February 18, 2010

Windows Mobile is dead

Remember when I said Nokia's Mameo could potentially be the next killer smartphone OS? Well, screw that. Windows Phone 7 is here to stay.

In the wake of the iPhone, Windows Mobile suddenly seemed to become some of the most unwieldy user experiences ever put to a phone. But today's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona had Microsoft showing off its radically redefined OS. Like Windows 7 for the PC, Windows Phone 7 makes the Windows name attractive for mobile phones again.

(Of course, that's not to say that "Windows Phone 7" is an attractive name though)

I really love the interface, it seems so playful and alive- maybe moreso than the iPhone. The Start page is centered around what you want, and they are composed of tiles (that can have their colors changed) that give you information at a glance. You can instantly access the functions that matter from that home screen, and you can even pin specific people on it. Meaning that if you want to stalk someone's Facebook status or whatever, you can have instant one-tap access.

Using the same "panoramic" sensibilities of the Zune, the Windows Phone 7's native apps are powered by apps that have multi-layered functions that can be accessed with a simple swipe. While you don't have a sort of "page indicator" like in the iPhone, you do get a small arrow encouraging your finger to swipe to a direction. The redefined Contacts app of the phone, called "People", not only contain the most recent contacts you've dialed, you can also swipe to view all of the contacts, and swipe again to view their latest updates. As of now, the updates are only for Windows Live and Facebook, but I suspect Twitter, maybe even Google Buzz, is in the works.

Even in the Photos section, the Windows Phone 7 focuses very much on the people in your life. It will fetch the latest uploads of your contacts from, yes, Facebook and Windows Live again, and you can comment on those photos right from the get-go. Hell, you can upload your own photos as well with a simple tap.

The killer feature of the Windows Phone 7, however, is probably in the form of Xbox Live. You can see your avatar, your gamerscore, your friends list... you can even play some Windows Phone games or something and your Xbox Live profile will probably be used in these games. This actually makes for less user confusion, I mean, the iPhone has a few Xbox Live style apps in games, but Microsoft's offering is much more centralized and unified. Still, you must also remember that Xbox Live is a paid service.

The Music and Videos app of the phone is likely the entire Zune HD, so to speak. The phone will also be powered by universal Bing search, which can be accessed by a specified Bing button.

The phone will also sync your contacts, mail, etc. wirelessly over Wi-Fi, so there's no need for that USB cord, except for when you want to put music and videos as well, which requires the Zune software. Probably the biggest downside of the new OS is Microsoft's stubbornness to the Mac; basically, Microsoft still doesn't want to expand its market of users by supporting its syncing software with the Mac, and that is simply the biggest shame of all. Still, I'm glad that Microsoft's taking a stricter stance on hardware makers, so they won't be able to rape the user experience. Only limited hardware makers have access to the OS, and skinning is not allowed unlike the Google Android.

Seriously, you have to see a video of this OS to believe it.

The iPhone has forced Microsoft to rethink its mobile strategy, and look what the folks at Redmond have conjured up! Now, it's Apple's turn to impress. Will iPhone 4.0, please stand up?

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