Windows Phone 7: Too Little Too Late? Or Just In the Nick of Time?

Francis: Monday’s press conference marked the official announcement of Microsoft’s highly anticipated Windows Phone 7. Microsoft has officially been tooting their own horn in the past months about their new phone OS and hardware, claiming that this is the new vision of Microsoft Mobile devices.

Judie: The dust is finally starting to settle, and now we’ve had a chance to digest the information which came … as well as a chance to formulate some questions. Make no mistake about it, Microsoft needed a new vision for their mobile devices. The company, which for a time enjoyed their position as a solid mobile leader has fallen upon tough times. I believe that this was largely due to an aging stylus-based OS, an overall sense of neglect by Microsoft themselves, and developer disinterest  — possibly due to the knowledge that something new was coming, a totally rewritten OS that would no longer work with current apps … so why should they bother?

One incremental update after another as well as extensive user interface work by Microsoft’s hardware partners (hello, HTC!) over the years were vain attempts to patch and preserve the aging Windows Mobile OS, but finally Microsoft has done the right thing. They spent years — at least three of them — completely redesigning their mobile operating system. Now Windows Phone 7 has been released, and it is being touted as “wonderfully mine”. Perhaps it will be, but right now it is still a bit premature to say.

Francis: I have to say that even as an Android advocate, I was still pretty excited about the announcement. I don’t necessarily plan on changing over to the new phone OS, but I do plan on looking into it more and getting some hands on time of my own. No matter what mobile OS team you root for, it’s hard not to get excited about something that’s completely new when it comes out in the industry. And even though I know MS had a hand in starting the mobile/PDA revolution some years ago, I still consider this something new for them.
Judie: Oh, I totally agree that it is exciting to see a new operating system arrive, especially one that’s backed by a company like Microsoft –one with a history of being able to put out the money necessary to support and advertise a product they believe in. I have to admit that I was starting to wonder if this day would ever come, and I am pleased that it has.

Francis: The past few years have been pretty lousy for Windows Mobile fans; support basically dropped off the map, and the Window Mobile Marketplace was pretty much dead in the water. As we all know, the Microsoft Kin was a complete and utter failure, and Steve’s on stage performance months ago was with an HP device that was never and possibly will never be produced. So does MS deserve another shot at regaining some of the much needed fan loyalty and marketshare? Let’s take a look and see what they have to offer …


Judie: The fact that this was a global announcement, and not one for the US only, is very encouraging for those of us who are excited about a possible Microsoft Mobile comeback. Let’s face it, if this had been a one-carrier, US-only release, I would have said WP7 didn’t have a ghost of a chance. All one has to do is look at Palm’s 2009 “comeback” to understand what I’m talking about: a major OS upgrade/rewrite, cool new form-factor, released on one carrier in the US only … and by the time the Palm Pre was available on other carriers (never mind worldwide), much of the original excitement generated by WebOS’ CES debut had largely waned; but I digress.

Windows Phone 7 will be available in a variety of sleek form factors from device-makers such as Dell, HTC Corp., LG and Samsung, and from mobile operators including América Móvil, AT&T, Deutsche Telekom AG, Movistar, O2, Orange, SFR, SingTel, Telstra, TELUS, T-Mobile USA and Vodafone. All Windows Phone 7 phones will include the high-performance Snapdragon™ processor from Qualcomm. A broad selection of phones will begin shipping in holiday 2010 with more arriving in 2011, including phones from Sprint and Verizon. In addition, select models will be available at Microsoft Store locations and from Amazon.

The following devices will come to North America, Europe and Asia Pacific in the holiday 2010 timeframe:

In North America:
• HTC Surround, United States

• Samsung Focus, United States

• LG Quantum, United States

T-Mobile USA
• HTC HD7, United States

• Dell Venue Pro, United States

• HTC 7 Surround, Canada
• LG Optimus 7, Canada

América Móvil
• LG Optimus 7, Mexico

In Europe:
• HTC HD7, United Kingdom, Germany
• HTC 7 Mozart, including France, United Kingdom

