THE BLOG
07/20/2010 07:20 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Microsoft Throws Its Windows Phone 7 Into the Ring

This is the latest post in our series, Technical MashUps, which focuses on the various technologies that are being leveraged to improve and redefine our lives.

Microsoft is one of the elder statesmen of the mobility space. The company first introduced its mobile OS in April of 2000. The initial release was Pocket PC 2000, which shortly there after was, renamed -- Windows Mobile operating system. The initial mobile OS was designed for use on a PDA or what Microsoft called a Palm-Size PC. The Pocket PC did not have many applications:
  • Pocket Word
  • Pocket Excel
  • Pocket Outlook
  • Pocket Internet Explorer
  • Windows Media Player
  • Microsoft Reader
  • Microsoft Money
  • Notes, a note taking application
  • Character recognition support
  • Infrared (IR) File beaming capability
By today's standards this is an anemic list of applications for a mobile OS. As a reference I have counted 64 native applications on the T-Mobile Vibrant.

Fast-forward to 2010 -- Windows Mobile enjoyed an eleven-year run but Microsoft has decided to retire the Windows Mobile OS product line. With the advancement of mobile technologies -- case in point smartphones -- Microsoft has decided it's time for a new development approach. The company has been hard at work developing the successor to Windows Mobile -- Windows Phone 7. This mobile OS is a departure from its predecessor -- in both philosophy and technology.

Yes, Windows Phone 7 does have a fight on its hands. Microsoft is a distant third in the smartphone landscape. Currently, the space is being dominated by RIM -- with Android (Google) nipping at Microsoft's market share.

As of May 2010 -- Top Smartphone Platforms (source - comScore)
  • RIM -- 41.7%
  • Apple -- 24.4%
  • Microsoft -- 13.2%
  • Google -- 13.0%
  • Palm -- 4.8%
Can Microsoft reclaim its lost title with Windows Phone 7 -- well let's take a look at the technical preview provided by Zev Green.

The Phone

The hardware was not the focus of the preview; mostly it was just the canvas for the OS platform to operate on with some basic specs.  So don't get too hung up on the appearance or capabilities of the phone, but rather the Windows Phone 7 interface.  Microsoft did mention, however, that there would be certain minimum requirements for their OEM companies to have on their equipment to be able to run WP7.  Specifically, a minimum of a 1Ghz processor, and at least 512MB RAM.  Also, each phone will have the same 3-button layout on the bottom, under the screen (Back, Windows Home, and Search).

Walk-through and interface

You can see that Microsoft decided to depart almost entirely from their previous mobile environment, and for anyone who has used the WinMo platform will attest to, that was needed.  WP7OS takes a minimalist approach to the mobile market, by using very subtle color elements, but keeping the transitions and fonts modern.  If you are familiar with the Zune, this is very much a relative of that interface, and the music side of this OS is the same

The entirety of what you would consider the 'desktop' or 'Home' are two main screens, an 'Applications list' and settings, and another 'Tiles screen' where you can place (Pin) animated informational icons (kind of like advanced shortcuts) of your calendar, phone, individual contacts, or links to applications.  There is a feeling of supreme efficiency in that design.  I would only assume that future applications would allow for their 'Pinned' widget to provide graphical weather maps, or dynamic content on the 'Tiles screen'.  But the main reason for this is to have an action wall of information most important to you.  Animated contact icons display the person's picture, name, and their latest social media status update.

As of this release, there are only two background color choices, white and black, plus 10 accent colors available on these screens.  Background images are only on the lock screen, mind you, and I do expect that to change once consumers get their hands on it.  The keyboard is really good, and has suggestive text as well and auto-correct.  All manufacturers should just adopt Swype and get it over with.

Once you go into some of the native applications, you will see the Zune-like fonts at the top, tapering off to the sides to indicate there are more screens if you swipe to that side.  It takes a little getting used to this approach, because we are all so familiar with formal screens and menus.  While it does become more normal as you use it, perhaps the amount of space these font cues take up would better be utilized by the actual content of that application.

Summary

Initially, I really didn't know what to expect from Windows Phone 7.  I live on my iPhone, use the Blackberry for work, and test the Android OS on a regular basis, so I didn't really see where WP7 was going to fit in.  After spending a few days with the product, I can say that it is really growing on me.  There are some dark corners of the environment I hope they fix, and some features I would love to see expanded, but overall this is a very fast, beautiful, socially connected Operating System.  Microsoft's biggest mistake was not doing this sooner.

You can follow Zev Green on Twitter: ZevMo and read the full review on DadsOnTech.