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Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 Series: A hard reset of its mobile business

Microsoft effectively dragged its last decade of mobile-software releases to the Recycle Bin with today's unveiling of its new Windows Phone 7 Series platform.

Windows Phone 7, due by "holiday 2010," scraps just about the entire Windows Mobile infrastructure: the underlying operating system, the user interface, the existing stock of applications and the desktop sync software. Given the woeful mediocrity of Microsoft's current Windows Mobile 6.5 release (unveiled with considerable promise just under a year ago), that drastic change of course may be the Redmond, Wash., software firm's only option.

windows_phone_7_start.jpg

In a press conference at the Mobile World Congress convention in Barcelona -- it's viewable online with Microsoft's Silverlight software, although you can watch a much shorter highlights reel on YouTube -- chief executive Steve Ballmer and Windows Phone Vice President Joe Belfiore demonstrated Windows Phone 7's new features.

Its start screen, pictured at right, uses a series of interactive tiles to provide access to and display updates about your contacts and your Internet services, plus your photos and music, Xbox Live games, and Microsoft Office documents. The underlying applications, with their radically stripped-down interfaces, look nothing like the current set of Windows Mobile programs, or even software written for Apple's iPhone or Google's Android operating system.

And although those growing smartphone platforms emphasize the diversity of add-on applications, Microsoft doesn't seem anxious to make the same argument for Windows Phone 7. A promotional video played during the press conference criticized the experience of switching in and out of different apps on other phones and instead pushed the idea of "hubs"--core components of Windows Phone 7 that display content from multiple sources. For example, its contacts list, or "People hub," integrates with Facebook.

What about all the programs written for earlier versions of Windows Mobile, some of which have been revised only recently for WM 6.5's new Marketplace app store? Forget it -- there's no upgrade path spelled out. (Though if owners of Palm's Pre and Pixi phones can run "classic" Palm OS programs through a third-party emulator, the same thing could happen with Windows Phone 7.)

Windows Phone 7's interface does, however, bear a striking resemblance to the software on the Zune HD media player Microsoft shipped last year. Further, Windows 7 will play purchases from the Zune Marketplace. Belfiore left no doubt about this resemblance during the presentation: "Every Windows 7 phone will be a Zune."

Although current Windows Mobile devices feature varying hardware designs and software front ends, Microsoft is cracking down on this with Windows Phone 7 Series. Manufacturers will have to include back, home and search buttons; build in a wide, landscape-oriented touch-sensitive screen with the same resolution; and stick with Microsoft's start-screen layout.

For more details about this platform, see the hands-on writeups filed from Barcelona. For example, Engadget's Joshua Topolsky notes that copy and paste will be available but wasn't enabled on demo hardware at the show. Sascha Segan's recap for PCMag.com spells out that Microsoft is scrapping its existing sync software in favor of a version of its Windows-only Zune program. At SlashGear, Chris Davies and Vincent Nguyen observe that Microsoft won't confirm multitasking support: "Talk of no multitasking was met with stony silence (though they did confirm that you'll be able to play music in the background while doing other tasks)."

Microsoft says it will provide more details on developing software for Windows Phone 7 Series at a developers' conference next month. At the press conference, Ballmer said phones should ship "by the end of this year, holiday season 2010." Microsoft's press release lists such manufacturers as Dell, HTC, HP, LG, Samsung, and Sony Ericsson and all five four nationwide carriers here: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless.

You have to look at the potential audience for Windows Phone 7 Series as being made of two shifting components: people who already use Windows Mobile or are thinking of doing so, and people who haven't considered Microsoft's phone platform before. Considering that the first contingent seems to be shrinking rapidly, junking its existing platform for a fresh start makes sense. But it's still a shockingly un-Microsoft thing to do, as Steve Wildstrom remarks in a blog post. (Just imagine if Windows Vista or 7's designers had been given the same freedom to redo things.)

What's your read on Windows Phone 7? Let me know in the comments -- and please spell out whether you've owned or thought of buying a Windows Mobile device before.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  February 15, 2010; 2:17 PM ET
Categories:  Mobile , Windows  
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Comments

Rob, what is the fifth nationwide carrier you mentioned? I only see four.

Secondly, I have previously owned a Windows mobile device. Due to the lack of an upgrade path, I replaced it with a Droid last year. Even though the new Windows platform looks interesting, there is no way I would have waited until the end of this year for this.

Posted by: kmath | February 15, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Evidently, I can't count on national holidays. There are four nationwide carriers in the U.S. (You could once count Nextel as a fifth, but it's now just a brand of Sprint, and a neglected one at that.) Thanks for the careful read...

