As I've mentioned - I believe the Windows Phone 7 software is fantastic. It delivers functionality both business users and consumers will appreciate - a simple, stylish and effective interface that makes it fun and quick to get things done. I've heard from testers who own iPhones but have fallen in love with the 'Hubs' concept in WP7 and are finding it quicker and easier than before to get things done on this new platform.
In meeting business needs the WP7 software delivers great integration with corporate Exchange servers (email, calendar, contacts) and SharePoint servers (file access). And it adheres to corporate security policies to a higher level than competitive products (iPhone and Android). This is an area Microsoft excels at - and an area they will continue to put heavy investment in order to cater to customer business applications in the future. There is more than Microsoft will have to do over the coming months to attract the attention of bigger businesses - but it looks like they're off to a solid start.
For the non-work focused things you like to do - which, let's face it, covers the larger part of the time we are with our phones - Windows Phone 7 rates extremely highly. Things such as messaging friends, sharing photos, viewing or posting profile updates - these are all a breeze and actually fun to do. The core Microsoft applications and add-on applications from the Marketplace will cover the major categories that everyone expects.
It's clear some niche applications will not come to WP7 until further down the track. I'm referring here to tethering apps and Skype for example. But there is no reason these won't come in time. Also on this list is a 'cut and paste' capability inside the operating system. Microsoft have stated this too will have to wait until a future update. Fortunately software updates is an area where Windows Phone 7 handset will shine. Since WP7 draws on the Zune client software which Microsoft have given away for years with their Zune MP3/media players - it is also able to inherit the Zune players update functionality. This makes it extremely simple to update your phone when a new operating system version or update comes out. Owners of iPods, iPhones and Zunes will know what I am talking about as all of these operate like this now.
Live Tiles and Hubs
Two of the most unique facets of Windows Phone 7 are the 'live tiles' and 'Hubs'. You see 'Live Tiles' on screenshots of the handsets 'home screen where they dynamically update. Touching for example the live tile for People (which includes changing images of your friends and contacts fading in and out) - takes the user into the People Hub. Here you will find a collation of content relating to the people you know - this could come from your business email account (such as Microsoft Exchange Server), personal email account (such as Hotmail or Gmail) or live updates directly from Facebook. Interestingly in this release Twitter feeds are not included.
The six hubs included are:
- People Hub - more here
- Pictures Hub - more here
- Music + Video Hub - more here
- Office Hub - more here
- Games Hub - more here
- Marketplace Hub - more here
Even though official announcements haven't been made about availability of applications at launch - it's fair to say there will be a great many applications and native integration covering most of the key areas you'd expect - from the likes of social media tools - Twitter, Facebook, Windows Live Messenger, YouTube, Spotify, Flickr and Foursquare - through to Weather, News, Stock prices and general utilities - all of these will be available at launch in my opinion. You may wonder how I can be so confident since formal announcements haven't been made yet. Three key reasons:
- Microsoft have committed to dozens Xbox Live games - they wouldn't do that without also filling in most of the other key areas
- More than 500,000 downloads of the Windows Phone 7 developer tools had been clocked up as a few weeks ago - since app development is so good on the platform many apps will come from smaller developers around the globe
- I have seen some of these already and some have even been officially announced
It has also been revealed by Microsoft that they are allowing 2000 developers early access to submit their own applications to the marketplace from 8 October. This along with another recent leak suggests their will be a base of some 2000 applications in the marketplace at launch. This is impressive.
Update - A few application titles I can mention now include:
- Pageonce (personal finance)
- Windows Live Messenger (Microsoft)
- Netflix (USA and Canada only)
- Skacker Radio
- I Heart Radio
- Seymour (Clever Sense)
- Bing Pictures downloader
- Touchnote Postcard
- Huffington Post
- Stocks (Microsoft)
- MSDN Online (Microsoft)
- Unit Converter (Microsoft)
- Level (Microsoft)
- Translator (Microsoft)
- Sound Recorder
- GoVoice (Google Voice app)
Another area where Windows Phone 7 pulls out all the stops in it's voice recognition and voice control capabilities. This draws not only on the voice recognition features built into Windows Vista/7 but also their acclaimed 'TellMe' service (which they acquired in 2007). On the occasions I have tried this capability it was exceptional in it's accuracy - though if you're in a noisy environment this might be less accurate. I think leading edge voice capabilities will be part of the killer feature set that will be unveiled in more detail on October 11.
