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MWC 2010

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Windows Phone 7 Dell Mini 5 HTC LG Mini  

Microsoft today unveiled Windows Phone 7 Series. This new version of their mobile OS is a dramatic departure from previous versions. Microsoft went back to the drawing board on this one, both with the code and with the user interface. They're not talking much about the code and platform just yet (that comes next month) but they have shown us the user interface.

Contrary to some rumors, there is no "consumer" and "professional" version - there's just the one version.

The user interface looks absolutely nothing like previous versions. If you've used a Zune HD, you're halfway there. There's a lot of big, pretty text, lists, and swiping up, down, left and right. The animation between screens is sexy as hell. Only what's absolutely necessary and relevant is shown on the screen. Forget about status bars, menu bars, or any of the usual "chrome", as Microsoft calls it. Instead, all you see is the content you're working with at the moment, and absolutely minimalist icons. Well, there is a very minimal status bar on some screens, but it's much more minimal than you're probably used to.

Windows Phone 7 - Basics  

It looks very clean and pretty, although sometimes it's a little too simplified. It's not always obvious what the little icons at the bottom do, and it's not at all obvious that you need to tap on the blank area next to them to bring up more options.

The home screen has a "live tile" concept, with a two-column grid layout. Various widgets can go here, with live updating info, like new text messages, missed calls, weather, etc. You can also move any app or contact here as a handy shortcut. Some tiles are double-wide, stretching across both columns. Third-party apps can have live-updating tiles as well.

Windows Phone 7 includes integration with both XBox Live and Zune services. (Coinciding with this, Zune services will finally be going global.) The Zune part isn't Zune "lite", either; it's basically a full Zune HD built right into your Windows Phone. Speaking of Zune, the Zune desktop software will now be the main way you connect your Windows Phone to your PC, much as iTunes is the conduit for connecting an iPhone to the desktop. Goodbye, ActiveSync and WMDC.

Windows Phone 7 - Zune And XBox  

There are several "hubs" in the interface. Examples include People, Pictures, Zune (music), Office, etc. The People hub is esentially the contacts app. The Pictures hub includes social media integration, so you can upload to Facebook and see a feed of you're friends' recent photos. The Office hub include "Documents", obviously, but also OneNote and SharePoint areas that are synced to the cloud.

As you might expect from any modern mobile OS, there's integration with social media like Twitter and Facebook. You can pull in your Facebook contacts, photos, etc. and sync with Exchange as well. In several parts of the OS, there's a "what's new" screen, that bubbles up any new communication with your contacts, etc. Facebook and Windows Live are the big networks that will be fully supported at launch, but other networks will be added "quickly."

There are some basic hardware requirements, such as a large WVGA capacitive-touch screen, three main buttons on the front, plus a camera and power button on the side. The three buttons on the front are Start (home), Back, and Search. Like Android, the search button is contextual, so if you press it while in your contact list, it will search your contacts. On the home screen, it brings up a Bing web search. (There's no device-wide search.)

The hardware and software requirements are much stricter than before. Microsoft is specifically trying to compete with "vertically-integrated competitors" (in other words, Apple.) Microsoft isn't getting into the hardware business, but manufacturers will not be allowed to make a low-end Windows Phone 7 Series device. They will be allowed to add a sliding keyboard if they wish, or a really high-res camera, but there's not much other wiggle room for manufacturers to differentiate, at least compared to previous versions of Windows Mobile.

On the software side, companies can load their own live tiles or a few other specifically-allowed customizations, but for the most part the interface must look the way Microsoft designed it. Interface layers that "cover up" the Microsoft interface - like HTC TouchFlo - will no longer be allowed.

Windows Phone 7 - Bing  

The Bing web search is more than just a link to Bing. It offers a "pivot" options at the top. Think of pivot options like tabs on a web page. The options include local search results with a map, automatically customized to your location. You can also switch to news results, or regular web results. The results are displayed natively in the pretty Windows Phone 7 style; you're not just looking at a web page with search results.

The OS supports landscape mode, but only in a few specific scenarios, like photos, or messaging (where you might want to use a slide-out keyboard.) So if you're typing an email with the keyboard and then want to switch apps, going out to the home screen will force you into portrait mode.

The virtual keyboard is decent - similar in performance to Android - supporting word prediction.

Multi-touch is supported in the browser, maps and photos. If you're familiar with how the iPhone Safari browser works, you'll be right at home in the new version of Internet Explorer. You can pinch to zoom, or double-tap for quick and intelligent zooming in and out. It works well.

All four major national carriers in the US will be offering Windows Phone 7 Series devices. As for manufacturers, HTC, Samsung, LG, Sony Ericsson, Dell and HP will all be making phones using the new platform. They should be hitting stores in time for the holiday shipping season.

We'll have more hands-on impressions soon.


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