Windows Phone 7, the upcoming mobile OS from Microsoft, is coming close to its launch. How close we don’t know yet While officials are talking about “in-time for the Holidays” and everybody generally refers to the “Q4 launch”, we might be closer than we think with LG’s statement of launching a Windows Phone 7 device as early as September. Officially announced at the Mobile World Congress 2010 in Barcelona, Spain, on February 15, 2010, it’ll be here and you better prepare so it won’t catch you by surprise. We’ll tell you a few things you should know about Windows Phone 7.
Windows Phone 7 is a completely new mobile device platform. It has been written from scratch and thus, it will not be a follower to the previous Windows Mobile series, let it be version numbers starting with 5, 6 or previous. With the huge success of Microsoft’s PC Operating System, Windows 7, everybody has high expectations seeing the analogy in numbers with Windows Phone 7. That being so, there will be no backwards compatibility with previous Windows Mobile/Phone versions which means that neither of your applications you are currently using on your Device will work on the new platform. This can be either good or bad, depending on how skeptical you are: while some find this “betrayal” unacceptable, others have switched gears and have already started porting their old apps or coding completely new apps that will be compatible with Windows Phone 7. In order to support Developers, Microsoft has already given away hundreds (maybe even thousands) of Windows Phone 7 devices so that they can test their codes on real life phones rather than using the Emulator.
Windows Phone 7 Hardware:
With Windows Phone 7, Microsoft wants the user experience to be standardized and no impact due to hardware is allowed. At MIX2010 this April, they’ve announced the Hardware Requirements for Windows Phone 7. While you can be part of the group that refers and perceives this as limitations, I am looking at the Hardware Requirements from the standardization point of view. In plain English, regardless of whether you will opt for one device or the other from different OEMs, the user experience will be the same across device makers. Imposing a minimum Hardware requirement will guarantee that the phones showing Windows Phone 7 logo somewhere on them will all present the same speed and fluidity and will also offer Hardware manufacturers something to build upon and improve. That being said, here are the requirements:
- CPU: ARM v7 “Cortex/Scorpion” or better processor
- 256MB of RAM with at least 8GB of Flash memory
- Capacitive, 4-point multitouch screen
- DirectX9 rendering-capable GPU
- Accelerometer with compass, light, proximity sensor and Assisted GPS
- 5-megapixel camera or better with flash
- FM radio tuner
- 6 dedicated hardware buttons – back, Start, search, camera, power/sleep and Volume Up and Down
Greg Sullivan, Microsoft’s Senior Product Manager for Windows Phone, as well as other officials have emphasized that the Hardware Requirements will not stop, but in fact allow flexibility for OEMs to develop their hardware. Just because there’s a requirement for a 5-megapixel camera, that doesn’t mean OEMs will not be able to build devices equipped with better, for instance 8-megapixel cameras.
Without developing too much on the debate around (micro)SD card support, Windows Phone 7 will indeed offer support for memory cards but they will not be accessible or user replaceable. If an OEM for instance wants to use a memory card instead of chips to meet the requirement of 8GB of Flash memory, they’re free to do so as long as the user doesn’t have physical access to it.
According to Microsoft, “Windows Phone 7 is for Life Maximizers, people who are busy personally and professionally, constantly juggling priorities, and who value technology as a means to an end, a way to get things done.” There have always been and there will always be, at least two types of users: the Personal users, those who use their devices for fun and relaxing, listening to music or radio, watching videos, taking pictures, browsing the Internet, etc. and the Professionals that are always on the go, that send tons of emails, create, share and edit documents, work with calendars, sync their content with the Company, etc.
In order to meet these expectations, Windows Phone 7 has three Red Threads and every application which is/will be developed and available should connect to at least one of these threads:
- Personal your day, your way
- Relevant your people, your location
- Connected your stuff, your peace of mind
Windows Phone 7 introduces a completely new concept of the User Interface which will offer a different user experience than what we’ve seen before. Metro is the name to remember and it comes from the fact that Windows Phone 7 icons have been inspired from street signs and other indicators you’d usually find in a city or airport.