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | February 15, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

How does WaPo decide which technical stories get coverage ? It seems like when iPad released we had a multitude of iPad stories and all that the Windows Phone 7 gets is a short little mostly negative article. Where is press neutrality ?

Posted by: noob | February 15, 2010 3:26 PM | Report abuse

Too little too late...hardly impressive in view of Apple and recent Palm and Google offerings....enjoying the Droid thoroughly....

Posted by: josephfranklyn | February 15, 2010 3:45 PM | Report abuse

If I decide to upgrade from a pay as you go phone to a full mobile plan I would seriously consider this. I like the UI and the functionality. I think they did a very nice job with it. Not likely to happen for me though for the same reason I don't have an iphone or a droid. Phone plan prices are just too absurdly expensive.

Posted by: Chip_M | February 15, 2010 4:09 PM | Report abuse

What a shock. Microsoft dumping one horribly designed product for another. No surprise this accidental monopoly doesn't keep the same name for any of it's products (Windows 3.1, ME, 95, XP, Vista, now "7").

Changing names the way a thief changes identities.

Microsoft ought to spend less time and money legally defending it's garbage and more time and money on a UI that actually makes sense.

Posted by: vze2r3k5 | February 15, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

When will Microsoft learn that Ballmer is just the wrong guy to make a product introduction. He lost credibility years ago.

Posted by: Three3 | February 15, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

What a great message to send to the companies that invested millions of dollars and thousands of hours of engineering time into the previous version.

Why not use Linux? You can upgrade on your schedule, not Microsoft's.

And if you need to re-write everything anyway, why continue with the company that ruined your plans? Upgrade time is the best time to switch vendors.

Posted by: frantaylor | February 15, 2010 4:52 PM | Report abuse

Hey noob, this is an embedded product. You can't go to the store and buy it. Microsoft doesn't even make a phone. Do you really think the WaPo should dedidcate big stories to the embedded components of cell phones? Do you really think they should do a big story about the new technology in low-voltage capacitors?

Posted by: frantaylor | February 15, 2010 4:57 PM | Report abuse

April will see iPhone 4g. That's the one to wait for or upgrade into. Forget these 1st generation devices, Droid etc., to many bugs for awhile and poor customer support.

Posted by: magnifco1000 | February 15, 2010 5:18 PM | Report abuse

A desperate windows hack, too little and way too late. Kids will be programming their own Linux-based phones by the time M$ releases another weak attempt at the mobile market.


Posted by: ratl | February 15, 2010 5:30 PM | Report abuse

I manage a small business IT department that had a Microsoft only infrastructure until the advent of the iPhone. We used/use AT+T HTC windows mobile devices primarily because of AT&Ts previously superior 3G network, and superior management of Exchange based corporate email. Most of our senior management then fell in love with the ease of iTunes and iPod/Touch personal devices. So with the advent of Apple licensing MS ActiveSync, iPhones are replacing Windows mobile devices as soon as that is a financialy viable alternative. In short: Apple missed the boat trying to overcome the entrenchement of the business oriented Windows desktop operating system at the academic level, just as MS has lost the smartphone OS battle to more personal oriented devices that can also provide adequate management of their corporate email. (For those of you non Exchange based email users: POP3/IMAP doesn't cut it for keeping email on your workplace server, desktop/laptop, and smartphone all synched transparently with no user intervention)

Posted by: red4ever2 | February 15, 2010 8:16 PM | Report abuse

Have always been a WinMob user but it looks like they have fallen off the train totally now.

Instead of taking the good parts of WinMob 6.5 & focusing on that, it looks like they starting over with something that no 1 is clamoring for.

I mean 1 of the attractiveness of WinMob & copied by Android - is the customization ease for newbs & vets alike.
Taking that away is forcing a Zune like product on a public that likes the iPod more...alot more!

Posted by: Rocc00 | February 15, 2010 9:38 PM | Report abuse

A Microsoft stooge pretending to be just a ol' ordinary reader said:
"All that the Windows Phone 7 gets is a short little negative article. Where is press neutrality?"

Giving a short little negative article about Microsoft's latest attempt to denigrate what last year they told you was wonderful and strongarm everyone into buying their new proprietary junk IS press neutrality.

THIS is what non-neutral opinion looks like:

When will you paid PR shills stop talking as if you don't know why everyone hates Microsoft? It's another example of the self-delusion which makes you do things people hate you for: "we'll make more money if we force the users to do what's good for US instead of allowing them to do what's good for THEM."

It's an arrogance which seems to infect almost all companies when they get large enough.