• Samsung Omnia 7, including France, United Kingdom

• HTC 7 Trophy, France

• Samsung Omnia 7, France
• LG Optimus 7, Spain
• HTC HD7, Spain
• Samsung Omnia 7, Spain
Deutsche Telekom AG
• HTC 7 Mozart, Germany
• Samsung Omnia 7, Germany
• HTC 7 Trophy, including Germany, Spain, United Kingdom
• LG Optimus 7, including Germany, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom

In Asia Pacific:
• HTC HD 7, Singapore
• LG Optimus 7, Singapore
• HTC 7 Mozart, Australia
• LG Optimus 7Q, Australia
• HTC 7 Trophy, Australia

It was bad news (for me, at least) that the HD2 successor, or HD7 as it is  being called, would be T-Mobile only. I guess it’s a good thing that the HTC Surround looks interesting, even if it wasn’t my immediate favorite. 😉

Francis: I would consider Monday’s keynote quite a successful one for Microsoft. Steve B kept his blood pressure down to a minimum and his sweat-glands in check, and he actually had some interesting things to say — although when the hardware rolled out, it didn’t seem as if he was fully prepared regarding all of the devices. We did at least got a good shot of the phones which will be running the new OS. This was a big win in my opinion on Microsoft’s part.

Judie: It was a huge “win” that Steve was able to show nine devices running the new WP7 OS, but while I saw much to like, I do have some concerns about at least some of the new devices’ limitations. Let’s start with the fact that the largest onboard memory amount available on any device is 16GB, and it’s not clear yet if there is a real option for adding additional storage via a removable memory card. That’s not to say that some of the Windows Phone 7 devices won’t have some kind of “technically” removable flash memory source, but the presence of a microSD slot doesn’t absolutely mean that these cards will necessarily be user upgradeable without jumping through major hoops, if ever at all.

It’s nothing new for devices to use a microSD card as their flash memory source, for example I found that the Barnes & Noble nook eReader does when I took mine apart. But being able to actually remove the included card, and then insert and use a card other than the one which ships with the device is the issue. My hopes were momentarily raised that there was a way around the 8 or 16GB limitation when Brandon Miniman of posted that the Samsung Focus has a user upgradeable microSD for its flash memory source, making it technically upgradable to 40GB with the addition of a 32GB microSD card.

But then Arne Hess of The Unwired posted this picture yesterday afternoon …

…with a tweet saying “Windows Phone 7 seems to dislike the idea of changing the embedded SD card memory!? #WP7”


Francis: Early on strict guidelines were given to manufacturers stating the exact hardware specs which would be required to run the OS. At first some people were angry, they thought that the restrictions were entirely overrated and unnecessary. In my opinion it was a genius move on Microsoft’s part, because no matter which brand phone you buy on any carrier, now you should be guaranteed that you are getting a Windows Phone 7 “Superphone”.

Judie: I think it was a brilliant move on Microsoft’s part to try to do this, but in the end I am not sure how realistic the results will be. I recognize that this is very much an attempt to try to standardize our experience with the OS — no matter which hardware we have the experience upon — an I applaud that decision. But I think that with so many hardware partners and so many carriers, the experience may wind up fragmented, much as the Android experience is becoming.

Francis: During the keynote a rotating display came out from the wall with nine phones on it, all from major brand manufacturer’s including HTC, Samsung, LG and Dell; for the most part we know up front that we’ll be getting some killer standardized hardware from the beginning.


Francis: Where would phones be today without apps? It’s no secret that Apple still leads the way with apps, and most people will agree on that — regardless of whether they are an Apple fan or not. Android is exponentially gaining ground in the app department, but it still has way to go to catch up to the huge developer and market base that Apple has created. Windows Mobile, RIM, Symbian, WebOS, and a few other 3rd party stores are basically still in the market, but none of them are any type of threat to Apple and Android … yet, anyway.

Judie: Apple is the current mobile device application leader which is amazing, considering that when the iPhone was released in 2007, there were no third-party device apps available at the time; in fact there wasn’t even an Apple App Store until about a year later. Anymore, it would be absolutely unacceptable to release a full operating system in and not have an app store or market in place. It is expected by consumers who have been trained that “there is an app for that”, whatever “that” may be. This is a fact which Android recognized when it launched, and one which (thankfully) Microsoft also seems to understand.

