I’ve watched a few demos of Microsoft’s newly announced Windows Phone 7 Series and while I’m glad that Microsoft finally did something new, I’m not sure how I feel about the actual design of the software.
I’m glad that they finally decided to break backwards compatibility, especially since (whether Microsoft knows it or not) Windows Mobile died years ago. The lack of backwards compatibility might be the kick in the pants Windows Mobile developers needed to build better applications. Nothing helps developers build great software than an interesting platform to write for and this is certainly an interesting platform.
The most striking difference between Windows Mobile and Phone 7 Series is the home screen which uses tiles. I don’t really like the home screen as it doesn’t seem to fit with the design of the applications. While the home screen clearly indicates what can and can’t be tapped making use of the tiles, the typographic interface of the applications themselves doesn’t really differentiate between tappable, un-tappable, and swipe-able text with any type of visual cue.
I haven’t actually used the device and the experience could be completely different once I get my hands on it, but I don’t see the interface as being very inviting to use. It looks like it was designed as something to look at, but not something to interact with.
I’m happy that Microsoft finally built in Zune integration, but this is a predictable move, and I can’t imagine the amount of complaining that would occur if Microsoft didn’t build in Zune integration. Windows Mobile has never really had a great Microsoft-built desktop syncing interface and I hope that the Zune software will be that software.
Microsoft has been very hush hush regarding multi-tasking for this platform. The rumor is that Windows Phone 7 Series won’t have “true” multi-tasking, instead implementing it similarly to how Apple does. In other words, if there is multi-tasking it will likely only be enabled on the music app, email app, and a few other default apps.
One of the most interesting aspects of this announcement is that Microsoft will be setting minimum specs for handsets. This isn’t something Microsoft has really done in the past and will certainly help push the platform to where it needs to be. Microsoft will be dictating the aspect ratio of displays, Wi-Fi is required, AGPS is required, along with standards on what buttons you must have. My first worry here is that every manufacturer will be building essentially the same device. Competing based on price is exactly what’s plaguing the PC market — I don’t think this is the direction Microsoft needs to be going if they expect there to be any innovation. However, I might be eating my words if Microsoft continues to raise the minimum requirements of handsets and somehow manages to keep people interested with further software updates. I’m weary of these types of requirements but they could end up being a blessing in disguise (no matter how much handset makers hate them).
I think Microsoft did exactly what they needed to do in order to breathe new life into their stale mobile division. This is what Microsoft should have done years ago. It’s unfortunate that it took Apple and Google jumping into the cell phone game for Microsoft to finally do this. Microsoft is a software company filled with really smart developers — sometimes I just can’t understand why they’re unwilling to innovate unless someone else is beating them to the punch. It’s almost as if Microsoft can’t actually get anything done unless there is a sense of urgency.