After several years of seeing rivals like Apple and Google take over the smartphone market, Microsoft is making its attempt at a comeback with its upcoming Windows Phone 7 Series. And this just isn't a fresh coat of paint on Windows Mobile 6.5; Windows Phone 7 is a completely new mobile operating system.
Like Microsoft's Zune HD portable media player, Windows Phone 7 is based on the Windows CE 6 kernel, whereas Windows Mobile is based on Windows CE 5.
Windows Phone 7 was announced by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at the World Mobile Congress 2010 in Barcelona in February and is slated for a holiday 2010 launch.
Despite the name, Microsoft isn't going to be manufacturing the handsets like Apple does with the iPhone. However, like Apple, Microsoft is taking a much more active role in defining the hardware requirements for Windows Phone 7 devices.
There are no Windows Phone 7 devices in the wild, so there are still a lot of unknowns about the final hardware specs. Here are some of the minimum hardware requirements that have been announced.
- 800x400 WVGA screen: The demo prototype that has been used by members of the media includes a 3.7" capacitive touchscreen.
- Five hardware buttons: Start, Back, Search (Bing), Camera, Power
- CPU: 1 GHz
- Multitouch: Like the iPhone and Android OSs, Windows Phone 7 relies on finger-based navigation.
- FM tuner
- High-resolution camera
If you've used previous versions of Windows Mobile, you will not see anything familiar in Windows Phone 7. The interface, which Microsoft has dubbed "Metro," is based on the interfaces of the Zune and Windows Media Center.
The home screen of Windows Phone 7 is based on a series of "tiles" that bring surface dynamic content that is updated in real-time. Some of the tiles include:
- Phone: displays number of missed calls.
- People: aggregates your contacts list with your social network friends lists.
- Text: displays number of new SMS/MMS messages.
- E-mail: displays number of unread e-mails; supports Outlook or POP mail.
- Pictures: aggregates your local photos with your online photo collections.
- Games: integrates XBOX Live functionality.
- Browser: comes with Internet Explorer (surprise!).
- Calendar: integrates with Outlook Calendar.
- Music + Video: brings in the Zune experience to accessing your music and video collections.
- Me: aggregates all of your social media or XBOX Live content; allows you to update your social networks.
The browser on Windows Phone 7 is much more similar to Safari on the iPhone with support for multitouch controls such as zooming.
The entire interface is much more dynamic feeling than any previous version of Windows Mobile; it really puts Windows Phone 7 in the same league as iPhone and Android which, I'm sure, was no small feat to accomplish. It is also much more social with seamless integration with sites such as Facebook.
Like Phone, Android, BlackBerry, and others, Windows Phone 7 will have an app store available at launch. No official word yet on how many apps will be available at launch, but Microsoft has been demoing a few, including Netflix, Graphic.ly, Shazam, FourSquare, eBay, and Seesmic.
Despite Microsoft's less-than-stellar reputation in the mobile space over the past few years, the early reviews of Windows Phone 7 have been very good.
Peter Ha from TIME said, "So is WP7 an iPhone killer? (Like you weren't wondering that.) No, but every other company, including Apple, will be racing to catch up with it. It's a bit surreal to lust for a Microsoft product, especially a Windows phone, but come Christmas, I'll be first in line to buy one."
Sascha Segan from PC Magazine said, "...if it actually performs properly, WP7 has the intangibles that Microsoft phones have lacked for years. It's fun to explore. The interface makes sense. It's easy to find the things you need. Nothing is buried. It uses the power of a mobile computer to put important information at the fore – possibly even more immediately than the iPhone."
Charlie Sorrell from WIRED said, "What surprised me most was that I was expecting yet another iPhone clone. And while the Windows Phone 7 Series isn't the huge game changer that the iPhone was upon its debut, it is different enough to embarrass pretty much everyone else except Apple."
The bottom line
After several years of struggle, Microsoft is back in the mobile conversation with Windows Phone 7. While the final release of the operating system is more than six months away, the company is generating the kind of early buzz that has been reserved exclusively for Apple and Google. The big question will be whether mobile users who have made the move to the iPhone or Android be willing to switch to Windows Phone 7. If Microsoft only converts Windows Mobile 6.5 users, it will be in big trouble... again.
More about Windows Phone 7 Series
- Windows Phone 7 Series wish list
- Podcast: Is Windows Phone 7 Microsoft's last stand in mobile?
- If history repeats itself, Microsoft will dominate mobile platforms
- Image gallery: Windows Phone 7 Series
- Photos: Windows Phone 7 Series
- Images: A look at Windows Phone development
- Gallery: Test apps for Windows Phone 7
- Photos: Windows Phone 7 Series FAQ
- Images: Windows Phone makes the rounds at Mix
- Images: The unlocked Windows Phone emulator