When Microsoft first announced its mobile reboot as “Windows Phone 7 Series” there was immediate backlash due to its length and, well, it’s quite the mouthful. After some deliberation, Microsoft decided to listen to its critics and potential customers; the new mobile OS is now branded “Windows Phone 7.” Ahh, soo much better, isn’t it?
And while we’re still feeling the effects of April Fool’s Day, I’ll let you in a little Windows Phone 7 gag that got me and the rest of the tech community. On April 1 PocketNow broke news that all WP7 devices would not support replaceable batteries, falling in Apple’s footsteps. They reported: “The move is intended to promote clean and attractive hardware designs which are sure to impress. Nobody wants to see an ugly battery cover latch on a phone running something as beautiful as the Windows Phone 7 Series OS.” But it turned out to be a hoax. So there you go.
Slingers, rejoice! Sling Media has come out and stated they are “actively moving towards H.264” and Microsoft Silverlight video support to bring the Slingplayer application to the iPad and Windows Phone 7 Series devices sometime in the near future. The move to these video formats will increase the current resolution of the player from 320×240 to something larger and more expansive. Slingplayer HD, perhaps? Sling had this to say on the matter: “When it makes a noticeable difference in quality, we will definitely provide higher resolution streaming. The iPad is a good example of a device where we are hard at work on this, but unfortunately it won’t be there at the April launch.” Patience is a virtue. That’s what they say, right?
Meet Anna, Miles, and Luca. They are the ficticious family Microsoft has decided to use in their first commercial spotlighting their brand new mobile OS. Windows Phone 7 Series is shown off in all its panoramic glory by way of enlarged heads up displays. Thought it’s nothing spectacular, Microsoft gets it right by featuring the OS’s most prominent features like the connected people hub, photo sharing, and Xbox Live. With WP7S devices due out this holiday season, let the marketing blitz begin.
This past week Microsoft revealed more details surrounding its brand new mobile phone platform, Windows Phone 7 Series. During their WP7S launch event last month, Microsoft showed off all the UI basics and promised more information to come this month at their annual conference held for developers and web designers called MIX. And boy did they deliver. MIX’10 proved to be a highly informative conference, focusing on how developers will get their applications onto WP7S devices.
Technical details. Third-party developers will have access to XNA and Silverlight tools to create applications for WP7S devices. Microsoft is offering free dev tools, providing Visual Studio 2010 Express for Windows Phone and Expression Blend for Windows Phone, to get things started. In addition to these programs, developers also have access to many services like Microsoft Location Service, allowing devs to make their apps location-aware, and Microsoft’s Notification Service, a push notification system much akin to Apple’s that allows devs to send notifications to users of their apps, regardless of the app being open. Notifications slide down in a tray at the top of the screen (less obtrusive than Apple’s pop up way of doing it). Other prominent services that devs are given include multitouch, accelerometer, and camera & microphone support. If you are a developer or know someone who is a developer, Microsoft is offering free beta versions of the dev tools today at developer.windowsphone.com.
Where will all the apps be sold, you ask? In the Windows Phone Marketplace, of course! Just like the rest of the hubs, the Marketplace hub will be “panoramic,” meaning menus are opened with left and right slide gestures. Microsoft is encouraging all developers to create trial versions of their full apps. The Marketplace supports credit card purchases, operator billing, and ad-supported content. Purchased apps can be pinned to the user’s home screen for easy access. Finally, the revunue split: 70% goes to the publisher, 30% to Microsoft.
Marketplace partners. Microsoft announced the first slew of app partners and they include exciting picks like Pandora, Sling, Shazam, EA Mobile, Namco, Foursquare, and the Associated Press. Look after the break for a full listing of all partners. A majority of the demos show that at least this initial batch of apps will deeply integrate with the WP7S look and feel (think panoramic views and shiny, sleek interfaces). Many of them show off 3D animations, incorporate images and video, and they can reach into your local content (like a photo editing app opening up a picture you took). The most interesting app demo came from Netflix. They demoed a prototype app that supports Watch Instantly, allowing a subscriber to browse and watch their Netflix collection on the go. Unfortunately this was being pushed as a concept, and we likely won’t see anything like it for some time. Another exciting app demo showed off the gaming capabilities of WP7S devices. The Harvest is a 3D Xbox Live-supported title that excited developers with its gorgeous graphics, destructable environments, and Xbox Live in-game leaderboard, gamerscore, and acheivement support. Look in the gallery below for screenshots from some apps.
Lingering questions are answered.