Francis: Speaking of app stores and marketplaces … Microsoft’s Windows Marketplace had been one of the worst app store experiences ever, offering only the most basic — and in many cases buggy — apps in an attempt to offer an on-device localized app store. My experience during the past few months while using an HD2 showed that the best option for adding apps to Windows Phone was by loading the ones that developers had made and posted in the XDA forums. Not all the apps were feature rich, nor were all as heavily skinned as I might have preferred, but most were free and worked as stated.

MS has been pushing hard the past few months to get developers onboard with their new OS, and they needed to! Microsoft knew that no matter how great the phone was, if there were no apps to run, then no one would even consider the OS worthwhile. I didn’t need nor expect to see 1000 games and hundreds of novelty apps on launch day, I just needed to see all the basics such as apps for popular social media sites like Twitter, Foursquare, and Facebook; Mobile Office, a good web browser, RSS reader, email client, and of course a worthy media player.

Developers have answered the call, and from what I’ve seen so far some great apps will be included or soon available. Some of the examples include Netflix, IMDB, Twitter, Seesmic, Fandango, Office 2010, Slacker, eBay, Sims and Tetris. There are a few more depending upon the carrier you use, but I was glad to see that there were some worthwhile apps ready at launch.

Judie: I think it was important for Microsoft to have apps available from the get-go, and while no one should have realistically expected a fully stocked marketplace, Monday’s announcement was encouraging, especially for those who are very excited about WP7’s Xbox integration:

In addition to the titles already announced earlier this year, Electronic Arts Inc. (EA) today announced the first wave of EA games coming to Windows Phone 7 this fall. As part of Microsoft’s managed portfolio of Xbox LIVE titles, all EA games for Windows Phone 7 will be Xbox LIVE-enabled. EA will deliver a portfolio of titles that offers something for every mobile gamer, from casual to core, including “Need for Speed™ Undercover,” “Tetris®” and “The Sims™ 3.”

I was never a huge phone gamer until I had an iPhone, so who knows — maybe the games on Windows Phone 7 will kick it up another notch. Whether or not that’s a good thing, I’m not certain. I will say that I found it disconcerting that game startup was so slow that during the presentation, Joe Belfiore said:

I think you’re going to be curious to see some games. So, I actually have a couple I’m going to show you. The first one here — and I’m going to switch phones, because some of these games have a startup time that I don’t want to spend in the demo.

That worries me a bit!


Francis: The meat and potatoes of the new Mobile Platform is the heavily cloud based OS. More than ever it’s easy to show that this phone is and will be always connected, which is why I believe the onboard memory is so limited. If you think you’ll be able to skate by without a data plan, then you probably don’t want or need this phone. I see people do it now with other platforms by relying on WiFi, but I don’t understand why anyone would even attempt to get the full WP7 experience without a dedicated data plan.

With the OS focusing on cloud-based management, Bing pretty much does for Windows Mobile what Google does for Android. Quick and easy search in any app is really just the beginning. Bing Maps looked quite speedy and usable, and may actually give Google a run for its money.

Judie: This is an area where I can see a future problem. A few years ago data plans were sold as “unlimited”  in the United States, typically for $30 per month. This year AT&T began selling tiered data plans, with 200MB at $15 and 2GB at $25. Those of us with their old “unlimited” $30/month data plan accounts were grandfathered in; I can’t help but see the writing on the wall for all carriers and their “unlimited” data plans — whether new caps come in 2011 or soon after. Introducing a mobile platform that replies so heavily on the cloud, as Windows Phone 7 will do, seems a bit like a mistake. This isn’t even taking into consideration whether the networks will be able to handle the additional load, assuming WP7 is popular (as the iPhone has been). Let me explain exactly what I mean with examples given at the press conference by Joe Belfiore, who was introduced yesterday as a key Microsoft Designer :

One of the things that we do is, we really try to connect to these cloud services in an interesting way. Every picture I take, I can set my camera up to automatically upload the minute I take it so that it’s safely stored in the cloud, and it’s available to me from a website, so I can get it, share it, or use it on my PC.

And one of the key features for making this phone really wonderfully yours, really deeply personal, is being able to put the people that you care about right up there on your start experience in a live tile. And these tiles are live because, as Steve updated his Facebook post, you can see last night he’s on the ground in New York City. If he posts pictures, I’ll see them right there. I don’t have to go in and out of a whole lot of applications to see all these sorts of things, it’s aggregated for me right on the home screen.