With a minimalist look, sleek icons and a variety of stock color themes, Metro UI is trying to unclutter your workflow. There will be two background colors, dark or light (black and white), and 10 accent colors, magenta (FF0097), purple (A200FF), teal (00ABA9), lime (8CBF26), brown (996600), pink (FF0097), orange (F09609), blue (1BA1E2), red (E51400) and green (339933). Mobile operators or phone manufacturers may add one additional system color though.
Transitions and animations give life to your phone, whether we talk about page transitions, application loading transitions, image zooming animations, orientation rotate animations or Tile animations. Fluidity in movement, let it be scrolling, zooming or animating should offer enough eye candy to satisfy those who aren’t into minimalism and to make the experience as rich as possible. The font used throughout the Operating System is called Segoe WP, a Windows Phone variation of the Segoe font which also features a minimalist look but is at the same time elegant and extremely readable. It will come in variations of Regular, Bold, Semi-bold, Semi-light and Black.
Eye-candy, like having one of your pictures being displayed as background in the Pictures Hub or a picture of the Artist or Album shown as a wallpaper in your Zune app, will also add to the experience. The Pictures Tile on Start automatically updates to display a new picture every five times you’ve used the Tile to enter the Pictures Hub giving your Start a fresh look.
Software general aspects:
Take a good look at you Start Menu (the Windows default, not skinned or modified OEM variations) because it will be the last time you see it in such presentation. Windows Phone 7′s Start Menu is now simply called Start and you are presented with that every time you turn on your phone or hit the Start Button.
Start is the place you will spend most of your time in being the most viewed phone interface by users and it displays application Tiles that have been pinned there, with the ability to add or remove Tiles or move them around. One thing to note is that Start will always be presented in Portrait layout.
Tiles and Hubs:
In order to perceive the experience of Windows Phone 7 you need to understand the basics of Tiles and Hubs; when I look at Tiles and Hubs, I see the cornerstone of the user experience.
Tiles are shortcuts! Even though they are not simple shortcuts like the ones you could create in Windows Mobile 5/6 versions by the well-known procedure of long tap-copy-paste as shortcut, they are shortcuts at their core. Tiles can point to either an application or its content. They are presented as equally sized squares on Start with the ability for Microsoft, phone manufacturers, and mobile operators to create double-width tiles. Tiles can also communicate information to the user by having a counter being overlaid on top of them (such as a number representing how many missed calls or unread emails and text messages you have). While you can easily add, remove or move around tiles, other than pre-installed application tiles, only the user can pin tiles to Start. Applications are not allowed to do that in order to protect the uncluttered look and to not disturb the user experience. Tiles are alive! This means that they will be updated on the go with fresh content. For instance, a Weather tile will always show the updated conditions and a Person pinned to Start as a Tile will have the latest status of that certain person shown.
Hubs are applications! No, just like the case of Tiles, Hubs are not your simple applications like the Contact list, Picture Viewer, Media Player and others in previous Windows Mobile 5/6 versions but they are applications at their core.
The way I see it, a Hub is the mother of all applications: Hubs consist of several screens spread in panoramas where you can and must flick between the screens in order to find what you are looking for. “Say you had a collection of Pac-man apps < > As a developer, you could create a hub that housed a range of Pac-man apps altogether in one area” Greg Sullivan, Senior Product Manager for Windows Phone explained.
A key thing to Hubs is their complexity. If you take the People Hub for instance, as opposed to the old Contact List showing your Contacts, the People Hub is a complex center where you can find both your Contacts as well as different ways to interact with them. Look at it as your Social Networking HQ. Contact’s updates are constantly downloaded and displayed when John or Jane for instance change their status on Windows Live or Facebook. Same goes for the Pictures hub where you can browse the pictures you’ve taken with your Device, those that you have downloaded from your Digital Camera or SLR as well as your or your friend’s online pictures. From the Pictures Hub you will be able to share your moments with your social networks and you can keep them synced with your PC via the cloud.
