Monday, February 15, 2010
Microsoft Officially Announces Windows Phone 7 Series
Posted by Jason Dunn in "Windows Phone Software" @ 07:00 AM
"Today at Mobile World Congress 2010, Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer unveiled the next generation of Windows® Phones, Windows Phone 7 Series. With this new platform, Microsoft offers a fresh approach to phone software, distinguished by smart design and truly integrated experiences that bring to the surface the content people care about from the Web and applications. For the first time ever, Microsoft will bring together Xbox LIVE games and the Zune music and video experience on a mobile phone, exclusively on Windows Phone 7 Series. Partners have already started building phones; customers will be able to purchase the first phones in stores by holiday 2010."
It's here. It's finally, really, truly here: Windows Phone 7. To say that this has been a long time coming would be a severe understatement. In fact, it's been such a long time coming that I'm unsure of how to even frame my feelings about it finally being announced. It was 2004 when I first saw conceptual screen shots for what was then code-named "Photon". Year after year, MVP Summit after MVP Summit, and Mobius event after Mobius event, I was shown screen shots, Flash demos, and even live code running on devices, of a truly next-generation user interface and operating system. This operating system was supposed to be fast, fluid, finger-friendly, and have features that nothing else on the market had at the time. It was originally supposed to be released in 2006 - and here we are, four years later, and it's only finally coming to fruition and won't be on devices until the end of the year.
The question of "What took so long?" is a complex one that I'm ill-qualified to answer in a post such as this. Looking back over the years, I think it comes down to one thing: leadership. Microsoft is full of smart people, but unless those smart people are led in the proper fashion, things aren't going to get done. I believe Microsoft had a great vision for mobile devices from 1997 to 2003, when their operating system evolved rapidly from the very first greyscale HPC's (Windows CE and a Velo 1 was a great combo back then) to powerful Pocket PCs. They seemed to have a vision for moving forward with innovation...then something happened.
At the time, the overall market was nascent, and more focused on PDAs that mobile phones. Microsoft had Palm in their sights for years, and made massive progress against Palm in the market. The market, however, shifted to mobile phones, and competitors such as RIM, Nokia, and Apple got to market with compelling products while Microsoft floundered, seemingly unable to move forward with anything competitive. Windows Mobile certainly has some great advantages - the chief among them being choice of hardware designs and the flexibility of the operating systems - but over the past few years those have become disadvantages as the platform fragmented and lost momentum. Will Windows Phone 7 herald a return to the glory days, or will it be Microsoft's last attempt at a mobile operating system? Only time will tell.
I wish I had some great walk-through to present to you, but Microsoft has kept the details about Windows Phone 7 very vague up until now - I only know bits and pieces, and after so many years of hearing what features were supposed to be in the new OS, I'm not clear on what actually made it. At the time I'm writing this, I don't have a single screen shot, video, or even a logo to share.
One thing I did see at the last Mobius event was that the new OS is going to encrypt the storage cards and make them readable only to the phone they're from. This caused quite an uproar among the people in attendance, because that effectively means all "side loading" scenarios are now dead - no more taking a memory card out of your camera and loading it into your device (though to be fair, this scenario now requires microSD to SD adaptors, which is pretty geeky). No more taking a memory card out of your phone, connecting it to your computer or laptop and loading content onto it. No more taking that memory card out of your phone and pulling content (such as photos and videos) off of it. So why did Microsoft take this drastic step?
The main reason: speed. By taking all the content on the storage card and effectively having it live inside a database, that content can be accessed, manipulated, indexed faster. This is essentially the way the Zune HD works today - everything you load onto it needs to be done via the Zune desktop software. That effectively spells that end of a Windows phone connecting as a mass storage device as well - unless some clever OEMs/developers work around that. You'll be doing the same thing with your Windows 7 phone. Personally, I'm excited about being able to use the Zune desktop software to sync media. It's beautiful, powerful, fast, and easy to set up easy sync rules such as "Sync all my photos added in the last 90 days".
