Yesterday was a pretty big day for Microsoft and one that I had been anticipating for a long while. At the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona, we finally unveiled to the world what our next generation of Windows Phones will look and act like – we introduced the Windows Phone 7 Series mobile operating system (watch the announcement here). This introduction represents a truly radical change in Microsoft’s mobile strategy and already it has been garnering very positive feedback from the public (read Engadget’s review here; my initial search on the Twitter tag #wp7s is extremely positive as well). You can expect smart devices featuring Windows Phone 7 Series in time for the 2010 Holiday season.
Over the past months (and even years!), Microsoft’s mobile strategy has been questioned and blasted as being yesterday’s news, with very little to bring to the table in today’s highly competitive mobility market. In complete honesty, I really can’t disagree with a lot of the criticism. While I am enjoying Windows Mobile 6.5 on my Samsung Omnia Pro II (the device is the best I’ve had in all the smart phones I’ve owned), the experience simply does not rival other mobile OS competitors in the space (notably the iPhone and Android, but also RIM’s Blackberry OS which has very strong traction in North America).
The mobility space is undeniably the “new battleground” in computing. True, the desktop and laptop computer space continually has iterations of improvement both in software and hardware but the industry has largely become commoditized. The truth of the matter is that consumers, businesses, software vendors, developers and designers are all looking to the smart device market as the new frontier of computing and a focus for building useful, new and innovative software experiences. Without a doubt, the market for smart device software has become white-hot.
Microsoft’s Strategy with Windows Phone 7 Series: The User Experience Comes First
Microsoft believes that a user’s affinity with a given mobile platform is with the experience it provides. That is to say, the platform allows the user to be the most productive and delighted when using the device. While the hardware devices themselves are a large part of this experience (nobody wants a clunky-looking smart device), I would argue it isn’t the main reason people are intrigued and itching to get into the industry. It’s the ability to create powerful user experiences through software that are driving this fervor in the mobile space. The hardware in of itself can shift the paradigm (see: iPhone) if the features of the handset have compelling functionality (such as the accelerometer and multi-touch), it’s the software that ultimately drives the experience and differentiates one mobility platform from another. With this in mind, the Windows Phone 7 Series product team spent much of their time and focus making the experience as user-centric as possible, thereby making the user the most important part of the experience (see a video on this here – please note that you may be required to sign in to view it; the sign-up is free, however).
To get a feel for what the Windows Phone 7 Series experience is like, check out the following video:
Building Compelling User Experiences for Windows Phone 7 Series: Designers and Developers are First-Class Citizens in this Process
One thing Microsoft understands is its partner community. You hear it coming from almost anyone who works at Microsoft: we are successful only when our partners are successful. As such, we are working hard to make sure that you, as a designer or developer, can build the best smart device experiences on our platform with minimal effort and minimum barrier to entry.
Microsoft will be providing several compelling technologies to build great applications for Windows Phone 7 Series, many of which will use or build on skillsets designers and developers may already have. While as of right now, details on how to develop applications for Windows Phone 7 Series are a little light, more application development details will be forthcoming at our MIX10 event March15th through 17th (if you register before February 21st you can save $200 off of the registration fee). You can expect many more details throughout the coming months and in particular at MIX10 where several breakout sessions have been dedicated to the design and development of applications for Windows Phone 7 Series.
As a Windows Phone 7 Series specialist from Microsoft Canada, I will be at this event, so if you have questions or want to book some time with me at the event, let me know! I can be reached at paul<dot>laberge<at>microsoft<dot>com or via my Twitter handle, @plaberge.
While I don’t have much information to share with you on the application design and development process yet, rest assured it is coming and once we have publicized that information I will be very happy to go through it with you in more detail.
So, What’s in the Box?
I’ve listed some of the most interesting features that will be included in Windows Phone 7 Series below. While this is obviously not an exhaustive list, this should be enough to get you thinking about what the platform can do (for a more complete list of features, please check out Joey deVilla’s Windows Phone 7 Series blog post on the Developer Connection blog):
- Capacitive Multi-Touch Screen: The screen for Windows Phone 7 Series will feature 4-point multi-touch.
- Task-Centric UI: The UI focuses around what is most important to the user rather than having to navigate through several apps to get to what you want. This is accomplished through the use of…
- Tiles: At first glance, tiles are just a fancy name for icons, but it’s much more than that. A tile might take the form of an application’s icon, or, more intersesting, bits of user-centric information. These tiles can be customised by the user to help get access to the information most important to him/her (example: a tile linking to the user’s Facebook or Twitter profile).
- Accelerometer and automatic screen rotation: The ability to sense and capture motion from the hardware.
- Games: Yes, Windows Phone 7 Series will allow you to run/build games which can also include linkage to XBox Live
- Consistency across hardware buttons: Each Windows 7 Phone Series-enabled smart device will have 3 buttons – a Windows (aka: “Start”) button, a Back button, and a dedicated Search button linking to…
- Context-Sensitive Search: Search allows you to find info locally to your smart device and also web search. The search results are context-sensitive, meaning, for example, if you are looking for an address, it will launch Bing Maps. If you’re looking for a email it will look for that email locally or on your email server.
- Social capabilities: You have the ability to manage and track your friends through your Windows Phone 7 Series smart device across multiple email clients and social networking applications.
- A new version of IE: Microsoft has stated that the browser included with Windows Phone 7 Series will be the most advanced browser we have produced.
- Media: The ability to store and play media (music, photos and video) is native to Windows Phone 7 Series. If you are familiar with the Zune HD interface, this will look very familiar to you.
- Mail and Calendar: Very rich functionality associated with email and calendar functionality is included in the platform (which you would expect, of course!)
Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list but it does provide a list of features that might be compelling to software developers and designers.