Call it a case of throwing the ugly duckling out with the bathwater. Microsoft’s latest revision to Windows Mobile isn’t really a revision at all, but a total start from scratch, with next to nothing that resembles the clunky operating system of yore.
No great loss. Windows Phone 7 brings a host of features both new to the Windows Phone brand and even to smartphones as a whole. Let’s dive into some of the most impressive.
The grid-of-apps layout pioneered by Apple and copied by everyone from Palm to Google is dead. Microsoft has actually leapfrogged that proven design for its own new “Metro” interface, which appears to be a permutation of the existing Zune HD interface. It uses six “hubs”: People, Pictures, Games, Music + Video, Marketplace, and Office. Rather than shrinking volumes of information into a tiny phone screen, each “hub” basically takes the form of a panoramic menu system, spilling off the sides and breaking each section down into subsections.
Need to get something done in a hurry? The Start screen will offer shortcuts to your most frequently used applications, from the phone dialer and text messaging to individual contacts. Their pictures will even change on the fly to the most recent Facebook photos – a feature Microsoft calls “live tiles.”
Typefaces and graphics won’t be the only factor familiar to Zune HD owners: the Music + Video hub basically acts as a Zune HD within a phone, mimicking just about everything about the player. That means quick access to music, video, podcasts, radio and the Zune marketplace, and a home page with an automated history of most-played content, new stuff you’ve just added, and even apps.
Microsoft clearly has big plans for phones as gaming devices. Xbox Live integration will tie your phone to your Xbox Live account, allowing you to earn achievements, link up with friends, and play multiplayer turn-based games. You’ll even retain your Live avatar. Although the company didn’t announce any specific titles at launch, clearly the platform has the potential to go far beyond idly burning time with Sudoku.
At long last, Microsoft will join the ranks of Apple, Palm and Google with true multi-touch support for the browsing experience. Most importantly, that means pinch-to-zoom capability for fluidly navigating full HTML pages not explicitly built for the mobile experience.
Once upon a time, you could just about bring a glorified pocket calculator to Microsoft and walk out with a Windows Mobile license for it. Not anymore. Microsoft has severely ratcheted down the hardware restrictions for Windows Phone 7 so that it will only appear on devices that can truly handle it. The stringent checklist of must-haves includes dedicated hardware buttons for home, search and back, capacitive touchscreens for multitouch, and even an FM radio. Custom interfaces, like HTC’s slick TouchFlo, have also been banned.