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Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer introduces Windows Phone 7 in New York City.  (Source: Microsoft)

Microsoft showed off 9 handsets which will available at next month's launch (on November 8 in the U.S.).  (Source: Microsoft)
We detail the platform's competitive mix of hardware and software

Microsoft was live in New York City this morning presenting (video) its brand new Windows Phone 7 smartphone operating system, and while there are a few minor rough edges the results look quite impressive.  Below we outline a quick overview of the platform and then dive into hardware and software details.

Overview

Windows Phone 7 enters a market in which Android is the rising star and a pair of veteran players (Apple and RIM) cling to large market shares, thanks to unique niches (business, entertainment).  Having seen the Windows Phone 7 in action and contrasting the experience to Android, iOS, and BlackBerry OS, we feel the that WP7 has the potential to do very well.

It may be too early to say for sure, but Microsoft's decision to redesign the interface from the ground up seems a very wise one.  Scrapping the stale Windows Mobile 6.5, the company now has a fast, intuitive-seeming interface laid over a solid set of hardware and software.

The OS really shines at business productivity, so we could see it snatching some marketshare from RIM among the business-minded.  The phone also seems very slick in terms of entertainment and social connectivity.  This may help it to compete with Android and Apple's iOS, or at least differentiate itself as more versatile than the RIM's BlackBerry phones.

Windows Phone 7 Launches on November 8th in the U.S., as previously rumored.  In addition, most WP7 phones will be available for $199.99 with new 2-year contract.  

In the U.S. T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint have all be confirmed as launch partners (Verizon will likely have WP7 handsets as well, but was not mentioned specifically).  Abroad, Vodafone (UK) and Orange (France) were among the carriers mentioned in Microsoft's presentation.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at the release event commented, "I've been looking forward to this day for some time I say."

We can see why.  Windows Phone 7 is pretty revolutionary in that it's definitely a "different kind of phone" as Microsoft's presentation billed it, in terms of interface at least.  And while it remains to be seen how competitive it can truly be, it seems a vast leap from the weak Windows Mobile experience.

Hardware

At the launch event, Microsoft stated that there would be nine handsets available at launch and mentioned explicitly four partners -- Dell, Samsung, LG, HTC.  A fifth hardware partner, ASUSTek, was previously announced by Microsoft, but was not discussed at the presentation.

AT&T CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets was on hand to personally introduce the three WP7 handsets that will be available on his network at launch.

First up is the LG Quantum.  AT&T's WP7 slider, the Quantum packs a 1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, a 3.5-inch capacitive touch screen, 16 GB of flash memory, and a QWERTY keyboard.  

The second handset shown was the HTC Surround, a phone similar to the HTC EVO geared towards the "media and gaming enthusiast".  Like the EVO, the phone packs a 1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon, but it packs a slightly smaller 3.8-inch touch screen and lower resolution 5 megapixel camera.  Like the EVO it will feature a kickstand, but unlike the EVO it will feature 16 GB of flash instead of microSD expansion (it's possible this will be included, but it wasn't mentioned).  But the handset does have one very cool feature that differentiates it from the EVO -- it is the first phone to have dual surround sound speakers (made by Dolby Labs), which slide up out of the central body.

Last, but not least, is the Samsung Focus, which AT&T claims has "best looking screen on any Windows phone".  The 4-inch screen uses Samsung's SuperIM OLED technology.  It packs a 1 GHz Snapdragon, a 5 MP camera, and a slightly smaller 8 GB of flash memory.

If you've noticed a trend (1 GHz processors) in these models, it's because Microsoft's hardware spec requires all WP7 handsets to have a 1 GHz processor.  That's a bit different than Android's approach.  It may hurt Microsoft among entry level buyers, but on the other hand it may provide WP7 users with a better, more consistent experience.

A couple of other handsets were not shown off at the release event, but have popped online.  

