Tag Archives | Microsoft Windows Phone

Windows Phone 7 Handsets: Initial Questions and Answers

I spent this morning liveblogging Microsoft’s official Windows Phone 7 kickoff here in New York. Even though there wasn’t a lot of brand-new news–Microsoft started showing off the OS months ago, and some of the hardware news had leaked–there was still lots to chew on. Herewith, a few early impressions based on experiencing the keynote and spending twenty minutes fiddling with the phones on display here.

How’s the interface?

We already knew that Windows Phone 7 was an inventive approach to mobile interfaces that owed little either to earlier versions of Windows or the iPhone. (It is, however, reminiscent of the Zune HD and certain aspects of Xbox 360 and Windows Media Center.) It features Tiles (big icons that can display constantly-updated information in a widgety fashion), screens that slide to the left to reveal more stuff (like the iPhone and Android desktops, but inside apps as well), and other distinctive ideas. Judging from the time I spent with some phones this morning, the level of overall polish and fluidity is very good.

It’s not an iPhone-style great leap forward,, but I can certainly imagine some folks actively preferring it to the iPhone interface. And given that Android’s interface remains so-so and the future of HP/Palm’s WebOS on phones is somewhat murky, Windows Phone 7 could end up being the iPhone’s most serious competitor from a usability standpoint.

Any other unique benefits?

Windows Phone 7 has built-in Office apps with editing (although I need more time with them to judge whether they’re better than third-party suites for other phones). It lets you subscribe to music using Microsoft’s Zune Pass service; solid subscription music services are available for other platforms, but they’re not integrated into the OS. Speaking of integration, the music player has an API that permits third-party services such as Slacker to show up–Microsoft’s demo this morning mentioned this feature but didn’t really show how it works.

Window Phone 7 also has lots of hooks into Facebook, Windows Live, and other social networks–it grabs and melds information from them, lets you issue updates and upload photos, aims to make it as easy to browse photos on Facebook as it is to view ones on the phone, etc., etc. This social stuff is ambitious for sure, but I want to live with it for a while before deciding whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing. (I’m instinctively skeptical of phones that aim to support social networks through built-in features rather than excellent stand-alone apps–the disaster known as Microsoft Kin shows how hard it is to pull that off.)

What’s that image at the top of this post?

During this morning’s presentation, Steve Ballmer and company reported all the catch phrases on that slide so often that I almost began chanting along. To some degree, they’re just marketingspeak–no company is going to say that its new product is occasionally delightful, adequately mine, and a sluggish hassle. But Windows Phone 7 is the first evidence I’ve ever seen that Microsoft understands how to make a pleasant, efficient, modern mobile operating system–which has absolutely nothing to do with cramming the Windows interface onto a tiny screen.

What’s missing?

Let’s see. Multitasking for third-party apps; cut and paste (which is coming early in 2011); massive quantities of great apps; the assumption that virtually every new app will be available for your phone; a movie/TV service as comprehensive as iTunes; an ecosystem of accessories to rival the iPhone. I also didn’t see any way to swap out Bing as the default search engine in favor of anything else. (To be fair, the Bing services–including voice search and Maps–look good.) None of these omissions render the operating system DOA, but they need to get fixed, and Microsoft has little time to dawdle. Windows Phone 7 2.0 or Windows Phone 8 or whatever the next version is called needs to fill in most of the obvious holes.

What about big-name third party apps?

Microsoft had surprisingly little to say about that today. It demoed eBay and IMdB, plus a couple of games (including The Sims). The phones that attendees could try out had a few other name-brand apps, including Twitter (which looks similar to the Android version) and Fandango. But I didn’t see Facebook or Foursquare or Bejeweled or other apps that I try to install on a new phone as soon as I get it. (Foursquare has been demoed in the past.)