Also worth noting is that while the Zune desktop software will be used for managing photos, music, and videos, we were told that Windows Mobile Device Center wouldn't work with Windows Phone 7 devices. Desktop sync is dead - everything is going to be focused on cloud sync. This obviously has massive repercussions, especially for third party software developers who have data files they shuffle back and forth (digital wallets, etc.). I had a dozen questions about this topic, but ran out of time at Mobius to ask them. I use a hosted Exchange account [affiliate], so I rarely use desktop sync, but is everyone else really 100% cloud based for their email? No one is using desktop email clients (such as Windows Live Mail or Outlook) with ISP-based email or custom domain-based email that they'd like to sync to their Windows phone? That's what Microsoft is betting on, and I'm not so sure it's right.
The remainder of the press release is below. After the press conference, I hope to have further details for you, including some screen shots (the UI does look quite Zune-inspired. Oh, take note of the fact that Dell is listed as an OEM below...interesting no? Is Dell finally going to make a Windows phone? It seems so...
"Today, I'm proud to introduce Windows Phone 7 Series, the next generation of Windows Phones," said Steve Ballmer, chief executive officer at Microsoft. "In a crowded market filled with phones that look the same and do the same things, I challenged the team to deliver a different kind of mobile experience. We believe Windows Phone 7 Series is a phone that truly reflects the speed of people's lives and their need to connect to other people."
Designed for Life in Motion
With Windows Phone 7 Series, Microsoft takes a fundamentally different approach to phone software. Smart design begins with a new, holistic design system that informs every aspect of the phone, from its visually appealing layout and motion to its function and hardware integration. On the Start screen, dynamically updated "live tiles" show users real-time content directly, breaking the mold of static icons that serve as an intermediate step on the way to an application. Create a tile of a friend, and the user gains a readable, up-to-date view of a friend's latest pictures and posts, just by glancing at Start.
Every Windows Phone 7 Series phone will come with a dedicated hardware button for Bing, providing one-click access to search from anywhere on the phone, while a special implementation of Bing search provides intent-specific results, delivering the most relevant Web or local results, depending on the type of query.
Windows Phone 7 Series creates an unrivaled set of integrated experiences on a phone through Windows Phone hubs. Hubs bring together related content from the Web, applications and services into a single view to simplify common tasks. Windows Phone 7 Series includes six hubs built on specific themes reflecting activities that matter most to people:
- People. This hub delivers an engaging social experience by bringing together relevant content based on the person, including his or her live feeds from social networks and photos. It also provides a central place from which to post updates to Facebook and Windows Live in one step.
- Pictures. This hub makes it easy to share pictures and video to a social network in one step. Windows Phone 7 Series also brings together a user's photos by integrating with the Web and PC, making the phone the ideal place to view a person's entire picture and video collection.
- Games. This hub delivers the first and only official Xbox LIVE experience on a phone, including Xbox LIVE games, Spotlight feed and the ability to see a gamer's avatar, Achievements and gamer profile. With more than 23 million active members around the world, Xbox LIVE unlocks a world of friends, games and entertainment on Xbox 360, and now also on Windows Phone 7 Series.
- Music + Video. This hub creates an incredible media experience that brings the best of Zune, including content from a user's PC, online music services and even a built-in FM radio into one simple place that is all about music and video. Users can turn their media experience into a social one with Zune Social on a PC and share their media recommendations with like-minded music lovers. The playback experience is rich and easy to navigate, and immerses the listener in the content.
- Marketplace. This hub allows the user to easily discover and load the phone with certified applications and games.
- Office. This hub brings the familiar experience of the world's leading productivity software to the Windows Phone. With access to Office, OneNote and SharePoint Workspace all in one place, users can easily read, edit and share documents. With the additional power of Outlook Mobile, users stay productive and up to date while on the go.
Partners from around the world have committed to include Windows Phone 7 Series in their portfolio plans. They include mobile operators AT&T, Deutsche Telekom AG, Orange, SFR, Sprint, Telecom Italia, Telefónica, Telstra, T-Mobile USA, Verizon Wireless and Vodafone, and manufacturers Dell, Garmin-Asus, HTC Corp., HP, LG, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Toshiba and Qualcomm Inc. The first phones will be available by holiday 2010. Customers who would like to receive additional information about Windows Phone 7 Series and be notified when it is available can register at http://www.windowsphone7series.com.
To watch the full replay of Steve Ballmer's press conference at Mobile World Congress, and to experience Windows Phone 7 Series through an online product demo, readers can visit http://www.microsoft.com/news/windowsphone.
Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq "MSFT") is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.