Microsoft is getting ready to introduce Windows Phone 7 in the next few months. This will be a new operating system for smartphones, as it will have very little in common with its forbearers, Windows Mobile and Pocket PC.
I recently got some hands-on time with a prototype phone, and I wanted to share my early impressions.
LOOK & FEEL
The homescreen for Windows Phone 7 uses tiles, rather than application icons. This sets it apart from Apple's iOS and Google's Android OS.
Tiles offer several advantages. First off, there is a great deal of flexibility about what's on a tile. For example, the?address book?tile has pictures of your friends on it, not just an icon.
Also, the tiles can be different sizes, so more important ones are easier to see.
Tiles will be used to give the user some quick status updates. For example, the email tiles shows how many unread messages are waiting. Developers will have a certain amount of control about what appears on the tiles for their apps.
Unlike the Android OS, there are no homescreen widgets, and there is only one home screen, though you can make this as long as you like by adding as many tiles as you want.
You probably won't want to add more than a few, though, as the homescreen is really about giving you quick access to your favorite software, people, and music. A small arrow to one side gives you access to a complete list of the?apps installed on the device, so you have easy access to everything.
I was really impressed by Windows Phone 7's performance on the prototype device I was using. Everything was lightening fast.
But there's something you need to keep in mind: Windows Phone 7 is not a multitasking operating system. When you switch away from an app, it closes itself. This is probably one of the reasons why the performance is so good, but it's definitely a tradeoff.
A definite drawback is that Microsoft left support Cut & Paste out of this OS.
I tried out the Microsoft Office apps, and was quite pleased. Admittedly, I was just opening the small demo files for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, but they opened in a flash.
I also used the web browser, and was equally pleased. I went to the Brighthand home page, and the Windows Phone 7 browser correctly handled the scrolling frame that lists recent news articles, something the Android OS browser can't do.
The address book -- called People --?stores the information you'd expect, plus it ties into Facebook and other social networking services. You can see more than just a single recent FB post from your friend, you can get all the recent ones, and even post replies,?raising the question on whether you need a stand-alone app for this service.
One thing you need to get used to with the People app --?as well as the?Games, Pictures, Office, and Music+Video ones --?is that what you're seeing is just a portion of a larger screen. For example, the image to the left is showing the People app. If you slide the screen to one side, you'll see a list of the most recent Facebook posts. If you slide it the other, you'll see?images of people you've contacted recently.
I?didn't get a chance to test out all the bundled software -- there wasn't enough time. But i was pleased with what I saw.
Some of you are probably curious about the smartphone I saw running Windows Phone 7. I haven't mentioned it because it's not very interesting: it was the same prototype unit that Microsoft has been demoing this operating system on since this new OS was first unveiled.
Still, Microsoft is being cautious, and I was not allowed to take any pictures.
But we already know quite a bit about what all the devices are going to be like, as Microsoft has set some fairly stringent hardware requirements for its new operating system.
All?smartphones running Windows Phone 7 will have to have a WVGA (800 x 480) capacitive touchscreen, Wi-Fi, at least?a 5 megapixel camera with flash, a GPS receiver, and 8 GB of storage and 256 MB of RAM or more. The feature list also must include an accelerometer, compass, proximity sensor, and an FM radio.
VERY PRELIMINARY CONCLUSION
Based on my short amount of time testing out Windows Phone 7, I can tell you I like what I see. It's both functional and good looking, and the speed is more than acceptable.
It looks like Microsoft is going to offer a decent platform, but the real question is going to be whether it will get the support from other companies it needs. Even the best mobile operating system is going to bomb without a large collection of third-party developers. This group is going to have to write new?applications for the platform, as ones written for Windows Mobile aren't compatible.
Only if the Windows Phone 7 software store is quickly populated with an array of apps will this platform will become a serious competitor for the Android OS and iOS.
The apps are more important than the hardware, though it appears HTC, LG, and Samsung are prepping some good smartphones for this Microsoft's next OS.