We have a system called Instant Answers, where we’ll give you the answer to a question on things like celebrity information, or movie times, or stock quotes. And we wanted to reduce that system down to literally one click. So, wherever I am on my phone I can press and hold start, Alaska Flight 7. Just talk to the phone. The audio is packaged up and sent to the server where our TellMe service can analyze it using the cloud backend. If we have network connectivity here in a second you’ll see TellMe.

Now, imagine this is a big cloud service with tons of servers that’s been analyzing people’s own calls. So, we’re having a network connectivity problem. Trust me, and you all will get to try this on your own phones very shortly. The TellMe service is very good at  I’m going to try it again. I’m feeling brave. There we go, Alaska Flight 7. As you know, it can be tricky when many of you have cell phones and Wi-Fi connections in one crowded room. See, I trust that TellMe backend. – Joe Belfiore, Microsoft Designer

Because I’m a Zune Pass subscriber, I don’t have to pay, I don’t have to authorize. I can pretty much listen to whatever I want. My phone is like a giant virtual jukebox that is connected, and lets me play millions and millions of tracks just by hitting the search button in music and typing what I want. It’s a killer experience. I’m really having a great deal of fun with this as a feature of my phone, in the car, with friends. I feel I can kind of stay up to date with what’s happening in music. So, that’s music. – Joe Belfiore, Microsoft Designer

Streaming music, a big cloud service called TellMe, Live Tiles which are instantly updating in real time, and automatically uploading photos from a 5GB camera … What do these all have in common? They use data, a lot of it. I sincerely hope that our networks will all be able to accommodate this transfer of data with great speed and for a reasonable price.

Francis: The new OS is a total media-rich experience that fully integrates into your daily life. I like the new panel/tile style layout, but am not completely sold on changing my entire home screen to small tiles of events.

It’s a cool concept that seems really simple to setup and operate, just not my style as of yet. I’m sure I’ll warm up to it more once I actually get to use a phone.

Judie: I’m going to go into this with an open mind. When I started using the iPhone I didn’t know how I would ever be able to use any phone that didn’t show me a full list of what I needed to do that day. You see, I was basically coming from the old Windows Mobile Today screen, but it soon became second nature to click a button to get the time and date. From there it was no problem to swipe my finger and then — in my case — enter a four digit password to access my home screen. On the iPhone’s screen I see bubbles with numbers which tell me how many emails, texts, and voice mails I’ve got, as well as how many people are waiting on me to play my turn on Words With Friends (I’m geardiary on there; add me!). The tiles on the front of Windows Phone 7 are really not that different, in fact I think they look better; after a few days of orientation, I think I will like them just fine.

Francis: The Office integration is completely awesome, and it looks like you can do almost anything on the mobile device that you could normally do on a desktop. During the keynote there were impressive presentations of Sharepoint, OneNote, and PowerPoint, which should get the business professionals somewhat excited compared to what is available now. With native exchange and Office support, this platform may be a great option for those enterprises not wanting to deal with security compromises from  third party apps required for the mobile workforce to stay connected.

Judie: I like that out of the box you can open Excel spreadsheets, Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, OneNote … all of the typical Office components without installing third-party software. The included office suite makes one less app that consumers will need to purchase, and being part of the OS should guarantee that it will be a more tightly integrated and smoothly running program than aftermarket.

Francis: The demonstrations of the Xbox and Zune integration were also pretty impressive. I have owned a Zune HD and have to say I love the hardware, but the lack of apps and any software development have left us all out in the cold. It’s great that you can now use the ZunePass with your phone and not need to carry around an additional device. The success of this will easily be discovered, depending on the battery life of the phones and what each person is using them for. When plugged into a dock or power source, streaming directly from the WP&/Zune will be a nice alternative to other options.

Judie: The Zune Pass was my absolute favorite Zune ownership feature; it is one I still often compliment, and since becoming an iPhone owner it’s a feature I’ve missed. Being able to pay $15 monthly (or $45 for three months) to listen to any music in the Zune catalog was a big enough perk to get me to join when the Zune was first introduced. But with the more recent terms introduced (since I resigned my membership, anyway) of paying the same $15 but now also being able to keep ten songs per month (even if you quit your Zune Pass service), the Zune Pass is an even better value than ever. Having access to any music in the Zune catalog, at any time from my phone or computer for one low monthly fee is pretty compelling.