Voice control capabilities are directly tied in the the Search and Maps application enabling quick access to information without having to tap in search criteria. And it handles my New Zealand accent with no problems at all. How it will handle for exotic accents I am yet to find out. For a demo, check out this video.
There are two things to like about Windows Phone 7 when it comes to keyboards. Here they are:
- Number 1 - it's onscreen keyboard is fantastic with the smartest correction capabilities of any smartphone.
- Number 2 - if you really like having a physical keyboard - then you can choose a handset that includes this. If not, you can choose a handset with only onscreen keyboard. And Microsoft have specified to manufacturers what keys should or should not be part of the keyboard so you won't come across a confusing array of differing keyboards and shift options, etc if you move from one device to another.
Maps and Navigation
Drawing on the GPS built into each handset, Microsoft have included a very easy to use mapping and navigation capability as part of the core of Windows Phone 7. At least in least the US, turn-by-turn navigation is provided as a built-in capability (it appears this is globally accessible feature). This is something that I predicted in this item on turn-by-turn navigation for Windows Phone 7 from 12 May.
Where's my phone?
Another feature that draws from the built in GPS unit is the free 'Find my phone' service which allows you to locate your phone on a map if you have mislaid it. The function which you access over the web also allows you to forward a message to the lock screen of the phone to alert anyone who finds the phone to return it.
Zune: Audio, Video and Television
I've been a fan of Microsoft's Zune HD media player and the associated Zune client software for Windows since it launched last year. This was due to the fantastic user interface of the desktop client, the benefits of a (US) Zune Pass subscription, the Metro touch interface on the Zune HD itself and how easy it is use to sync content - Podcasts, TV programme episodes, etc.
It's pleasing to say that the Zune HD's best features have carried across to Windows Phone 7. Unfortunately as yet the music subscription and video rental and purchase options are limited to only a few markets - though this will continue to grow over time. This appears directly related to the challenges signing licensing and content deals with the relevant TV/Movie studios and record labels.
So what can you do with the Zune capabilities? Here are some examples:
- Listen to music
- Watch movies and TV programmes
- Sync music
- Autodownload and Sync podcasts
- Download music from the Marketplace (eith buy music, or download unlimited music with a Zune Pass)
- Sync Movies/TV shows (from your Windows 7 Media Center )
- Rent or Buy Movies/TV shows from the marketplace (via PC based Zune client)
- Wireless sync from your PC and your Windows Phone 7 handset
I absolutely love how the wireless synchronisation happens automatically when you plug your phone into it's charger, or can be triggered manually. For me this means each morning I have the benefit of fresh podcast downloads each night to listen to as I commute to my office in the city. I love that you can transfer shows from a TV broadcast down to a handset with just a couple of clicks.
The camera in most phones is a prime example of how unfriendly a phone can be - you see a photo opportunity - so you grab your phone out of your pocket, enter your unlock code (if you have one) or unlock your phone, then you find the Camera application - now point your camera, and move your finger to the onscreen button to take a photo. Only problem is that by now the photo opportunity may be gone. With Windows Phone 7 you remove the phone from your pocket and press the camera button on the side of your phone, point your camera and press the same button again. Done. Wow.
So how does the camera software handle the process so quickly? Here are a couple of the tricks from the Windows Phone 7 team:
- Every Windows Phone 7 handset has a camera button on the side
- If your phone is locked with a security code, pressing the camera button will bypass this and just take you to the camera. Rest assured your phone and data is secure as an unlock is still required to get to other phone functions.
- Accidently bumping the camera button whilst the phone is in your pocket does nothing as the phone has a proximity sensor that figures out the phone is in your pocket not your hand.
In addition to being the quickest camera phone on the market, initial Windows Phone 7 handsets will all have 5 megapixel or higher camera - some initial models will certainly be rated at 8 megapixels. Most handsets will also have high quality video - with 720p HD video capture being a feature of some models.
