As you will all hopefully know, Microsoft's new mobile platform is now official: Windows Phone 7 Series. Much has been written about a perceived need for Microsoft to make a good impression with this operating system to help stem the flow of consumers flocking away from Windows Mobile to the newer Android and iPhone platforms, and it is perhaps true that Windows Mobile 6.5 in its current iteration does look "clunky" when compared to the capabilities of Google's and Apple's developments. In this article I shall simply run through what the new devices will and won't be able to do, to better help you make an informed decision when deciding on which Smartphone to buy if you're in the market for an upgrade, and also how to sell these new devices.
Microsoft is big. To put the sheer size of the business into some form of context, if Microsoft Exchange alone were a separate company in its own right, it would still be the 9th largest software company in the world. The resources that Microsoft possesses to develop a new mobile platform are vast. Whether or not the success or failure of Windows Phone 7 will make or break the company I think is a little irrelevant, what it is safe to say is that Microsoft are serious about this new platform. This week's announcements mean that 12 devices will be ranged across 30 countries by 60 carriers globally.
By requiring that device manufacturers adhere to a strict minimum hardware specification in order to put Windows Phone 7 on them (for example, all devices must feature at the very least a 1GHz processor), Microsoft are ensuring that devices will offer the user experience and performance that they intend, in a similar approach they took to the PC business by only allowing manufacturers to use the "Ready for Windows" sticker if the hardware was up to scratch.
The hardware specs are impressive, and the devices I have used are responsive and menu animations flow nicely.
The specs of the new HTC 7 Trophy are available here - http://ukblog.im-mobility.com/htc-announce-trophy
and a short video is also available here - http://ukblog.im-mobility.com/htc-7-trophy-first-look-video-teaser
Before I look at what the new devices will be able to offer, let's have a quick look at what the devices will not offer - in the first release of the Windows Phone 7 operating system at any rate. It is important to be aware that despite the use of the number 7 in the title (perhaps to let users know that it is new and released at a similar time to Windows 7 on the desktop), this is a radical departure from any version of Windows Mobile that has come before it.
Microsoft have already confirmed that Cut, Copy and Paste will be released as a service pack to Windows Phone 7 early next year.
The lack of memory card storage or the ability to use the device as a "flash drive" to easily transport documents between PCs, while at first glance may seem a limitation, is simply a reflection of how the large companies in the "cloud" space envisage you using these devices. Microsoft are offering up to 25GB of storage free of charge to anyone who signs up for a Windows Live account, where you can upload and download all manner of files to your "SkyDrive", which is also accessible from any PC web browser. Access to Google services will also be available from Windows Phone 7.
The inability to synchronise with Outlook or any other desktop-based PIM application may also seem inconvenient, but again Windows Phone 7 is integrated with all manner of online services, not least of which is Microsoft Exchange, but also Windows Live and Google. The way to look at this approach is not to think that you cannot connect directly to your desktop, but that have in fact been freed from your desktop. This does of course mean storing your data in the cloud on someone else's servers unless you have access to a corporate Exchange infrastructure.
What Windows Phone 7 does offer, however, is access to Microsoft's Zune media platform. For those of you new to the concept of Zune: Zune is to Windows Phone 7 as iPod is to iPhone. Zune is Microsoft's portable media player and media desktop synchronisation software offering the ability to import CDs and MP3s, create playlists, download album artwork as well as browse for and purchase new music online from the Zune MarketPlace.
Version 4.7 of the Zune software will be required to sync with Windows Phone 7, which I have posted some screenshots of here - http://ukblog.im-mobility.com/zune-47-synchronise-windows-phone-7-windows
Zune is currently only available for Windows, so at launch it will not be possible to sync a Windows Phone 7 device with MacOS, but a version of Zune for Mac is due for release before the end of the year.
Also included in the Zune software, is access to the Zune Application Market, an online repository of both free and paid applications that can be bought online via a credit card. A Windows Live account is required to access the MarketPlace.
The Zune software does allow users to transfer photos, music and video content between the device and the PC, but does not allow for contacts or calendar synchronisation.
What Zune 4.7 does offer is Wireless Sync: the ability to synchronise media over a WiFi network, provided that both your PC and the Windows Phone 7 device are connected to the same wireless network. This can be automatic so that both device and PC are kept up to date as soon as you come into the range of the wireless network - ie when you come home.
What differentiates any Microsoft platform from its rivals is its integration, as you'd expect, with Microsoft's back-end server products, including Exchange, Office and Sharepoint.
The Exchange ActiveSync protocol is included with Windows Phone 7, offering push-based bi-directional synchronisation of email, contacts and calendar information with Exchange 2003 SP2 or later, including email subfolders. I have detailed the procedure of setting up an Exchange email account on the new platform here - http://ukblog.im-mobility.com/setting-exchange-email-account-windows-pho...
What is new on WP7 is the support for multiple concurrent Exchange accounts, something that the previous WM6 platform did not support.
The testing I have conducted to date, however, does not reveal a mechanism for installing SSL certificates onto devices manually which could mean that the devices will only connect to an Exchange server that has a root-trusted (ie purchased) certificate on it. I will confirm this as soon as I have a definitive answer.
Windows Phone 7 also features Microsoft's Office Mobile 2010 software, providing the ability to both view and edit Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote documents direclty on your device as well as access and uploads documents to a SharePoint WorkSpace. Office Live also offers online cloud-based WorkSpaces in your SkyDrive that can be shared to provide on-the-fly collaborative working.
What will potentially be of most interest to consumers will be the integration of Windows Phone 7 with the XBox LIVE platform, meaning that gamers will be able to play online when on the move. Surprisingly as big a geek as I am I have been much of a gamer so I can't comment authoritatively on this subject, but it is true to say that neither Google nor Apple have their own gaming platform so this is a feather in WP7's cap that neither Android nor the iPhone can boast. A number of videos featuring Windows Phone 7's gaming capabilities are available - http://ukblog.im-mobility.com/mobile-gaming-comes-windows-phone-7
Internet Explorer Mobile has had a facelift and promises to offer a pleasant mobile browsing experience, with social networking and email integration allowing you to share discoveries as you find them.
Windows Live also offers several services for owners of Windows Phone 7 devices, including a "Find My Phone" feature that enables you to track your phone from any web browser using the device's built-in GPS capability should you have misplaced it, and also remotely lock it, wipe it or make it ring loudly, even if the device is set to silent.
Windows Phone 7, then, promises to offer much both to consumers and corporate users. As with any platform the first release is going to have limitations but the update roadmap appears to be a fast-paced one.
To read more on the platform, Microsoft have launched a new portal web site devoted to Windows Phone 7, featuring a number of How To guides and videos, available here - http://www.microsoft.com/windowsphone/en-us/default.aspx
Watch this space for more information as it emerges.