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Windows Phone 7 Series - Interface and Features

What do you need to know about Windows Phone 7 Series? It's not Windows Mobile as you know it - the re-branding from Windows Mobile to Windows Phone Series 7 is completely appropriate. Here's the big changes and some (very very early) impressions.

Read on for our early take of this early build of Windows Phone 7 Series

First, as we mentioned, the hardware Microsoft has to show so far is not anything like what the final build of the hardware will be. Instead we have development devices for a development build. We saw some hang-ups throughout - but for an OS that's not set to launch until just before the Holidays at the end of this year, it was remarkably polished.

User Experience

Windows Phone 7 Series is a lot like the Zune. We're not calling this the Zune phone, neither is Microsoft, and neither should you. That said, what we have here is a very dynamic feeling OS with lots of nice animations between screens. Content flips open and closed like a page in a book.

Similar to Zune, there's a heavy emphasis on typography instead of 'chrome.' In fact, one of the mantras here is "Content, not Chrome." It sounds a little boring, but in fact the large, clean type looks and feels incredibly elegant.

The lack of "chrome" persists throughout the entire OS. Instead of menu bars, gradients, and garish colors you have a dark black slate, white or gray type, and your content filling the entire screen. Despite that, the visual cues that Microsoft provides throughout the entire OS really does help maintain your sense of 'place.'

OEM manufacturers cannot change this user experience. They're free to add panels and apps, of course, but Windows Phone is bringing a consistent experience to all devices.

Some apps get the distinction of becoming "hubs," which have the ability to swipe left and right between different options. For example, within Bing search you can swipe left and right to search the web and search locally. Calendar lets you swipe left and right between different calendar views. Within email, you can swipe between you inbox, unread messages, and urgent messages.

For more options, there is a small button bar at the bottom of some apps with certain features like sending and attaching. In some of those apps you can tap near the buttons to pull up another menu with still more options. It's not as clear or consistent as a dedicated menu button, however, so you just sort of have to check to see if there are more options there. It definitely seems a bit confusing, but if nothing else it's a sign that we're looking at a different kind of aesthetic from Microsoft. Their dedication to the UI principles behind Windows Phone 7 Series won't be shaken.

Start

Everything with Windows Phone 7 starts and stops with the Start screen experience. There are two sides to the Start Screen - tiles on the left, a straightforward app menu on the right. You're going to be hitting the Start button a lot, as pretty much everything requires you jump back to that screen to switch between apps. Speaking of buttons, there are only going to be three of them: Start, Search, and Back.

Let's start with the App menu, which is the simplest part. It's just an alphabetical list of apps. You can "pin" any app to the tiles side by long-pressing on the item.

When your app becomes promoted to live tile, Windows Phone will dynamically set the tile to include whatever content the tile makes available. For example, you most recent photo, how many missed calls you have, a tiny thumbnail of the map of your most recent location, etc.

You can have plenty of tiles, though Microsoft wasn't sure exactly how many it stops at - roughly three screens worth was their current thinking. Default tiles include phone, SMS, email, Internet Explorer, music, etc.

In all, the tile interface gives you information at a glance, like the traditional today screen but in a format that's not only much prettier but also much easier to configure.

Music and Games

Beyond the new UI, the big new features everybody will be talking about are Zune and Xbox integration.

Zune integration is simple and straightforward - it's a Zune inside a Windows Phone, basically. That means you'll be using the Zune desktop client to sync -- and that includes sync over WiFi -- but it also appears to mean that Windows Phone 7 Series won't be the enterprise powerhouse at launch that Windows Mobile currently is.

Still - Zune in a phone: this is a big deal. Additionally, the Zune hub on Windows Phone is also extensible for third parties. Microsoft explicitly mentioned that there would be a Pandora app within the music hub.

The other big feature is Xbox Live integration. Games on 7 Series will be integrated with Xbox Live - updating your gamer score and achievements. You can also view live announcements, play social games, and see your own gamer tag/avatar.

Search and Contacts

Bing and Bing Maps are in Windows Phone 7 and they look and work great. The maps app is especially impressive - with pinch-to-zoom and dynamic maps that 'blur' as you change zoom levels and even automatically switch to satellite view when you zoom in close enough.

Bing is also able to 'guess' what kind of search you want - "sushi" goes to local, "definition of sushi" is more likely to go to web.

Unfortunately, what you don't have here is any sort of universal search. Search is completely contextual - to search emails (assuming one can?), you go into emails. To search contacts, you need to drop into the contacts panel. Hopefully Microsoft makes quickly finding and calling/texting people a priority between now and launch, because the idea of droping to start, hitting contacts, and then searching doesn't appeal to us. Then again, you are free to add specific contacts to the tiles screen.

