Initial Thoughts on Windows Phone 7 Series

So now that I’m back to blogging, I want to talk about Windows Phone 7 Series (which I’ll refer as WP7S) considering how it’s the most biggest thing Microsoft has announced since I last blogged.

First, I want to show you what the next version of Microsoft’s mobile operating system could have been:

Yep, at one point, “Windows Mobile 7” could have been nothing but just another sloppy attempt at making a nice user interface for the OS. You can see that they were still using the outdated 2-pane soft menu, fugly icons, and too much shiny gleam tossed in. They did start implementing the ‘pivot’ stuff, the navigation metaphor that Metro (the interface style that MS has been using in Zune, Windows Media Center, etc.) heavily uses, though of course not in a really aesthetic way. Luckily, about a year ago, Microsoft called a brand new restart on the next iteration of Windows Mobile, and decided that it was time to start anew. Good thinking.

Now Microsoft has came up with Windows Phone 7 Series (I’ll mention my quirks with the name among other things in a different post). It’s completely different from what many have expected Microsoft to do with Windows Mobile. I’m going to go briefly over the main aspects of it, and move on to some questions I still have.

In general, there is a new interface called ‘Metro’ that takes the current Zune HD interface a step further. The homescreen consists of ‘tiles’ which can act either as shortcuts, but also as widgets giving the latest data about something. A further extension of the homescreen, either through a swipe or pressing the arrow along the right, will lead you to a list of applications you can use.

I somewhat like the WP7S homescreen. The idea of customizable tiles (don’t know as to what extent they can be ‘customized’), seem like a nice idea rather than the usual dropping of shortcuts to apps on the homescreen. It’s nice to know you can move them around wherever you want them to be, which ones you want on there, and the ability to pretty much drop a contact, program, file, or whatever onto the homescreen, at least on my assumptions.

(note, recent demos have show a 2007 Outlook icon in place of the envelop in the Outlook tile)

I love the ‘Hubs’ idea. Hubs, or “panoramic experiences” as Microsoft calls it, are basically an aggregation of certain data and applications that basically work well together. All the different apps and related data are placed in a singular ‘panorama’ view (which exists beyond the phone’s screen), and you view each section panel-by-panel. Like the “People” hub below, it’s divided up into recent contacts you’ve interacted with, a list of all contact, latest updates from them, and more.

I love how Microsoft is finally getting serious on putting REAL integration with their other services and products. There’s a Zune hub (or Music+Video, which is really just a media hub), Xbox Live hub, and an Office hub, as examples of the primary platforms that are being integrated together. There’s even a hardwired search button, where any web results are based from Bing.

Windows Marketplace for Mobile, is now simply ‘Marketplace’ and has improved much. It of course adopts the Metro look, allows you test a trial before you buy (length depends on the app’s developer), and you can pay in real monetary currency than Microsoft Points.

There’s also finally a set of minimum requirement that will ensure actual quality devices, unlike before. Windows Phones will actually be fairly decent phones given the specs they are required to have. Windows Phones will at least need to have a capacitive, multitouch screen, specific CPU and speed, memory, accelerometer, 5MP camera, and maybe even more. This is probably a result of past issues with Windows Mobile devices where the specs were rather poor, which hurt the way WinMo performed.

Windows Phones will also use the Zune software as the desktop syncing software, which will really help expose people to how wonderful the Zune software really is, compared to nasty iTunes. Luckily, old ActiveSync method is no longer required.

That’s pretty much the basic gist of what is known so far to the public.

Here are some questions that haven’t been fully answered yet to my knowledge, as well as some commentary as to what I’m expecting or hoping:

1. Will there be international version by launch? How will foreign alphabets that are non-Latin based (like Asian languages such as Chinese, Japanese, etc.) going to work on this, considering how text-heavy the OS is?

– It’d probably still work the same, but it’d be kinda odd, considering how the UI pulls a lot of attention to the typography. Not that other non-Latin characters aren’t pretty, but the effect doesn’t look like it’d be the same considering how short and sweet they are.

2. Is there any status bar and is there a way to activate it throughout the OS (since I’ve only seen it on the homescreen)? Does the status bar do anything nifty like Android’s does?

UPDATE: According to Long Zheng’s post, such icons typically found on the status bar in most phones (like battery, time, network bars, etc.) only show up contextually when you’re in a screen where that might be useful. For example, when making calls, you’ll see the network bars, time, battery life, and carrier name show up at the top like you would on other phones.

(original image by Long Zheng)

This could answer my question. Maybe it’ll change before it’s released or there might be more that hasn’t been seen.

– I would prefer/hope to see it work like a ‘hidden’ status screen, like the way the Zune HD does it. The Zune HD has a side button on the left side that brings up the playback controls and current battery status, and disappears when you don’t need it. Heck, it would even make a nice screen to quickly do application switching, and check out other innards through a quick glance. I doubt WP7S phones have such a neat button though 😦

3. What does the camera interface look like on the phone, and is it standard on all phones or does it depend on the camera manufacturer?

– I’m hoping it’s uniform, with as much advanced options as possible, and turned off only if not present or possible on that phone.

4. Apparently, the phone can multitask, according to this leaked pic from Engadget, but is there a convenient screen to easily manage and switch between running apps, or will you just have to fly around the hubs and various menus to do so? Can apps do side loading?

– Again, I think it would have been really awesome if there was a hidden status ‘screen’ that lets you check out applications and status through a single physical button. Anyway, it’s not clear how app switching will work, if there’s any proper way to do so besides going back through the menus.

5. Can phones have more buttons than what is required? I mean as long as they meet the minimum, could they add extra physical buttons or features?

– I’m thinking Yes, considering the LG WP7S phone has a physical keyboard, but can’t be definite.

6. Is stylus input completely gone now? Is there any form of voice input?

– Ability to use a stylus is still handy to many people, particularly those in Asian countries. Microsoft Voice Command has been commended by many in the past on Windows Mobile, and considering how voice input is part of the “Natural User Interface” imitative that Microsoft plans to better produce in their software, you’d think WP7S would capitalize on that method of input.

7. Will copy & paste make it before RTM or when it officially launches? If not, maybe through an update?

– MS rep apparently said it’s not there now, but could make it in on time. According to Paul Thurrott.

8. Will there be support for saving applications from Marketplace to a microSD card slot? Or even microSD support?

– I recalled there was, but some people have raised doubts to this. Couldn’t find anything official.

9. Is there even an actual central file system, so you could use your phone kinda like a portable flash drive?

There’s a bunch of other stuff that I’m a bit bewildered by, but are minor to me.

That’s just my general thoughts and questions about Windows Phone 7 Series. I’ll publish particular things I like and hope to see in WP7S. Below are some useful links.


Engadget’s Initial Summary

Paul Thurrott’s Initial Summary

Engadget’s Summary based on data from MIX10

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