I have to say, the Windows Phone 7 software is incredible - delivering an integrated environment that users will love thanks to a fresh, thoughtful and intuitive interface design. It's an experience I imagine Steve Jobs' secretly wishes his team at Apple had invented. The fact is though it comes from Microsoft so users can expect to see it on a much broader range of handsets than Apple would ever ship (and in time at varying price points). And that's great news for users everywhere.
On the downside Microsoft's strategy leaves Windows Phone 7 somewhat at the mercy of it's partners to deliver stylish and relevant devices in a timely manner. Fortunately things are looking positive in these regards based on the previews we've seen so far. Word has it that although Microsoft haven't designed the actual handset hardware, they have influenced it heavily. One area this is seen is in the publicly announced hardware specifications which are very specific about the buttons each phone must have (or not have). One thing is for sure - don't expect to see crappy, unresponsive, barely functional handsets as we saw in the mid-2000s with some Windows Mobile handsets - or in recent times with some Android devices.
At the initial announcement of Windows Phone 7 in February 2010 the following vendors were listed as hardware partners:
- HP (Since buying Palm a few months ago any WP7 handset release is unlikely)
- HTC (the largest maker of both Windows Mobile and Google Android phones)
- Sony Ericsson
A number of these manufacturers handsets have phones coming from late October in an as yet unspecified number of countries - those confirmed for initial launch include HTC, LG and Samsung. Countries I expect to have devices shipping during launch phase timeframe (Oct-Nov) include Australia, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, United Kingdom, United States.
Based on the information I've seen it's likely there will be multiple events on 11 October 2010 (incl London and New York) which will show off Windows Phone 7 followed by availability on these dates:
- Australia/New Zealand - 21 October 2010
- Asia - from 21 October 2010 (varies by country - initial country is Singapore)
- UK - 21 October 2010
- Europe - from 21 October 2010 (varies by country - initial countries include Germany, France, Spain)
- USA - 8 November 2010
These dates are not official from Microsoft, but there is every likelihood we will see releases around these dates. It was announced at Microsoft's recent Worldwide Partners Conference that Windows Phone 7 would be launched in Europe in October and in USA in November.
All phones will meet hardware specifications set out by Microsoft:
- 1 GHz ARM v7 processor (or faster)
- Capacitive Multi-touch screen with WVGA (800x480) resolution
- DirectX9 rendering-capable graphics processor
- 256MB of RAM with at least 8GB of Flash memory
- GPS (AGPS)
- 5+ megapixel still camera (with flash)
- FM radio capability
- Ambient light sensor
- Proximity sensor
- 3 primary buttons - back, Start, search
- 3 additional buttons - camera, power/sleep and Volume (no other buttons allowed, except for a QWERTY keyboard)
In addition to the above specs, all handsets will have cameras that also handle video - with at least some offering 720p HD video recording. Manufacturers may also choose to include front facing video cameras in their handsets.
Early on there was also mention of another set of specifications with a lower resolution screen (480 x 320) - little has been said about this in recent months but it is thought this will be aimed delivering a lower cost version of Windows Phone 7 at some time in the future. Initial handsets are expected to be priced in a similar range to other high-end smart phones. In some countries this means the upfront price will be very low due to carrier subsidies.
The integration of a camera, proximity sensor with a dedicated camera button might not seem too relevant. However, in part 3 of the Windows Phone 7 Comprehensive Preview I will reveal the magic delivered by this hardware when combined with an innovative software idea from within Microsoft.
A far as the handset design goes, Microsoft are encouraging hardware partners to deliver stylish handsets that are clean and minimal in nature - something which is compatible with the 'Metro' design style of the Windows Phone 7 software.
It's anticipated the large majority of handsets will include a micro-USB connection for charging and PC synchronisation plus a 3.5mm audio/headphone jack. It seems very unlikely any handsets will include the Zune connector which somewhat reduces the chances of lots of standard docks and audio accessories becoming available (like they have for the iPod and iPhone).
For reasons of corporate data security Microsoft has chosen to not enable removable storage (such as removable MicroSD cards) in Windows Phone 7. Apple have taken a similar approach though likely for other reasons such as the increased revenue they generate when users upgrade to higher capacity handsets.
A range of images have leaked of Windows Phone 7 handsets. Here is a collection in one place of the best images so far shown around the web to date:
LG E900 / LG Optimus 7 (via Press Release, Bestboyz, Pocketnow)
(Note, there is some more content coming to this section of the preview, however I have published this now so I can make progress on further sections)
Previous Section is Part 1: Intro
Following the official launch of Windows Phone 7 I will be publishing a full review that will expand on this preview. I will announce that also via Twitter.
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