Does Windows Phone 7 Stand a Chance Against the iPhone?

You have to be careful when you use the “I” word.

For millions of Americans held hostage by their credit card companies er, wireless carriers, it’s often pang-inducing to bring up the unmentionable Apple phone. After all, this exclusive-to-AT&T device apparently walks on water and cooks you dinner. So, the tech pundits have declared the iPhone the ultimate champion, we get that now. Yet, if you still have months left on your Sprint or Verizon contract, there is no intelligent way to break free and embrace the Apple-sanctioned carrier.

What you can do, though, is upgrade to another phone with your current provider. Microsoft, more than any other company around today, knows this full well. Once the average consumer realized you can buy any phone you want, even if your spouse is stuck with an a Palm Centro until 2011, they started buying Android phones, Palm Pre phones, and just about anything without a Start icon. (By the way, if you’re looking for a good deal on a Centro, there are 14 million of them for sale on eBay.)

The good news is that Microsoft has decided to do something radical: It has re-designed its phone operating system. And, anyone who follows the tech sector will perk up when Microsoft breaks from the norm. Surface tables, Bing search, Zune HD – they are all remarkable departures from a previous effort that restores all hope to mankind, or at least in Redmond, Washington. (Microsoft Word, with its new ribbon interface, is another story, however.) With Windows Phone 7, not only does the interface look much more appealing, it obfuscates all traces of the Start icon, the PC-centric dialogue boxes, the goofy syncing paradigm, and even the Windows Mobile name.

Before we dive into the new interface, let’s recap why Windows Mobile became the laughing stock of the mobile phone industry. For starters, no one connects their phone to a computer anymore. Maybe you do to charge the device, and it’s one way to copy media over, but it is certainly a lost art form when it comes to loading apps. And, a phone actually has limited appeal if it means you always have to carry around a laptop just to add content and apps. We’re in a new age where a smartphone (or, let’s say app phone) can easily take the place of a laptop for basic e-mail, Web, and media.

Another dig against Windows Mobile is that it’s just too difficult to use. For example, let’s say you want to connect to a wireless network. Sure, there is a miniscule icon at the top of the screen on some models, but usually you have to fiddle with an arcane dialog box. Android phones, Pre, and the iPhone all make it much easier to connect. Worse, Bluetooth and 3G access are hard to manage as well; half the time, these networking protocols go haywire. Probably the worst interface “feature” though is that the typical Windows Mobile device still uses a stylus. The manufacturers insist you can use your finger, but not for any advanced features, such as clicking the OK button on a dialog box (ahem).

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