Francis: The Outlook integration seemed to be pretty spot on and quite the improvement over what you’re used to if you are still running WinMo now.

Judie: Most important to me, beyond being able to sync my email, calendar and contacts with Google Exchange, is that my inbox be able to allow priority markers. I loathe not having the ability to flag email on the iPhone’s native email app; I love all of the informative icons on the right side of the WP7’s inbox.

Email when opened displays with the sender’s picture, any embedded items, and proper formatting.

Francis: Now the calendar is more of a live piece of software which offers easy integration and planning, as well as agenda conflict resolution on the fly.

There are plenty of other great OS built-in features, including full-featured Facebook integration and People Hubs, but one more thing that struck my interest is how MS decided to handle the camera and pictures.

I am not the biggest fan of taking picture with my cellphone, but I have found that more than ever because I always have my phone along, I snap shots of things I might normally have missed. Often it’s just to show someone something really quickly, or maybe to save something that I want to research once I get home. A lot of consideration was put into picture taking on Win 7 phones, enough for me at least to get a little excited about the idea of it. The best new feature is that you can wake the phone up instantly, and it is ready to take pictures. What I find happening to me now is that when I want to snap a picture with my phone,  I have to remove it from my pocket, unlock it, and start the phone app; many times this means the picture opportunity has passed. From the demo shown by V.P. Joe Belfiore, I suspect that there will be a dedicated hardware camera button on all phones, so that we can hit the button to instantly wake the phone’s camera and start snapping immediately. Pictures taken will automatically upload to cloud, and they can also be set to upload to your favorite social media sites or picture dump sites. This is one of the coolest features in my opinion, and unless I’m mistaken it’s not offered on any other phone yet.
Judie: I’m not aware of an automatic upload on any phone; the closest I can think of is the Eye-Fi iPhone app, and it is not fully automatic.

Francis: With less than a month to go until the official launch of Microsoft’s new mobile platform, I have to admit that overall I’m pretty excited. With all the new features we’ve seen and the variety of new hardware, I’m sure that MS is at least headed down the right track with WP7. The past few years have been pretty rough for Microsoft’s mobile division, but I think they’ve actually listened to consumers and developed a solid product that will improve on their past platform in many ways. I don’t doubt that they changed the name from Windows Mobile to help get that bitter taste out of the minds of the public and developers.  Of course, only time will tell if the world forgives MS from their past indifferences, lack of support, and their near non-existent marketplace.

Judie:Well, I think that’s a little bit unfair. The average consumer probably wasn’t aware that any of this power-user and developer drama was going on, and if they had known, I doubt they would have cared. I think all most consumers care about is a phone that makes good calls, takes decent pictures, is simple to operate, is powerful enough not to bog down when they are using apps, and that has a solid catalog of apps to choose from. The goal here is that no consumer buying a WP7 device will later feel like they “should have bought an iPhone.”

Francis: We are some very needy consumers these days, since being spoiled by Apple, Android, and to some extent RIM. I won’t be running to my local AT&T store with my credit card in the air on November 8th, but I will make sure my T-Mobile rep calls me as soon as he has a phone unboxed that I can play with. I’m not worried about the “limitations” put out by MS either; I think the true limitations will be carriers’ ridiculous tiered data plans that will cost a fortune each month — because this will be a “cloud-based” phone. As usual, AT&T will be first to launch followed closely by T-Mobile. CDMA carriers are not expected to release until early 2011.
Judie:I am looking forward to trying Windows Phone 7. It’s been a long time coming, and for me this day is bittersweet. As much as I once loved Palm, I later enjoyed Pocket PC that much more. As much as I grew frustrated with Windows Mobile, I have been happy with my iPhone. There are days when I want something new, but nothing I have yet tried has been able to firmly pry the iPhone from my hand; in the end I always go back.

I truly hope that Windows Phone 7 is up good enough to make me prefer it, if for no other reason than because I want a choice … and right now I don’t really feel as if I have had any.

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