T-Mobile will be getting the HTC Mozart, a 8MP camera with Xenon flash, one-speaker Dolby Mobile with SRS Wow HD for "virtual surround sound", and 8 GB of flash storage.  It's also getting the beastly HTC 7 HD7, a 4.3-inche device featuring 16GB of storage and a 5MP camera.  The carrier also has a 4.1-inch ruggedized vertical slider, the Dell Venue Pro.

Sprint is getting its own slider, dubbed the HTC 7 Pro.  This handset features a 1GHz Snapdragon processor and 16 GB of storage.

Looking at the seven revealed WP7 handsets in summary, it seems that they are quite consistent on a hardware basis with the chief difference being the inclusion of a keyboard, size of the flash memory, screen size, camera resolution, and surround sound (or lack there of).

Looking at the hardware overall, if microSD is indeed not supported, it will be quite disappointing.  Lack of expandable memory is a key downside for Apple and a key upside for Google's Android.  

Otherwise, the hardware platform looks to be very competitive with Android handsets, with many models having specs superior to those of the Apple iPhone 4.

Software

If there was one compelling reason to buy a WP7 handset it would have to be the interface.

Microsoft has deeply integrated search via Bing into the interface and has designed a quick and intuitive UI.  Looking at the home screen, you will notice many square tiles known as Hubs.  Many of the tiles seem intuitive -- Messages, Phone Calls, Email, etc.  While these may be similar to icons in other smartphone operating systems, they're a bit different in that they're all animated.  In this respect, they're perhaps most similar to Android's widgets.

You can turn your contacts into a tile on the homepage sprawl.  You can also unpin any tile by simply touching, holding, then clicking the upper right corner of the tile.  This lays to rest a false rumor that the homescreen in WP7 would not be customizable.  You can move tiles by then touching, holding, and dragging.

In terms of business functionality, the phone includes some slick features.  For example, your next appointment shows up on the home screen so you don't even have to unlock your phone.  Emails suggesting appointments come with a one-touch option to check for conflicts.  You can sync appointments from Exchange servers, Yahoo Mail, Gmail, Hotmail, and more.

Email brings us to another key point -- typing.  Typing looks to be a pretty fast experience as Microsoft includes a pretty souped up autocorrect.  Typing quick bursts of a few sentences looks to be possibly a bit faster than in Android, and on par with Apple's leading interface in this department.  Of course, once you've scribbled out a few sentences, you'll often have to go back and tweak the autocorrections.  Microsoft has a few good ideas here -- for example the original word that was autocorrected from is stored and can be reverted.

Also involved with the email experience is addresses.  Addresses can be clicked to bring up Bing Maps.  These maps tell you the best way to get there (walking/driving), let you get directions, and even show you satellite views.

Search can be done in two ways.  First you can press and hold the start button and speak to the phone.  The audio is transmitted to Microsoft's servers and Microsoft's "Tell Me" backend then tries to parse it into a search query.  A second approach is to press the search button and then type in the Bing search bar that pops up.

Microsoft showed off a mobile version of Powerpoint -- part of a WP7 Office suite.  Sadly, copy and paste has been confirmed to be absent, so editing in mobile Word or Powerpoint will likely be an onerous task.  Microsoft also showed off OneNote -- the WP7 version of its Office note-taking software -- and demonstrated how it syncs your notes to the cloud.  These notes can be accessed from anywhere on the internet.

Picture-taking on the phone looks a bit more intuitive that in Android.  If you press the camera button the phone automatically wakes up and shoots, no unlocking required.  We could see this as causing some unwanted "pocket pictures", but then again it should offer faster photos.  Photos can be set to automatically upload to cloud storage on sites like Facebook.

Look at Music and Videos, the interface is very similar to Zune's.  Third parties can design plug-ins that offer up new elements in this plug.  Slacker Radio and YouTube were among those shown in the presentation.

