Each year, Microsoft hosts an annual web conference to celebrate all that is web, from design, through UX to development and devices. This year’s event has been hotly anticipated as the big reveal around Windows Phone Series 7 and Internet Explorer 9. This post however is focused on Windows Phone 7.
About a year ago (yep, not much more it seems) it was decided to completely re-write the underlying mobile OS and the application development stack and services on top. A brave but necessary move given the free falling market share numbers we’re seeing on the current windows mobile interaction.
To be fair the HTC HD2 device running windows mobile 6.5 is actually pretty good, pretty great even, and supports all the features one would expect from a modern smartphone. It does however have a limited app store behind it and also contains rather dated UI remnants built around the classic windows desktop visual metaphors that consumer users in particular appear to have long abandoned.
Windows Phone 7 Design
Well, if any of you have gotten your hands on a Zune HD, you will undoubtedly appreciate the good looks and flow of what is essentially the core of the Metro design UI. It feels good on the Zune HD, and it looks strange, weird, different but dare i say it ground breaking in the videos and demos I have seen for Windows Phone.
The concept of ‘hubs’ within the phone allows for interesting ideas, like all your turns appearing in the games section together and all photo and video updates to aggregate from photo and video applications. This creates a cohesiveness and sense of place that you don’t get on other smart phones. I have a feeling there is some additional complexity for the user in the hub concept but this will trade off against the bond the hubs will create with the user over time.
Windows Phone 7 Development
Microsoft have killed it here. Silverlight for apps, XNA for games. Visual Studio/.Net and and easy debug and deploy model. Having worked with the Apple development model it looks hugely more productive to be building mobile apps for Windows Phone than iPhone. Of course until the device reach is out it won’t necessarily be more profitable, but certainly Microsoft have done everything right for .Net developers here so far.
The game story is also compelling. A significant majority of casual games on Xbox are built with XNA and that means porting them to Windows Phone is a breeze. I think we’ll see the game studios be able to quickly port and announce Windows Phone games as part of their standard development cycles without the major overhead that must come with platform ports like to iPhone. In addition, the integration of XBox Live services and shared game state across mobile, PC and Xbox provides what I believe to be one of the killer features in the whole offering. Microsoft needs to focus on leveraging the areas where it is ahead like the XBox and allow that to help it catch up in areas where it is sorely lagging like Music and Applications.
Windows Phone 7 Marketplace
We haven’t really had much detail here to be yet. It looks very similar to the Apple App Store, with the new feature of trial before buy which appears to work in a standard shareware type way which can be defined by the application developer 30 days, 30 tries etc.). However there doesn’t appear to be any ability to have in app purchases as recently announced by Apple which is a shame.
The approval process looks identical to Apple’s in principle, although Microsoft have promised to remain open and transparent and be quicker than Apple in approving applications sent to the Marketplace.
Windows Phone 7 Hardware, OS and Updates
Microsoft has prescribed pretty tight specifications for hardware partners producing phones. A 5MP with flash camera is required, 3 hardware buttons (back, home and search), 1GHz cpu minimum and optional keyboard amongst other things. In addition there are 2 core resolutions a larger 800 * 480 resolution which will be in the devices shipped on day one and a smaller 480 x 320 resolution for second wave devices. The aspect ratios are close but not identical meaning application developers will need to be aware of this, unlike with the iPhone. Of course it makes sense to maximise the potential reach of the phones but from a development perspective I do worry about this a little as it creates that additional complexity in testing applications.
There is no news on whether or not the devices can support both front and back facing cameras or not, i’m assuming not, but this would be required obviously for video conferencing support.
The OS contains a modified version of IE7 as the core web browser and you can read more about that here: http://www.networkworld.com/community/node/58638
The OS is completely rebuilt, and appears to have been taken from Zune OS at least in part. A lot of elements like Deep Zoom are built right into the OS so they are going to be super quick and hardware acceleration plays a big part in this.
Multitasking appears similar to current iPhone OS with Push Notification apis supported only.
Syncing is awesome and automatic using the Zune syncing technology. Wireless syncing is now enabled and ActiveSync no longer required.
Updates to the phone will be done in a similar fashion to Zune. All phones will be able to receive updates which seems to me a much better model than for Android which appears to have a fragmentation issue with releasing new versions and updates in a more haphazard way.
Windows Phone 7 – What’s missing?
Here’s a couple of interesting features that may not make it into the final RTM.
- Copy and Paste – Confirmed!
- Video Capture within applications – Not confirmed but suspected
Will we love it as much as we love our iPhones…? well that’s a really big wait and see!
Overall i grade Microsoft an 8/10 so far on their 2010 comeback trail. This is an exciting new start for Microsoft in mobile, but end of 2010 is when we’ll really know how the fight is shaping up.
If you are interested to learn more or have any questions please drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org