Contacts does have plenty of social networking integration. You can pull in contacts from (that we saw) Facebook, Exchange, and Windows Live. Each contact panel has the ability to wipe left and right as well, one screen showing contact info, another their most recent status messages.

Productivity

We didn't get a deep look at office, but it's here and OneNote is front and center. There is full compatibility with SharePoint and you can access those documents offline.

Email looks great, though - there's a lot of white space so you won't get a ton of emails in one screen, but scrolling is fast enough to hopefully not make that a problem. You can also select multiple messages from within your inbox to delete or move them for faster triaging.

Contrary to previous rumors, there doesn't appear to be a 'business edition' of Windows Phone, although we suspect that both Microsoft and their OEM partners will continue to invest in Windows Mobile 6.5.3 as the device that's good for people who need to heavily manage devices in a corporate exchange environment.

Beyond that, it does look like Windows Phone 7 Series takes one step forward and two steps backward when it comes to multitasking. The step forward: everything is faster and smoother and better looking and of course you can do stuff like listen to your Zune music in the background. The step backward is that it doesn't look like we have 'true' multitasking just yet - but we'll see if that's really the case.

Wrapping up

We will obviously have plenty more to talk about and plenty we haven't covered here - we've had some face time but not nearly as much as we'd like.

That said, Windows Phone 7 Series is some good looking stuff and it looks like it's great for people who love Zune or Xbox, but whether or not traditional Windows Mobile super users will be interested may depend on the application and multitasking story.

Stay tuned - Windows Phone 7 Series is a game changer. 

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Comments

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says:

What about running multiple applications at a time? What about navigation software without backwards compatibility?

I'm seriously disappointed. None of my questions have been answered. I don't want to wait any longer to get them answered.

says:

They said that stuff will be talked about in great detail at MiX, in a few weeks. Today was just about the UI only.

says:

From another video I saw on engadget, they asked about multitasking and he stated that "they are focusing on the experience and that you go back out to the homescreen to change to different apps". However, he also made a comment about things still happening in the background. I wish they would have followed up by asking if they start loading a webpage in browser, go back to home page and do something, then return, will the page be loaded?

There will OF COURSE be navigation options. That's a huge part of mobile devices now. Probably they will integrate it with Bing, which is tightly integrated into the new OS. Or, new third-party apps will be available. developers will get RTM versions before the devices ship, obviously.

Why can't you wait any longer for answers? There is about 8 months until release!

says:

That seems to be the kicker that some folks are wrapping their heads around.

Some folks are just complaining about 'multitasking' for the sake of complaining imo.

I think you need to look at "Service multitasking" and "Application multitasking". That's part of the paradigm shift that MS will go into greater detail at MIX.

So, webpages come from a service, so I wouldn't be surprised if you're browser was able to render pages from a web server (service) in the background.

densbucs says:

During the short video they played, didn't it hit on multitasking?? ( in and out, in and out)(refering to other OS's that make you quit to do something else).

It doesn't seem like they would say that and then do the exact same thing.

Today was about showing off the interface and i think they did a bang-up job. Looks like the rest of the questions will be answered at MIX2010.

says:

*sigh*

Sure looks, uh, pretty... I don't think though that I will be waiting for one. WinMo's biggest 'down point' to people who reviewed it and obviously only cared if things were pretty was the GUI. While it certainly looks like MS fixed that (not my cup o'tea) with this, I'm let down by no 3rd party UI, lack of multitasking, and well simply the options of HTC's Task Manager to quickly swich between apps...

I'm not ruling it out, but so far this is a let down. Especially with having to sync with Zune. I mean really, now I'll need to load Zune on my client's computers vs MDC?

densbucs says:

If MSFT's interface looks good then why do you need to skin it???

I thought that was why HTC and the likes, did skinning was because winMo interface was 'boring' ( i happen to love 'sliding panels' (Wm6.5 stock interface).


And there is nothing wrong with Zune software. Way more interactive than MDC.

waazzupppp says:

Gotta remember also, the skinners have been working on 6.x for years - Mobile Shell, Touch Flo, Touch Wiz are all in second generation or better. MS probably doesn't want them to skin this new look out of the gate to make sure that there aren't any crap skins thrown on top of the 'new unified user experience'...

There's nothing complex about skinning, it's just changing graphics and tweaking settings. I'm sure that we will see UI's customized on XDA before too long - as well as various themes that change the base look very quickly.

