Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 development team are on the home straight for the initial release of the Windows Phone 7 operating system and associated applications. As the team focus more in on release it is expected that creation of new features will soon be put aside to focus on the 'fit and finish' of the product, along with killing off bugs impacting performance and stability.
In recent days Microsoft released an updated build of the Windows 7 OS and an associated emulator so developers writing apps for WP7 (Silverlight or XNA Studio) can test them. This build is 6176 and is clearly labelled as being from the WM7_RC1Escrow branch (see screenshots below) - highlighting that the development team is now focused on finalising the software so it can be provided mobile handset makers. It's unclear exactly how far off it will be until the RC1 is completed, or if there will be a second release candidate (RC2) for Windows Phone 7.
The current build (see screenshots below) includes a pseudo functional radio (via an FM simulation driver), dialling (via a GSM simulator) along with a number of other semi-functional apps and features - including Microsoft Office which allows creation, editing and formatting of documents in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. Many functions across Windows Phone 7 however seem to have been deliberately disabled or are not yet completed - even after unlocking the operating system via techniques disclosed in a number of online forums. We also found a simple compass application for developers and hardware vendors to test with - although it was somewhat buried in the OS - likely due to it not being targeted at end users.
Updates post RTM
If the experience of the two Zune HD releases (16gb/32gb and recent 64gb) is anything to go by, it is likely that following the final build released to phone manufacturers there will be an updated version which buyers will be able to download once they receive their new handset. It is possible this second build available on release day will just include very minor changes to the RTM build however some speculate that an initial iteration of the copy/paste function may debut at this time.
Email/ActiveSync limitations may impact iPhone competitiveness
One feature missing from the iPhone OS since it's release has been the ability to limit data used synching with Exchange Servers by setting message size and format to download. Users from some countries (such as New Zealand and Australia) have found their roaming data charges whilst travelling overseas can exceed US$50/day due in part to this limitation. It was expected that Microsoft would deliver this functionality with Windows Phone 7 since all previous Windows Mobile handsets have provided this flexibility. The current developer build does provide some options related to wireless synch however the options of message size limits and format (HTML or text) do not appear to have been exposed yet. I hope this is included prior to release.
Via the 'Settings' menu function, a section titled 'Speech' (and subtitled 'voice control') highlights likely speech recognition and speech synthesis functions. As yet we we not able to activate these functions however were able to record voice notes in OneNote (a part Microsoft 2010 included as part of the WP7 RC builds). We found included in the file system references to Voice Control and TellMe - for a taste of what the voice functionality is likely to consist of take a look at the TellMe website.
Wondering how robust the Windows Phone 7 is currently? In general it seems quite reliable though occasionally I've seen issues with screen display and lockups which may relate to the emulator. I have heard of Microsoft staff who have been using Windows Phone 7 devices as their primary mobile phone since January this year so the phone side is likely solid already. Also, I hear Microsoft have been running focus groups to gain feedback on the user interface and how the devices operate. With so much invested in this release it seems very unlikely we'll see an unstable release once Windows Phone 7 reaches RTM in the coming weeks or months.
(Stay tuned to twitter.com/paulspain for further updates on WP7, etc)
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