The smart phone market has been exploding with major players including the Apple iPhone and Google’s Android based phones. Microsoft’s own phone operating system, Windows Mobile 6x, is out there somewhere but isn’t even considered on the same playing field. However Microsoft will be releasing their new mobile platform which they call Windows Phone 7 Series (yes that’s a mouthful), which is their new phone platform written from the ground up. We will soon find out if Windows Phone 7 can hold its own in the current market. I have been following the progress of Windows Phone 7 closely and have some opinions on the strengths and weaknesses of the platform.
Brand new look and feel
Windows Phone 7 has a brand new look and feel that is different than any other phone on the market. Microsoft calls this design Metro and it is based on elements from the Xbox 360 and Zune software. Microsoft seems to be using this UI for all of their newer products including the new Windows Live Services. All of these interfaces look very familiar. For those getting bored or frustrated with staring at icons all day, this will be a nice change of pace. The Metro interface is modern and fresh looking with a focus on the content rather than the chrome.
Xbox Live Integration
The iPhone and Android phones have brought excellent gaming experiences to our phones. Windows Phone 7 will do the same, but also has one big advantage, integration with Xbox Live. Your existing Xbox live avatar, achievements and more will be pulled into your phone. You will also be able to play certain games on your Xbox, then pick up your phone and start where you left off! This and integration with your existing friends on Xbox Live makes this a killer feature and gives Windows Phone 7 a huge advantage.
There are advantages and disadvantages to allowing multiple hardware devices and carriers for a phone. For example, Apple’s iPhone is a single device where Apple has complete control over the hardware, software, and carrier. The advantage is that you know what your getting and you pretty much know when the next version of your phone will be released. On the other end, Android is just a phone operating system that any hardware vendor can use. This means it seems like we have a new Android phone every couple of weeks and there are different versions of the Android operating system depending on the hardware vendor and carrier. Vendors usually add their own UI over the default Android interface with makes Android phones inconsistent.
With Windows Phone 7, Microsoft may have found a nice balance. Microsoft is enforcing certain rules for hardware vendors to follow if they want to release Windows Phone 7 on their device. This means that every Windows Phone 7 device will have met the hardware requirements and be fairly consistent. While the operating system itself will always be the same across each device. This gives users options between hardware and carriers yet keeps the Windows Phone 7 a consistent experience across devices. Another advantage is that Microsoft will control the updates to the Windows Phone 7 operating system with small updates pushed over the air and larger updates through the Zune software.
The Microsoft Zune platform has been in the market for a few years now and in my opinion is highly underrated. The Zune desktop client has matured over the years and provides a very nice alternative to iTunes. The media experience on Windows Phone 7 will be nearly identical to the Zune HD.
Integration with Office
While we still don’t know the full details of how Windows Phone 7 will integrate with Microsoft Office, we can be sure to get one of the richest integrations available compared to other phones. This integration includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and even SharePoint. This will likely have a big impact on decisions to go with Windows Phone 7 over the competition for corporate users who depend on Microsoft Office products for their work.
Windows Phone 7 applications are written in either Silverlight or XNA. There is already a strong developer community with great resources and expertise out there. This also means that developers can write applications that can share the same code and be deployed to the desktop, web, Xbox, or the phone.
Of course Windows Phone 7 has some weaknesses. Here are some major limitations that are sure to generate some backlash.
- No Silverlight or Flash support through the browser
- No copy and paste
- No multi-tasking
You have heard of these limitations before. Other phones had these same limitations on their first release. This is not a big surprise that Windows Phone 7 does not support some of these features right out of the gate. Yet Microsoft had better keep to an aggressive release schedule if they expect to compete in today’s market. Given that Microsoft plans to put out a ton of money on Windows Phone 7 marketing (much more than Windows 7), I suspect that they are pretty serious about Windows Phone 7 as a platform and hopefully we will see frequent updates to overcome any shortcomings.