Gameboy70 says:

The main reason for skinning is OEM branding. If MS plans to manufacture or commission its own hardware, like the Zune, and not go the licensing route (eschewed by WebOS, BB, iPhone), then there's no problem. But if this is being licensed to OEMs, then Android, LiMo, Maemo and Bada are probably going to be more attractive options for their customizability. Apple has the leverage to release a walled garden OS that other OEMs would covet, but not MS.

says:

You skin it so it is tailored for what you are doing, or what you want. There are still times that I miss the old 6.1 interface and the sheer amount of information it can display.

There are lots of things wrong with the Zune software, you obviously have never ran IT for a corporation. Zune software has no ability to be managed by active directory unlike Activesync of old, and WMDC currently shipping Vista forward. This is a nightmare for the BULK of their current customers, corporations. Not to mention all the scanners that UPS, FedEX and other companies use. Do you really think they need to load up a bloated, slow, fugly software like Zune just to sync their device?

While this new "move" may be a win for the average teenager or gadget geek, this is a shot in the face to corporate users.

says:

MS dropped support for those apps because the this will sync data OTA. They touched on that already. The only time you connect it via usb and use the zune software is for music and videos, and you're NOT going to be doing that at work right?

All the office stuff and contacts syn without the need to connect to a PC. It's what OTA was meant for really.

densbucs says:

not to mention the WiFi synch that Zune has

Gameboy70 says:

I like the "content, not chrome" approach to UI design, but cutting off customization options seems dicey from an OEM adoption perspective. There isn't much motivation for HTC or Samsung to develop 7 Series devices when the have more brandable platforms like Android and Bada.

Right now, the cherry holding my interest is Zune integration, but I still need to see more details about calendar and tasks implementation. WM has been one of the few remaining platforms that doesn't treat task list management as an afterthought, but the emphasis so far with WP7S has been OneNote.

Backward compatibility is important for me as well. A large part of WM's value in the face of stiff competition is its extensive library of apps. Without this catalog, I might as well switch to Android. Obviously, news is still rolling out throughout the day, so let's see how things unfold.

says:

"Stay tuned - Windows Phone 7 Series is a game changer. "

So is an intercepted pass, or a fumble. It's not yet clear which kind of game changer this is. I'm worried that MS, like Palm with the Pre, has gone to far toward the iPhone "ease of use / entertainment" model to the detriment of those who need a productivity tool.

And an 8 or 9 month wait for devices is intolerable. Win Phone 7 will be an afterthought by then. Going back to the sports metaphor, a late 2010 availability date is like kicking a field goal with 10 seconds left, when you're 7 points behind.

Gameboy70 says:

I'm worried that MS, like Palm with the Pre, has gone to far toward the iPhone "ease of use / entertainment" model to the detriment of those who need a productivity tool.

Couldn't have said it better myself. I'm still angry at Palm for trashing the robust PIM apps in Palm OS for the Fisher-Price versions in WebOS.

I suspect that reviewers are going to spend the next few weeks covering every scrap of the eye candy, social networking and multimedia aspects of WP7S without much examination of the platform's basic productivity functions.

says:

Amen to all of the above comments...

I see all these reviewers and commenters getting all excited over how slick and fancy it is, and then getting "holy than thou" when we dare criticize MS for finally caving to those who want the flashyness.

I'm sorry, WinMo wasn't ever built for Joe consumer, it was built for corporate users both in terms of exchange devices, and an OS for the UPS/FedEX type guys. They're really eliminating that it looks like.

says:

Where the heck do you get that from? Did you miss all the Office integration? It works with damn sharepoint for gods sake. Becuase they demoed the UI's for People that has social networking integration you think it has no business features or use at all? Are we even looking at the same OS?

Gameboy70 says:

We were talking about productivity in general, not just Office integration. Basic PIM apps, like Tasks (with categories, unlike, say, OWA or My Phone), are just as essential as groupware.

says:

ITs about money guys, its about money.

says:

Man i had high hopes for window mobile 7. it doesn't look too good to me though.....I guess its official. I'm moving to the Palm Pre. Hopefully something will blow us away during its release time.

says:

I just wish they had a GSM version!

says:

as of right now im going back to android...7 has dissapointed me..but hey its just an early development version...the final release will determin that for me...im sick of all this ease of use iphony crap...i need a real powerhouse like that of windows mobile & android...

says:

The lack of universal search is a deal breaker for me. I have about 1,600 contacts.

Also, not having transit/bus directions in Maps is lacking compared to the iPhone.

I've seen a few reviews but nobody has talked about Email and Browsing on this. Can you cover that hands on?