Hands on with Windows Phone 7
More a re-skin than a re-invention
Analysis Will Windows Phone 7 succeed? That's difficult to say, but Microsoft can at least claim that it has come up with something different.
Not very different, mind. WinPho 7 isn't the radical departure Microsoft might want us to think it is, but it is a refreshing alternative to the apps'n'icons approach its rivals have taken.
In that respect, WinPho 7 owes more the Palm's WebOS than to either Apple's iOS or Google's Android. There's a much greater blurring of the lines between apps, services and data than there there is on the latter platforms, and, like WebOS, it puts social networking and email accounts on a par and at the heart of the system.
No Facebook account? Your 'What's New' panel might be rather empty...
The downside here is that if you're not an avid Facebooker and you don't own an Xbox, you probably don't care about any of this. And you'll notice some big, empty gaps in WinPho 7's "hubs", the zones in which the OS groups related data and services.
The Photos hub, for instance, has an area headed Latest News which presents uploaded and shared snaps for your social networked chums. No chums - at least none you follow online - no pics.
Hubs comprise a large area with the screen showing just a portion of the whole. You swipe left or right to move on to the next part. It's a novel idea that dispenses with the notion of a screen as a menu containing iconic options you can tap.
Tiles may contain at-a-glance info, but they're large and you'll still be scrolling a way to get to the distant ones.
The main screen is slightly more traditional. It comprises a sequence of half- and full-width "tiles" - dynamic icons that take you to hubs, to apps, to services and so forth. The dynamism comes through tiles' ability to present information and keep it updated: pictures of contacts on the recent but missed call list, for instance, or upcoming calendar appointments.
All this contributes to Microsoft's goal of presenting data in an 'at a glance' form, which again is a notion that informs the design of WebOS and its use of notifications - one of the few ways in which the Palm product is superior to iOS.
Incidentally, Microsoft calls the home screen "Start", a nod toward the Windows and a UI with which WinPho 7 - despite the name - has nothing at all in common. Branding aside, WinPho 7 has less in common with Microsoft's desktop OS than iOS has with Mac OS X.
Next page: Tiles'n'hubs = icons'n'apps
This is leaving me cold- I look at my current home setup of a Vista machine that disconnects from the internet if you plug an external hard drive in (including a windows phone), an activesync that successfully synchs roughly half the time, a wrongheaded MS "my phone" account which claims to back up your contacts, photos, docs etc but is limited to 200mb (how big's my memory card?!) which wants me to manually delete 60 pages of photographs if I wish to use it, several years of lazy failure to innovate, an entirely useless customer service/help function in which I do not believe I have ever found a solution to my computing problem, a loss of the auto-type function on the handwriting recognition in 6.1, an XP machine that I moved out then back into a room and now can't see my router, a new HP printer that Vista can't see but XP can, pretending Windows 7 was more than just an SP that MS owed to their customers, limited ability to customise Winphone 7 and I have to conclude that I simply don't believe they're capable of delivering a working, integrated system.
After seven years of buying a new PDA every year, I'm off to Android which, to judge by my girlfriend's phone, is stable,innovative and you can write your own apps with a sort of WYSIWYG application. I don't irrationally hate MS and quietly fix my computing problems, but can't pretend I trust them to deliver.
Perhaps after all that it's things like the fact they've placed Twitter and Facebook at the heart of the phone that fills me with trepidation. Bearing in mind how quickly they caught on it just shows that MS have learnt nothing about adapting for the future, so much as being late to the party when it comes to embracing (or badly aping) the innovations of others.
I don't think the people who have designed this interface have heard of the design phrase 'hierarchy of information'.
Microsoft have re-invented widgets and given them a new name?
Oh for god's sake!
People. Try before you diss. It's not that hard and it preserves your integrity. Sheesh!
The vague comparisons drawn here between Palm's WebOS and WP7 are at least partially incorrect and entirely misleading.
When I first turned on my Pre there was not one HINT of any social networking tools as none are bundled with the device. With WP7 it's so heavily in-grained into the phone that they may as well relabel it 'Interfacebook Explorer 8'.
Palm devices can support any or no social networking and the substantial amount of support for different services shows true dedication to user's needs (in my case I want NO social networking, and that's what I get!) Not to mention that this improves dramatically with each update and with the continuing improvement of features such as Synergy.
Microsoft are supporting Twitter and Facebook because they've essentially asked themselves which two social-networking tools are most popular and settled for an 'OK that'll do' attitude that basically pays lip-service to social-networking on the whole without actually providing people with what they want.