Hands on with Windows Phone 7
More a re-skin than a re-invention
Tiles'n'hubs = icons'n'apps
Apps can be added to the Start screen, moved around within it or dropped from the list. An right-facing arrow on the right of the Start screen takes you to a list of apps installed on the smartphone. Press and hold any one to get a pop-up menu from which you can uninstall third-party apps, or pin them to the Start menu. Microsoft apps can't be deleted, but I was able to remove one of the Orange-installed tools.
Click and hold an app in Start and you can then remove it from the screen or move it. It works like iOS but without the 'wobble'.
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The fact is, of course, that WinPho 7's tiles are app icons, just ones that can operate not merely as app identifier but as one of the app's data display mechanisms. The hubs are apps with clever, big, widescreen UIs, but apps nonetheless. If an app doesn't present information in its tile, you're just as far away from the data as you are with an iOS or Android program.
The question is, do punters want a variety of similar but different UIs that reflect the data or services they are viewing, or do they want to keep apps separate? iOS' fast app load times - improved further with iOS 4's multitasking - mean that you're actually never that far from the data and services that matter to you.
WinPho 7 claims to bring these closer to you, but you can still be a tap and a swipe or two away. Hubs may cleverly personalise themselves for you - primarily by using your own snaps as wallpaper - but the OS' animated graphics are no less gimmicky for all that. You still need to go into the Settings zone to connect to a Wi-Fi network. Messages appear as IM-style conversations. Big tiles mean you only get eight per screen, so you'll be swiping down to other 'pages' as much as you do on the iPhone or an Android device - you just go up and down instead of side to side.
So WinPho 7 doesn't reinvent the smartphone OS so much as re-skin it.
An app with a big, wide UI that's larger than the phone's screen - but still an app
I'm sure both Android and iOS will learn from the WinPho 7 - iOS desperately needs a better notifications system, for example - but there's nothing here that will have Google or Apple worrying. But if they think Microsoft would never be able to rise above Windows Mobile 6, they're wrong.
WinPho 7 comes into a crowded market, and it's certainly not going to dominate. But it might just help prevent one of the other operating systems gaining the foothold that Microsoft's other OS, Windows, gained in the personal computing space. And if it does so, that's all to the good, I think.
The irony that that might be a Microsoft product that blocked a monopoly will be lost on no one. ®
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