Windows Phone 7 Series: Blitz Against Apple

Windows Phone Newsroom: Microsoft introduced its Windows Phone 7 Series on February 15, 2010. The company asked:

How could we build a phone that…
Focuses on the individual and their tasks
Helps organize information and applications

And the company answered in spades.

Windows Phone 7 Series. What an awkward name. I would have much preferred xPhone, tying in with Xbox. Despite the name Microsoft has rebooted, drastically cutting all ties to Windows Mobile 6.5, incorporating some Zune features and embracing a new smartphone OS, for Microsoft and smartphone market. The introduction during Mobile World Congress 2010 was impressive but what needs to be seen is whether Microsoft with its partners can execute and introduce some fantastic gear with great experiences come holiday season 2010.

Amazingly, Microsoft is focusing on user experience. And I think with Windows Phone 7 Series the company succeeds in bringing an unique experience that seems to be for now quite good. This is a huge departure from merely improving features. (On the other hand, Nokia doesn’t get it: Nokia Symbian^3.)

Windows Phone 7 Series is actually nothing like anything the company has done before. The most similar would be Zune HD but Windows Phone 7 Series adds considerable cloud-based services and integration. Microsoft has bet it all and has created something entirely new and from what I have seen on the Internet, Windows Phone 7 Series looks to be a serious contender in the smartphone space. But it isn’t just a smartphone. It’s a lot more than that. Windows Phone 7 Series brings in capabilities from Xbox and Zune. And this is where it distances itself from all current smartphone platforms, including the iPhone. Windows Phone 7 Series leverages the huge number of Xbox users via Xbox Live. The only other brand that could pull off something similar would be Sony with its Sony Ericsson joint venture and its PlayStation franchise. Not only that, if Office integration into Windows Phone 7 Series is done well, there will be little hope of other smartphone platforms maintaining significant share of the enterprise market.

In contrast to how Apple, or specifically Steve Jobs, does events, Microsoft did not have a single third-party app demo. Though not an app per se, Facebook integration was prominently featured during the introduction.

Start. Search. Back. There are three buttons and probably in that order, a good thing. Google should learn and stop the confusion with Android having four virtual buttons but with different icons and locations (read Review: Nexus One). All Windows Phone 7 Series will have capacitive touch displays. Looking at the video (link below) my initial reaction is that Microsoft developed a beautiful smartphone OS. I really like the simplicity. Interestingly and rightly, screen resolution will be something that is standardized in addition to four-point capacitive multitouch technology. It really is about the display and you have to agree on what capabilities to use to offer a generally unified user experience.

Bing Maps. Bing Search. One cool feature of Bing Maps is that it automatically changes the view from a streamlined map to a satellite map depending on the zoom level. I like this. Bing Search looks nice & simple. Results include a map and list of local results, stuff that’s nearby. The browser is based on desktop IE code. Not sure that’s such a good thing. Font rendering is great based on “sub-pixel positioning,” which was touted as something better than ClearType. The super-enlarged fonts did look quite good. Outlook seems to be integrated into Windows Phone 7 Series. iPhone’s steam toward capturing business accounts has just run out. The iPhone may have Exchange support on its Mail app, but it doesn’t have Outlook. For Windows Phone 7 Series, Outlook is the ace in the hole. I am sure CTOs and CIOs the world over noticed.

Windows Phone 7 Series introduces the idea of hubs, which is a single destination you can visit for an integrated experience. For instance, the People hub is primarily about communication and connecting with people and brings together related information from within the smartphone as well as from the cloud (e.g. Facebook updates).

Audio portion of the ad shown during MWC:

A sea of sameness and a focus on apps over the phone experience itself. Don’t get us wrong we love apps. But current smartphones make you use them one at a time. In. And out. And onto the next app. Then the next. And the next. Rarely working together. This isn’t a new chapter in the story of the smartphone. This is a new beginning.

This was a jab at the iPhone.

I like the monochromatic icons. They are minimalist and efficient. But, I don’t like the size. They are larger than need be. But, because the “Live Tiles” or “super icons” take up a lot of space, you need to scroll down quite a bit to get to all of your information. It seems the front screen is highly customizable, so I would want all of my information to fit in just a single screen. I look forward to other “skins” that make better use of the screen real-estate and reduce the size of super icons to a more fine-tuned size that match our fingers. Apple has done a near-perfect job with icon sizes on its iPhone. Overall, I like the direction Microsoft went with the monochromatic icons. I also like the clear fonts. There is also a clear direction toward using beautiful text rather than icons. Typology is something that Microsoft clearly focused on in Windows Phone 7 Series. I wish Microsoft had thoroughly applied that simplicity across all experiences. Unfortunately it didn’t.

Animations. Transitions. Microsoft had to throw in a bit of, unnecessary in my opinion, bling. I think the animations and transitions look good overall. I also think I’ll tire of it after the first day. Like the monochromatic icons and text, the animations and transitions should be simplified or completely eliminated. That would make for a more instant response and putting less demand on the CPU leading to a better experience.

According to Andy Lees, VP, Mobile Communications Business, “One size does not fit all.” Through partnerships Microsoft is attempting to give to those who want slightly different experiences. This is in stark contrast to what Apple is doing where the mantra seems to be “One size does fit all.” This dichotomy does sound familiar. Will history repeat itself? It might considering the hardware partners already lined up: Qualcomm, Garmin-Asus, Toshiba, Sony Ericsson, LG, Samsung, HTC, HP, Dell. There are quite a few carriers around the globe as well: Sprint, T-Mobile, Deutsche Telecom, Orange, Vodafone, Telfonica, AT&T, Telstra, Telecom Italia, SFR, Verizon Wireless

So there will be both CDMA and GSM versions of Windows Phone 7 Series. Microsoft is working closely with AT&T and Orange, two key partners. It was interesting to note that Microsoft is aggressively courting AT&T.

Flash? No, not in version 1. I think this is a smart move if you don’t want to bog down the Snapdragon CPU. HTML5-based video and games are coming, hopefully, soon.