Hubs and apps
Microsoft has made it clear that we haven't seen everything from Windows Phone 7 yet -- particularly in the application department -- but here's a look at what we have
been given access to, and brief descriptions of the software's functionality: People hub:
Pulls in contacts from Gmail, Exchange, Facebook, Twitter, Windows Live and others, aggregating contact information, status updates, and contact images into a single view (or views, really). The main view of this hub keeps your most recently or heavily contacted people in first view dynamically (though this can be customized as well), and allows you to quickly jump to feeds of your recent updates from social networks aggregated by Windows Live. There's also a section here called "me" where you can view and edit your own statuses within your networks.
An aggregate of your locally stored photos, cloud-based Facebook, Windows Live, or other connected picture galleries, and feeds of your contacts' recently updated images. The pictures hub will also allow you to upload and comment on photos on services like Facebook natively inside of the hub experience.
Games hub: Integrates with Xbox LIVE, including the housing of a miniature version of your avatar (in 3D and everything), Xbox LIVE games and achievements, Spotlight feeds, and the ability to browse gamer profiles. Microsoft hasn't shown any games yet, but has made mention of Facebook-style turn-based casual games being part of the equation. It's our impression that these devices have the horsepower to push pretty decent gaming experiences, and the integration with Xbox and its ecosystem is being taken very seriously by the folks in Redmond. We hope the fruit of this union will focus on more than just users hoping to play Sudoku on their phone. This should be an easy one to not screw up.
Music + Video hub: It's a Zune HD in your phone. Seriously. It's exactly like the Zune HD experience. You're able to utilize Zune Pass here too, including the ability to browse and download new music over WiFi and 3G. Video is a go too, and we assume that means rentals as well as purchases, but it's still unclear how this will interact with your desktop, Xbox, or Media Center setup. Furthermore, Microsoft is working with partners like Pandora to integrate with the hub, utilizing the Zune player to tap into Pandora's streaming service.
Marketplace hub: We've heard the least about this one so far, Microsoft is promising big things at MIX10, but we get the impression that when it comes to getting apps for these devices, the company is going to bring a much more Zune or Xbox like experience to the process. Based on the photos we've seen (which haven't been officially issued by Microsoft), the Marketplace looks nothing like the app-purchasing scheme on current Windows Mobile devices -- and that's an incredibly good thing.
And all the rest...
Office hub: Microsoft's bread and butter, but so far we've just seen the hub itself -- none of its deeper functionality like document editing. There's an emphasis on OneNote and SharePoint Workspace that should be pretty interesting, however. Ultimately, based on the new UI paradigms and user experience directives of Windows Phone 7 Series, Microsoft is going to have to rebuild these applications from the ground up. As long as they're able to make them super functional while keeping the Metro look intact, this should be a real win -- we're still curious as to how the company plans to cram all that information into a UI which is focused on doing away with visual noise. Hopefully MIX10 will shed some light on this as well.
Relies on the pivot to switch between message views (unread / flagged / etc.), and has a color-coded system for differentiating between work and personal messages. Hopefully there's an option to un-mix multiple inboxes as well, but it's unclear so far. Multiple message management is onboard here, thankfully, though there's also a lot of negative space in the app, which is a bit of a concerning (if beautiful) trend throughout the UI. We don't expect any deep integration with services like Gmail beyond the contact syncing... though if Microsoft could pull labeling, archiving, and threaded messages off here, we can think of at least one editor who would be seriously inclined to switch to this platform.
One of the odder apps visually, it almost looks like a DOS UI, with a white-on-black / primary color presentation. There are differentiations for specific types of data, such as red and blue notation for personal items and work. As we said earlier, this is weirdly one of the most striking applications on the phone, with lots of interesting functionality tied to its visual elements, like little lines in the day boxes which represent appointments when you're zoomed out to a month view.
It's barebones so far, but supports SMS and MMS, and it appears that the keyboard can be rotated to landscape for text entry. Let's hope that's an option in most places where input is required.
Even barer bones. Chromeless is in full effect here.
This is a big one, and Microsoft claims to have something newer and more based on the desktop IE than the current Windows Mobile / Zune browser. Features include multitouch pinch-to-zoom, "tabbed" browsing, and a new text rendering engine that brings supports sub pixel positioning for text. It's not as fast as we'd like just yet, but Microsoft has more than half a year to work out the kinks, and at least the page rendering is accurate.