Except Google.

Another example is their removing the toolbar from the Win7 file manager specifically because (as one MS tech let slip on a beta test forum) "they thought we were spending too much money on tech support for that feature, so they told us to remove it to save [i.e., MAKE] money."

That's right: don't make it easier to use; don't document it better; don't even make it an option. Just make cheap, shoddy crap on purpose and force people to unwillingly "upgrade" to it by abandoning a product they prefer (like XP). Hell, we'll even break our own product if explaining how to use it makes us less money! We wouldn't be Microsoft if we didn't shakedown our customers like the mafia!

THAT'S why MS products get unfavorable reviews when the reviewer isn't on the take, like PC magazine publishing the planted story "Will Linux Kill Windows?" on the cover during the Antitrust prosecution. No one then or now believes that Linux will kill windows -- though many HOPE it will!

And I disagree with "Three3" about Ballmer demonstrating new products. He's EXACTLY the guy to be seen pushing their bug-ridden, deliberately-incompatible junk: When they hear his name, everyone in the industry pictures him on a frightening, angry rampage; throwing a chair, cursing, and vowing to destroy don't-be-evil Google, who everyone loves.

I think Ballmer does a GOOD job of demonstrating what Microsoft is all about.

--faye kane, homeless brain
Read more of my smartmouth opinions at http://tinyurl.com/fayescave

Posted by: Knee_Cheese_Zarathustra | February 15, 2010 11:48 PM | Report abuse

Dang straight I'd consider it. Love my iPhone - hate AT&T. Service has slowly degraded until it blows. When it is not a phone anymore . . . waht does it matter? Had plenty of iPaqs years ago and was suprised MS fell so behind.

Posted by: Tim6555 | February 16, 2010 5:38 AM | Report abuse

Like Windows7 time to hit the snooze button again on Mobile7. Microsoft is just a pathetic operator - if it wasn't for their legacy OS business they would be toast.

Posted by: tuzoner | February 16, 2010 7:22 AM | Report abuse

I second everyone on too little too late. I used to own a Windows Mobile device (Dash) and I loved it. But after waiting and waiting for Windows Phone 7, I ditched my dash and switch to an Android based phone.

Posted by: tundey | February 16, 2010 7:58 AM | Report abuse

When given a choice, people don't choose Microsoft products because they are less useful and buggy. Microsoft clearly has doesn't care much about its customer and when it does try to help, it gives the help or product or interface that its engineers think you need, rather than the one you really do want or need.
It seems to think everyone should adapt to its products, rather than make products that are easy for the user.

Posted by: t2123 | February 16, 2010 9:55 AM | Report abuse

This is an interesting development in the market, as Microsoft seems to be planting itself firmly between Google and Apple in terms of control. Google phones have all sorts of specifications and anyone can write an app and get it posted. Apple phones are Apple phones - no one else can make them, and all apps must be approved by Apple. The interesting thing is that, drawing an analogy to the computing world, Google has taken the role of Microsoft. Windows computers are made by many different companies (or by DIYers) and can have a huge range of hardware specifications. Apple computers are Apple computers - Apple builds the machine and it's illegal to install the OS on any other computer.

By requiring specific hardware specifications, Microsoft moves slightly closer to Apple land. The obvious advantage here is that apps can work seamlessly across all Windows 7 phones. It will be very interesting indeed to see what the consumers say over the next couple years...

Posted by: crashinghero | February 16, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

Hi-Rob & Friends. Microsofts naming Mobile 6.5 was misnomer, in Way. Mobile from microsoft is level 5.3 then upped to 5.3.2 or 6.5 mentioned. to laymen. both Cores Are NT5 or xp. Now 7Phone is Level 6.0.0 Core, same as NT 6 or Vista. There is great change, No One will want OLD Mobi from microsoft, with release of New Level.Let Old Contracts Expire.

Similar to windows -=7=- Not being NT7, Only Refined NT 6.1.7100. 7Phone uses 7 as Sales gimmick, yet has Social netWorking built in, Zune & Xbox inteconnectiveity, better finger controls, Bunch of other small improvements. No more apps needed to install before media, is impression given.Flash 10.1 mobile is out in Summertime,too.

7Phone may be FIRST Smart Phone THAT just grew Much Smarter.tILL HTML 5.0 or UNiCode take hold in 2+ Years, COMBINING ALL Media MOBILE & DESKTOP APPS INTO BROWSER FROM START.

Signed:PHYSICIAN THOMAS STEWART von DRASHEK M.D.

Posted by: thomasxstewart1 | February 16, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

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