Turning to the "People" tab, Microsoft syncs contacts from multiple places -- Facebook, Gmail, Exchange, and more.  The second you log in one of these accounts, the syncing process starts.  This may be a bit problematic for some.  Say you have 500 Facebook friends, but most of those are high school classmates and college friends you only vaguely knew.  ALL of them will be added to your phone's contacts.  So you might want to be wary of what accounts you log into (i.e. watch out for Facebook) unless Microsoft has some sort filtering scheme that it hasn't revealed yet.

Turning last to games, the phone should offer an Xbox Live-like experience, with Gaming invites, avatars, multiplayer gaming, and more.  Microsoft showed off a couple titles, including a WP7-version of EA's The Sims.

In terms of apps, it's to be expected that Microsoft won't have as huge a catalog as Android or Apple at launch.  However, it did show off some cool third party apps.  For example AT&T will be offering its customers a Uverse app, which will allow you to watch TV shows on the go.  Non-Uverse subscribers can pay a "small [monthly] fee" according to Mr. de la Vega to access this option.

One final note -- it appears that multitasking will be available in some form (at least via notifications) given the stream of live feeds from multiple apps on the home screen.  However, Microsoft did not mention that true multitasking (freely switchable-apps) would be present.  Further no third party app tiles were shown to be updating with live feeds, so it seems likely that the previous rumor that third-party multitasking would not initially be included may be true.



Looking at the demonstrated software (operating system, third-party) in overview, Microsoft clearly will lag behind Apple and Google in volume, but it makes up for it somewhat in quality.  The only egregious omission hear is copy and paste, and that will be coming early 2011 according to Microsoft.  Otherwise, the interface looks polished and the software seems very business/connectivity friendly.

Conclusions

There's the bad (lack of microSD, no copy and paste) and there's the good (the interface, the wide array of hardware options, and the cross-carrier availability) when it comes to Windows Phone 7.

Ultimately, while Microsoft has claimed in the past to be "following in Apple's line" with Windows Phone 7, it actually is following both Apple and Google in some regards.  In terms of hardware and carriers its taking Google's diversified approach, but in terms of interface and feature support its taking Apple's more detail-oriented/refined approach.  That focus on details can largely be blamed for missing features like copy and paste, but it can also be credited for the overall ease of use.

In these respects Windows Phone 7 is like a strange fusion of Android and iOS.  However, it offers its own unique style as well, when it comes to looks.  With its smart phone market share plunging, Microsoft desperately needed a strong product -- and it looks like it just might have delivered one.  Windows Phone 7 should be a worthy competitor when it hits the market on November 8.

 



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RE: It may be shiney and new...
By plewis00 on 10/12/2010 8:01:08 AM , Rating: 2
It only seemed fair to read (in full) the article you cited but I disagree with it.

For one, you've given an article written by Macworld , if that's not biased I don't know what is. Perhaps using the press release for a new product and claiming it's a critical review from someone impartial, or writing a Wikipedia article yourself then quoting it...

Then you have this:

quote:
The iPhone is following the same pattern. In 2007 it debuted with no third-party apps, no 3G networking, and a maximum storage capacity of 8GB. One year later, Apple had doubled storage, added 3G and GPS, and opened the App Store. The year after that, Apple swapped in a faster processor, added a compass and an improved camera, and doubled storage again. The pattern repeats. We may never see an iPhone that utterly blows away the prior year’s, but we’ll soon have one that utterly blows away the original iPhone.


So what was the iPhone 4 then? I don't know anyone who has a 3GS who doesn't now want an iPhone 4, it literally obliterates the 3GS in every field.

The iPhone Classic had so many flaws it was a bit silly - no MMS, no cut-and-paste (I didn't miss it too much but I know it's been done to death since), recessed headphone socket (seriously... even an Apple-lover cannot claim the included headphones are good for anything), no 3G, no basic video recording and so on - it probably did serve it's purpose to make the 3G look pretty revolutionary side-by-side though.

But I will agree, the design strategy bit is probably correct, they would have deliberately left these features out as part of the bigger picture, but you or I will never know why.


"We’re Apple. We don’t wear suits. We don’t even own suits." -- Apple CEO Steve Jobs














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