Search has contextual use in most apps, but from the Start menu it pulls up a separate, dedicated Bing app. When you search, Bing will try to decide what sort of search you're doing and present an appropriate set of results -- local results instead of web pages if you're looking for sushi, for instance. You can pivot between views, naturally, and the results are presented in the standard Windows Phone UI instead of just a mobile browser version of Bing.
Addresses throughout the phone are turned into hyperlinks that can pull up Bing maps (phone numbers and email addresses are also intelligently discovered by the OS and made linkable), which includes pinch to zoom navigation and an auto-switch from map to satellite view at a certain zoom level. Microsoft is really pushing geolocation here, though we assume users will be given an option on whether or not they want to be found.
Windows Mobile legacy
Microsoft hasn't directly addressed the issue of backward compatibility with old Windows Mobile applications, but based on rumors and chatter we've heard, it's looking like this is a clean break, or at least it would require significant tweaks to get old software up and running on the new platform. Also, few (if any) existing handsets will be eligible for an upgrade to 7, there's almost zero UI carryover (sorry, power users), and Microsoft isn't allowing any carrier or OEM skins on top of 7 either. Let that soak in for just a moment: no Sense, no TouchWiz, no SPB Mobile Shell. The company has hinted at "extensibility" of its framework to allow for some level of carrier or manufacturer customization, but it's clear that Microsoft wants a much more unified experience from device to device.
So, where does this leave existing Windows Mobile users? Well, your phone still works, and since Microsoft has eliminated any sort of clear upgrade path, we're guessing there will be a pretty vibrant community of non-upgraders who will develop for and support existing Windows Mobile devices for years to come. Microsoft itself is positioning Windows Phone 7 Series primarily for consumers right now, which means it also has an interest in keeping Windows Mobile alive and well supported for the enterprise -- not to mention the slew of new Windows Mobile 6.5.3 devices it's pushing at MWC right this minute. Any reports of the death of Windows Mobile are greatly exaggerated, but it's also not an exaggeration to say that Microsoft has gone "scorched earth" in developing toward its primary future in phones.
Partners and developers
Naturally, there are plenty of companies -- both on the hardware and carrier front -- on board for Windows Phone 7 Series, and so far support has been pledged by Dell, Garmin-Asus, HTC, HP, LG (rumored to have a device ready by September
), Samsung, Sony Ericsson, and Toshiba on the hardware end. When it comes to carriers, the list is even longer, including AT&T, Deutsche Telekom AG, Orange, SFR, Sprint, Telecom Italia, Telefónica, Telstra, T-Mobile USA, Verizon Wireless and Vodafone. Needless to say, there will be no shortage of availability when WP7 comes to market.
On the developer side, Microsoft seems to be acutely aware of how badly it needs to come big on the app and software front. Every indication we got from team members in Barcelona led us to believe that they are focusing a tremendous amount of energy and thought on what the next step for them from a developer standpoint will be. One thing Microsoft has always prided itself on was developer love (c'mon, we've all seen the video), but in recent years the company seems to have taken a backseat while Apple has been blowing everyone away with its easy-to-code, easy-to-market solution for software on the iPhone and iPod touch. Microsoft will have to deliver a solution here that is not only competitive, but more attractive
than the competition. We were told countless times that we would get a clearer picture on a lot of the nerdier queries we had at the upcoming MIX10 (which happens in mid-March). Until that event comes and goes, we're not sure we'll get a lot more clarity on that.
Microsoft's shown a lot, but in some ways it's raised more questions than answers. The biggest issue at hand is how Microsoft will treat app development: will it expect Windows Phone 7 Series apps to look and operate like the 7 Series UI? Will it allow open extensions into its hubs to expand the number and kind of supported services? How do you navigate your files on the phone? Is the Xbox Live hub going to be inhabited by the likes of Scrabble or Halo? Hopefully most of this will be answered at MIX10, where Microsoft promises to unveil its app and gaming strategy for Windows Phone (amongst other things). It's going to take a special blend of tools, encouragement, and market share incentive to get developers on board, but we have to assume Microsoft knows this as well as anybody.
The rest is in the hands of Microsoft's developers, however. So far we've seen barely skin deep into the new OS, and witnessed plenty rough edges in even what was presented. We've been here before: Palm wowed the world with its revolutionary webOS UI, but a tight release deadline left quite a bit of functionality on the cutting room floor, and perhaps too many bugs, hiccups and slowdowns for a shipping OS. Microsoft has less than a year to pull this thing into fighting shape, and we'll be tracking every step of the way, with particular curiosity about the what sort of finished product we'll end up with on the other side.
Additional reporting and research by Paul Miller