Multitasking: WP7S will not support true multitasking. Microsoft’s first-party applications will run in the background when exited, but third-party apps will remain in a suspended state until the device needs additional resources. For example, Microsoft apps like Internet Explorer and the Zune music player will run in the background, but other apps like Yelp will be forced to quit when not in direct use at any point without notification when you start opening other apps and the device needs to access more resources. This “intelligent app management” is also purportedly found in Google’s Android OS.
Copy & paste: Following in the footsteps of its big competitor, WP7S will not support the copy & paste function at launch. Apparently this was a conscious decision made by Microsoft; they believe cell phone users do not use this function very often. Instead, Wp7S devices will use a data detection service that recognizes text input like phone numbers and addresses. Hopefully they won’t take as long as Apple did with bringing clipboard functionality to its mobile OS.
What’s contoso?: Contoso is the placeholder name Microsoft added to the Marketplace UI, and now we know its purpose for being there. Microsoft has alloted a space in the Marketplace for phone carriers to put their own branded store. So this is a separate place where Verizon Wireless can sell their content to users, for instance.
Hardware minimum requirements: capacitive touch; A-GPS, accelerometer, compass, light and proximity sensors; 5 megapixel camera with flash and an independent camera button; 256MB RAM, 8GB Flash; DirectX 9 & codec acceleration; an ARMv7 Cortex/Scorpion CPU; and Back, Start, and Search face buttons. Initially Microsoft will require all handsets to boast a 800 x 480 (WVGA) resolution screen. An update will allow for 320 x 480 (HVGA) screens at a later undisclosed date.
Exsisting WP7S devices: At Mobile World Congress, we were introduced to the Asus model. At MIX, two new devices were unveiled–a Samsung slate and LG slider (the first with a keyboard).
All in all, MIX’10 was a huge invitational for all developers and Microsoft welcomed them with open arms. Microsoft is making it extremely easy for developers to jump into Windows Phone 7 Series by offering free dev tools. With their stringent hardware minumim requirements and terriffic initial batch of app partners, the apps out of the gate should look great and function well. With graphics-intensive games like The Harvest linking Xbox Live to cell phones, Microsoft could very well raise the bar for mobile gaming, giving the App Store and its growing number of sub-par games (and even the likes of DS and PSP) a tremble in their boots. I am really digging Microsoft’s start-from-the-ground-up mentality and I am excited to see what developers can do with their brand new mobile platform. However, as many have pointed out, Microsoft is stuck in a classic case of Catch-22: Microsoft wants customers to choose WP7S phones and developers to write programs for them. But developers won’t bother pushing their apps into the Windows Phone Marketplace if customers aren’t attracted to WP7S phones, and customers won’t purchase WP7S phones if they don’t offer a wide-ranging marketplace of apps! Microsoft still has more work to do. Priority number one? Come up with a good marketing campaign.
Forget everything you know about Microsoft’s dated Windows Mobile OS. This week at World Mobile Congress 2010 in Barcelona Microsoft unveiled the latest version of their mobile OS. It has a new name, Windows Phone 7 Series (that’s a mouthful!), and more importantly it has a new look. When I say “new” look I mean it; Windows Phone 7 Series (WP7S) features a brand spankin’ new user interface that entirely scraps Windows Mobile and does not look back. Think of it as iPhone OS or WebOS new. Such a vast overhaul of a staple service is an unexpected but necessary move by Microsoft; it really was the only option Microsoft had to choose in order to stay relevant in today’s highly competitive mobile space.
The software and user interface changes that define WP7S is where I will begin. There are no Start and drop-down menus, check boxes, and cluttering windows that adversely affected Windows Mobile users of the past. WP7S provides a fresh and clean experience, introducing organized and constantly updating “tiles” and “hubs.” Microsoft calls tiles “super icons” and they live on the home screen. The tiles are movable and user-configurable and animate when new updates are present. You can populate the home screen with an infinite number of tiles that can lead to apps, websites, contacts, photo galleries, and hubs.
Microsoft touts a hub as being an “app that makes sense of your apps.” In other words, a hub is a place that can aggregate specific information, providing you designated places for information you seek. When you click on a hub you enter a horizontal-scrolling interface and you can “pivot” left and right to access additional screens within the hub. The following hubs have been revealed by Microsoft: people, pictures, games, music + video, marketplace, and Office.
The people hub brings together contacts from various email accounts and social networks like Gmail, Exchange, Windows Live, and Twitter, aggregating tons of information from your contacts including status updates, images, and more into a single list. The people hub breaks down into the following categories: Recent, All, What’s New. The aggregation not only takes place in the What’s New feed, it also lives in contact cards. So for example, you can click a contact name in the Recent or All sections, view the contact’s basic information such as cell number and email address, andyou can, say, comment on their Facebook status. You also have the option to “pin” a contact to your home screen, turning it into a live tile for easy accessibility.
