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Hands on with Windows Phone 7

More a re-skin than a re-invention

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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.

Microsoft WinPho 7

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.

Microsoft WinPho 7

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.

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