Windows Phone 7 Series
Well, it’s finally here.
3 years after the iPhone, Microsoft has finally gotten into the mobile phone game with Windows Phone. Today, at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Microsoft announced their OS entry into this sector.
Microsoft seems to have finally gotten it right this time around, completely redesigning the UI instead of making a smaller version of a desktop OS. Not only have they departed from the stylings of Windows Mobile 6.5, Microsoft has also departed from the standard “app-grid” layout prevalent in other smartphones, instead going with more of a home-screen-centric design style which has been described as different (gizmodo) and really quite original (engadget).
Microsoft has placed the emphasis on communications instead of apps. This makes sense as the OS is used on a device primarily used for communications. The home screen can apparently be customized, but by default seems to come with a social media portal, a quick button to get to your phone, another for text messages, and another for email. I guess this would be equivalent to the quick launch bar on the iPhone being populated with mail, dialer, an SMS app, and a combined facebook/twitter/whatever app. Except it seems that twitter currently isn’t supported, and it doesn’t seem like google buzz support is likely to be included. Okay, so maybe it’s not so different in practical terms, but it sure appears different.
The Zune software is included of course, allowing access to your Zune library. Whatever phone you get will feature this multi-page Zune software to manage your music.
With Windows Mobile 7, Microsoft has included Office file type support. This is a big bonus for those on the go who need to view and edit office docs quickly and without access to their full computers. While one would obviously not want to fully author entire documents on a phone, the ability to make quick changes and view files sent to you without resorting to some third party app is a huge bonus.
The fact that this OS syncs over the air and has access to the cloud also goes to show that Microsoft has really designed this OS from the user out.
It won’t work with a Mac. This means Microsoft is largely ignoring the droves of students who now use Macbooks, chalking them up as being lost to the iPhone, and are looking at the people who still use Windows computers – businesses. Their competition in this market is the very well established RIM with their BlackBerry devices. It seems shortsighted to eliminate Mac users right off the bat, yet this is Microsoft’s strategy.
Is It Better?
Not really. At least, it doesn’t seem like it. Sure, the UI is different, and with 6 months to go before launch, chances are good that there will be a lot of apps sitting in the app store when phones become available, but many of the complaints about Apple’s app store persist in Windows Mobile 7.
First, there’s no multitasking. Instead, Microsoft is going with a “push notifications” style of multitasking, emulating the iPhone. While this makes sense in a lot of respects due to the limitations of the hardware and battery, there’s serious usability issues with some apps that require instant response, such as VOIP apps. Even instant messaging might prove to be too slow through push notifications.
Second, Microsoft is tying down the OS in terms of hardware and limiting manufacturers as to what they can do to the OS (basically, nothing). HTC’s theming modifications of WinMo 6.5 are out. The handset is just a way to deliver the OS, nothing more.
Third, the Marketplace hub “allows the user to easily discover and load the phone with certified applications and games.” I wonder exactly what certified applications means. It implies some approval process, which has been the single largest complaint about the iPhone app store.
3 years late. No multitasking. Strict control. “Certified” apps. Yet another app store for developers to write for. It seems as though Microsoft has missed the mark here. The iPhone app store is on one end of the spectrum – locked down tight, proprietary hardware, closed-source, developers are at Apple’s mercy for approval. While this makes users gripe, it also gives them a very smooth and consistent experience.
On the other end of the spectrum we have Android – wide open, many hardware partners with few limits, open-source, and a relatively open marketplace. While this strategy opens up the market to allow all players to customize their experience, it has the disadvantage of having to support different platforms running different versions of the OS.
Now here comes Microsoft, late to the game, with all the controls of Apple’s solution, and all of the problems of Google’s. Maybe they’ll be able to strike a balance, and maybe if this was 3 years ago we’d have a serious race on our hands, but I expect the windows phone to gain about as much marketshare as the Zune has.