Xbox Live and Games
The Windows Phone 7 platform will be the only mobile environment to include Xbox Live capabilities. This is set to be provide a major boost for the attention is gains with gamers worldwide. Initially there are expected to many games available for download, including a massive collection of over 60 Xbox Live games.
For those with an Xbox 360 the Xbox Live functionality will link the gaming console platform with that of phone. This means the avatar you have on your Xbox 360 will also exist on your mobile phone. You will even be able to interact with your avatar and Microsoft have showed off some special applications which incorporate your personal avatar.
This Xbox Live games list includes:
- 3D Brick Breaker Revolution (Digital Chocolate)
- Age of Zombies (Halfbrick)
- Armor Valley (Prot?g? Games)
- Asphalt 5 (Gameloft)
- Assassins Creed (Gameloft)
- Bejeweled LIVE (PopCap)
- Bloons TD (Digital Goldfish)
- Brain Challenge (Gameloft)
- Bubble Town 2 (i-Play)
- Butterfly (Press Start Studio)
- CarneyVale Showtime (MGS)
- Castlevania (Konami Digital Entertainment)
- Crackdown 2: Project Sunburst (MGS)
- De Blob Revolution (THQ)
- Deal or No Deal 2010 (i-Play)
- Earthworm Jim (Gameloft)
- Fast & Furious 7 (i-Play)
- Fight Game Rivals (Rough Cookie)
- Finger Physics (Mobliss Inc.)
- Flight Control (Namco Bandai)
- Flowerz (Carbonated Games)
- Frogger (Konami Digital Entertainment)
- Fruit Ninja (Halfbrick)
- Game Chest-Board (MGS)
- Game Chest-Card (MGS)
- Game Chest-Logic (MGS)
- Game Chest-Solitaire (MGS)
- GeoDefense (Critical Thought)
- Ghostscape (Psionic)
- Glow Artisan (Powerhead Games)
- Glyder 2 (Glu Mobile)
- Guitar Hero 5 (Glu Mobile)
- Halo Waypoint (MGS)
- Hexic Rush (Carbonated Games)
- I Dig It (InMotion)
- iBlast Moki (Godzilab)
- ilomilo (MGS)
- Implode XL (IUGO)
- Iquarium (Infinite Dreams)
- Jet Car Stunts (True Axis)
- Let's Golf 2 (Gameloft)
- Little Wheel (One click dog)
- Loondon (Flip N Tale)
- Max and the Magic Marker (PressPlay)
- Mini Squadron (Supermono Limited)
- More Brain Exercise (Namco Bandai)
- O.M.G. (Arkedo)
- Puzzle Quest 2 (Namco Bandai)
- Real Soccer 2 (Gameloft)
- The Revenants (Chaotic Moon)
- Rise of Glory (Revo Solutions)
- Rocket Riot (Codeglue)
- Splinter Cell Conviction (Gameloft)
- Star Wars: Battle for Hoth (THQ)
- Star Wars: Cantina (THQ)
- The Harvest (MGS)
- The Oregon Trail (Gameloft)
- Tower Bloxx NY (Digital Chocolate)
- Twin Blades (Press Start Studio)
- UNO (Gameloft)
- Women's Murder Club: Death in Scarlet (i-Play)
- Zombie Attack! (IUGO)
- Zombies!!!! (Babaroga)
Other games on their way include:
- Babylonian Twins (Cosmos Interactive)
- Tap Tap Revenge
- Test Twister (Lemniscate Design)
- Nuts of Justice
By now, you should understand how much I like the Windows Phone 7 platform. The software is a joy to use, responsive, and something I believe will satisfy most users.
Next section is Part 4: Software Development - Silverlight, XNA and Native Apps (coming soon) - follow me via @paulspain on Twitter to be alerted as each new Part is published
Previous Section is Part 2: Handsets
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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NZ Tech Podcast 455: Ex-Uber engineer charged for stealing IP, Australia vs Online Extremism, Huawei Mate 30 to lack Google Play Store
Sky TV's Parnell Skunkworks and Tuia 250 data breach - NZ Tech Podcast 454