The pictures hub brings together pictures from your own (local) personal collection, social networks, and other cloud-based collections from sites like Facebook. The pictures hub breaks down into the following categories: Gallery (organized into albums, all, and favorites sections), latest synced or snapped pictures, What’s New. The What’s New feed aggregates the latest pictures taken and posted by your contacts. (See the pattern here?) When viewing your own pictures, you have the option to upload them to Facebook (and other sites); you can also label favorites and create new albums within the pictures hub.
The Office hub is the “productivity” hub. Office for WP7S emphasizes OneNote and SharePoint. The Office hub breaks down into the following categories: OneNote, Documents, SharePoint. OneNote is a place where you can, well, take notes. You can create new “pages” for things like grocery lists, meeting notes, and to do lists. You can create notes by typing, taking a picture, or using your voice. These pages/notes can then be synced back and forth to your PC. The Documents category is the place where all your documents (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.) synced from your PC are saved. SharePoint allows you to share documents on a company SharePoint server for document collaboration. The Office hub will work hand-in-hand with Office 2010.
The music + video hub brings the Zune HD experience to WP7S devices. In fact, Microsoft is proud to say that “Every WP7S phone will be a Zune.” The music + video hub breaks down into the following categories: Zune (music, video, podcast, radio, marketplace), History, New, Apps. What’s most prominent here is that Microsoft will be partnering with third-party developers to provide different ways to listen to music. Pandora was name dropped, so you can expect to see music streaming services gain access to the music + video hub.
The games hub features Xbox Live! It breaks down into the following categories: Spotlight provides new games information; Xbox Live shows you your live avatar, gamertag, gamerscore, and profile picture; Requests inform you that someone is “nudging” you, letting you know it’s your turn in a game, and lists game invites; Collection is the area where you can build a list of Xbox Live-supported games that support achievements. These games will have interactive components that talk to your Xbox console, the PC, and other WP7S devices. Additional information about what type of games we’re talking about here was not disclosed.
The marketplace hub was not demoed at the launch event but since then unofficial pictures have surfaced that reveal its basic organization. Microsoft promises that more information about apps, app development, and the marketplace will be revealed at this year’s MIX10 event next month.
With hubs out of the way, the remainder of the tiles on the home screen include Phone, SMS, Email, Calendar, Internet Explorer, and Bing Search/Bing Maps. Microsoft is really pushing its Bing search services on WP7S devices. Users will be able to search specific keywords to pull up local news, information, maps, and directions. Easy and straightforward.
Microsoft plans on releasing WP7S during the Holiday 2010 window and they have many hardware and carrier partners lined up. They include Dell, Garmin-Asus, HTC, HP, LG, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, and Toshiba; carrier support comes from AT&T, Deutsche Telekom AG, Orange, SFR, Sprint, Telecom Italia, Telefónica, Telstra, T-Mobile USA, Verizon Wireless and Vodafone. Let’s just say there will be a plethora of WP7S devices later this year. (Side note: Unlike stylus-wielding devices of the past, WP7S is focused purely on touch input and requires manufacturers to include at most only three face buttons–Back, Start, and Search. Other hardware-specifics like required internal specs were not mentioned.)
It all comes down to this: Can Microsoft pull themselves out of the wreckage that was Windows Mobile and regain market (and mind) share in a highly competitive environment that Apple and Google have quickly taken over? With Windows Phone 7 Series, Microsoft clearly defines that they finally understand that the mobile phone is very different from a PC. In fact, during the launch event Microsoft corporate VP of Windows Phone Program Management Joe Belfiore kept reiterating, “The phone is just not a PC.” With this knowledge, they built a brand new, visually beautiful mobile OS from the ground up, leaving out all complexities and incorporating much simplicity. On a PC it feel natural to have various windows open to access Facebook, contacts, and Flickr. Dealing with this mess on a small mobile device does not make sense, so Microsoft came up with an extremely intuitive way to aggregate all this information into live tiles and interactive hubs, making it very easy to see and respond to your friends and family. Many questions remain; for instance, we still don’t know much about the marketplace and app development, and overall developer input. From the looks of it Microsoft will put devs front and center stage, giving them access to create smart apps that will supplement the 7 Series experience. If they learned anything from Apple and the iPhone, app existence and support is crucial for a mobile OS to succeed in today’s cell phone industry. But with a company whose CEO is famed for screaming “Developers, Developers, Developers,” I have no doubt Microsoft will come out victorious as a worthy competitive force in the mobile space.
Check out the gallery below for additional UI shots. Look after the break for a bunch WP7S-related videos; they include a quick features tour, a 20 minute demo, and the streamed launch event. You’ll also find the official press release there, too.