some real advantages over what there is currently. It will be interesting to see just where Microsoft can get to in the mobile phone market in the next couple of years given the iPhone and Android success; although given the technology and software development of this market is still moving so fast, I’m sure Windows Phone 7 could well catch up as people upgrade handsets on a regular basis.
So there’s interesting times ahead for Microsoft in the mobile phone market, so the remaining question is when can we expect to see Windows Phone 7 released? They couldn’t give us a definite answer to that one unfortunately, but I’m sure we won’t have to wait long for the actual release as they’ll be out before Christmas.
What do you think to chance of Windows Phone 7 being a success? Would you consider getting a WP7 handset instead of an iPhone or Android mobile phone?
UPDATE: So this article was what we thought to a quick preview, however one of the Zath team has bought one of these mobile phones, to find out what they think to this latest mobile platform in detail, head on over to our Windows Phone 7 Review to find out all about it!