I do feel hopeful that Microsoft will get one thing right that Google has failed to do so far: doing everything in its power to ensure that third-party apps have a look and feel that’s consistent with the overall interface. All the ones I’ve seen so far, such as eBay, truly feel like Windows Phone 7 programs.

How’s the hardware?

I think it’s a smart move that Windows Phone 7 will be on three AT&T handsets, each based on a 1-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU and a five-megapixel camera, and each going for $199.99 on contract–but each with its own personality and none resembling the iPhone all that closely. The LG Quantum has a physical keyboard; the HTC Surround has slide-out Dolby Mobile/SRS speakers; the Samsung Focus has a 4.3″ Super AMOLED display. The Focus goes on sale on November 8th, and the other two will follow within a few weeks.

A couple of early hands-on impressions: The Focus feels like a cousin of Samsung’s Galaxy S phones, with an impressively thin case and a display that delivers very, very vivid colors. (Whether they’re too vivid compared to a good LCD is a matter of opinion.) The Quantum’s slide-out landscape keyboard felt pretty good by slide-out landscape keyboard standards, but the slider mechanism was oddly stiff. (This may have been due to interference from the bracket for the cable that fastened the phone to the demo station.)

What’s the deal with AT&T?

It seems to be more serious about Windows Phone 7 than it’s been about Android to date–it’s Microsoft’s “Premier” wireless company for now, and the initial lineup of handsets looks decent. It also looks like AT&T has integrated some of its own stuff (including an app for its U-Verse TV service that’s available both to subscribers and non-subscribers) without munging up the Windows Phone 7 experience. Here at the event, I spoke with David Christopher, Chief Marketing Officer of AT&T’s wireless unit, and he seemed genuinely enthusiastic about Windows Phone 7. Would it surprise you to hear that he cheerfully refused to answer direct questions relating to AT&T’s iPhone exclusivity and whether the new Microsoft phones will help the carrier prepare for the era of the Verizon iPhone?

What are Windows Phone 7’s chances?

Ooh, I was afraid you’d ask that. It’s unknowable at this point, really. Microsoft let Apple build up an unimaginably gigantic lead in the market for next-generation smartphones, and now it has to catch up with Android, too. It’s incredibly daunting, and these phones–which are version 1.0 products despite the “7” in the name–aren’t going to get Microsoft anywhere close to parity. On the other hand, I’m impressed with Windows Phone 7 overall–and I can’t think of a different strategy that the one Microsoft seems to be following that would have a better shot at success. This is going to be fun to watch…


Join Me for Live Coverage of the Windows Phone 7 Launch

I’m heading to New York for the official launch of Windows Phone 7, cohosted by Microsoft and AT&T, and will liveblog the news as it happens at technologizer.com/windowsphone7. There are still quite a few days about the phones that haven’t been announced, so it should be a good time–even if the rumors of tablet-related surprises don’t pan out.

Coverage begins at 9:30am (that’s eastern time, unlike most of our live events). Hope to see you there!

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iPhone vs. Android: The State of the Smartphone Wars (and More to Come)

It’s Tuesday, so there’s a new Technologizer column up over at TIME.com. This one’s on iPhone vs. Android, and as I wrote it yesterday, I realized that I had bitten off a pretty gigantic topic for one 700-word column. It ended up being a 1,000 word column, but even then, I could have written on for another 2,000 or 3,000 words. Considering how fast both platforms are changing, the shelf life of this column will be short, so it’s a topic I’ll come back to repeatedly.

Actually, I might return to the smartphone wars as soon as next week. I got an e-mail from a reader who assumed that the fact I don’t mention Windows Phone 7 in the column was a sign I was a Microsoft hater. Nope–I just chose to focus on the big battle well underway between two platforms that are already on the market. I’ll be at the Windows Phone 7 launch in New York next Monday–stay tuned for live coverage of it, and for lots more thoughts about Windows Phone and its chances of success.


Is the Web Going Away? Or is It Going All Over the Place?