Windows Phone 7′s main Hubs are the People, Pictures, Music and Video, Marketplace, Office and Games Hubs.
Marketplace and limitations:
At the same MIX2010 Conference, Microsoft unveiled their new Marketplace Application, the one that is designed for Windows Phone 7. Users will be able to download applications from the Marketplace pretty much the same way iOS or Android users can. Current Windows Mobile/Phone versions also have a Marketplace application but the upcoming Windows Phone 7 Marketplace will offer the same way the whole OS will a completely new experience.
One will be able to download applications directly to their device and if your choice will be for a commercial app, the Marketplace will support payments via credit card. You will also be able to opt for operator billing as far as payment for applications is concerned and Marketplace will feature ad-supported content too. Marketplace will also allow developers to set a trial limit for their applications so you will be able to download the application and get a feel for it before deciding to buy it.
Looks like the Marketplace will be the only way of getting applications to your Device. No more forums, no more CABs (not that they’ll exist as a file format as we know it), etc., but developers will have to enroll their application to Marketplace. While this is a good way for the Marketplace to grow, according to Istvan Cseri, Development Manager on the Windows Mobile application platform, Windows Phone 7 Marketplace will be able to revoke application licenses remotely.
The Marketplace policy is strict in the way that the Content Policy Guidelines outline exactly what type of content is allowed and on the other hand what type of content will not be allowed.
Limitations or Features?
Windows Phone 7, as far as we’ve been so far told, will not support multi-tasking, Copy-Paste and File System access.
Multi-tasking the way we know it now implies and application which you can fire up and where all your running processes and programs are displayed and from where you can switch to or close a specific one, while all the rest work in the background, which after a while has a dramatic effect on overall speed and stability of the system as well as battery life. In order to overcome extreme CPU, RAM and Battery usage, Windows Phone 7 will not allow third party apps to run in the background and it introduces a new concept called Tombstoning, which is a procedure in which an application’s process will be terminated when the user navigates away from the application. At that point, the Operating System will save the state of that certain application, pretty much like a snapshot of it, so that the next time you return it will be loaded the same way you’ve left it. According to Microsoft Technical Evangelist Yochay Kiriaty, “Windows Phone allows only one application to run at any given time in the foreground, and no 3rd party applications are allowed to run in the background”. Nevertheless, some Microsoft processes will be able to run resident in the memory.
Copy-Paste has been part of our lives for so long now, even on our mobile devices, that some can’t imagine a day without it. Well, Windows Phone 7 will not (at least at it launch) support Copy-Paste operations. Or will it? Windows Phone 7 will come out of the box with a smart functionality which will recognize most of the things (if not all) you’d like to else Copy-Paste. We’re talking about phone numbers, names, addresses, Interned addresses, etc. What exactly will be caught we don’t know for sure but if you would like to Copy this paragraph from inside Internet Explorer on your Windows Phone 7 device and send it via email to a friend of yours, will not likely be possible the way we know it. However, you might be surprised to see an option to Share or Send via email when you long tap something. Nevertheless, according to Long Zheng, “the (our note: Windows Phone 7) development team actually knows exactly how they will be implementing copy & paste in WP7S but did not believe it could be implemented without affecting the release schedule they’ve committed to and therefore will be including it in an update down the road.”
Forget the good old File Explorer you know today as Windows Phone 7, as far as we know at this moment, will not allow you to access your File System. That means no browsing, opening, deleting and other file operations the way we know it. Nevertheless, you will be able to open files known to the Operating System and with Windows Phone 7 being so cloud and server oriented, you will most probably meet a new concept we all need to get familiar with.
As of today, we don’t have a statement related to the “launch to the masses” date of Windows Phone 7. Officials hint us that it will be available by the end of this year or Q4, but there’s no specific date yet announced, though some OEMs jumped declaring that their first Windows Phone 7 devices will hit the market as early as September.