When Wired hyperbolically declared that “The Web is Dead,” it didn’t challenge my worldview but rather surfaced what I knew subconsciously. The browser is not always (and increasingly less so) the best window to the Internet — especially on mobile gadgets. For years on my iPhone — and now on my Droid – I’ve foregone digging around in a tiny browser in favor of burrowing straight to what I want through an app – the New York Times, Facebook, The Weather Channel…

At this week’s Web 2.0 conference in New York, John Gruber of blog Daring Fireball tried to illustrate app supremacy by showing the absurdity of an iPad screen with only the Safari Web browser icon.

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Third-Party Windows Phone 7 Apps: The Early Entrants

With mobile phones, sexy hardware is all very well–but the main purpose of sexy hardware is to run useful (or fun) software. And the vast majority of the software that today’s phones run is written not by phone operating system companies but by third-party developers.

So one of the very biggest questions about Microsoft’s upcoming Windows Phone 7 isn’t whether it looks slick and functional (it does) or if it’ll be a cakewalk for the company to reenter the mobile OS wars at this late date (it won’t). It’s whether enough software companies will build cool Windows Phone software quickly enough to make the platform feel like it’s part of the App Era.

As I’ve met with mobile software companies over the past few months, I’ve had a hard time getting a sense of Windows Phone 7’s prospects. Almost all the ones I’ve asked have said that they’re taking a wait-and-see attitude. But Microsoft has been holding an event at its Silicon Valley campus for some of the mobile developers who belong to its BizSpark program for startups. The companies at the meeting are convening in an auditorium to crank away at Windows phone 7 apps. Microsoft employees are providing both technical and business advice.

I visited with some of the developers yesterday–including name-brand companies and some I wasn’t familiar with–and came away feeling cautiously optimistic.

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The Case For a Microsoft Phone

Should Microsoft build a phone of its own? Over at Ars Technica, Peter Bright is arguing that it should. The case is pretty straightforward: The iPhone is as good as it is in large part because Apple designed (in Steve Jobs’ famous words) “the whole widget”–the hardware, the software, and the service. Same thing with the Xbox 360, Microsoft’s best and most successful hardware product to date.

Of course, building the whole widget hasn’t guaranteed Microsoft  anything in the past: The Zune HD hasn’t made much of a dent in the market. (It’s a nicely-designed product, actually–just one that didn’t show up until after the world had moved on to new classes of devices.) And the Kin–the closest thing to a “Microsoft phone” so far–didn’t quite work out. (Bright, oddly, doesn’t mention the Kin.)

I think there’s a good chance that Microsoft will build a “Microsoft phone” at some point, simply because the temptation may prove irresistible. But that doesn’t mean that putting Windows Phone 7 on different handsets from multiple manufacturers is an idea that’s doomed to fail. After all, it’s similar to what Google is doing with Android–and while the Android rollout isn’t without its bumps, it seems to be going pretty well.

Microsoft’s real danger with Windows Phone 7 isn’t that the basic business model doesn’t make sense. It’s closer to the overarching issue that rendered the Zune irrelevant: It’s possible that a phone OS that ships in late 2010 without cut-and-paste, multitasking, and other features which are universally available on competitors may be too little, too late. Even if the OS is appealing in other respects (and from what I’ve seen of Windows Phone 7 so far, it’s thoughtfully done and potentially neat).

Your take?


Engadget Tries Windows Phone 7

Microsoft has begun to let outsiders–mostly developers–try Windows Phone 7, in the form of test phones from Asus, LG, and Samsung that run a prerelease version of the new operating system. It’s also shared these handsets with some journalists: Engadget’s Josh Topolsky has a long, interesting review of the OS in its current form. (Executive summary: It’s got a fresh and inventive interface with numerous smart touches…but critical missing features, such as cut-and-paste and multitasking for third-party apps, could make it feel half-baked by the time the first phones go on sale late this year.)

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