One of the recurring themes of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference 2010 here in Washington, DC seems to be the acknowledgement that the line between the consumer and business technology worlds is blurring. One of the most obvious areas this is happening is within Mobile Phones. When I attended the Windows Phone 7 keynote presented by Andy Lees, Senior Vice President of Microsoft Mobile Communications Business, to learn about the next wave of Windows phone innovation, one of the statistics that Andy mentioned was the fact that 80% of Mobile Devices used in business were not sourced by the business, but by the individual.
That statistic would make sense to any SMB IT Consultant who has ever had a client go out and buy a Blackberry off their own back, then throw it at their IT guy to make it work with SBS!
During Steve Ballmer’s keynote, Ballmer all but admitted that Microsoft had made a pigs ear of their attempt to keep up with Apple (or another mobile provider, as he called Apple) but that Windows Phone 7 had been written from the ground up in an attempt to improve the situation.
So what’s Windows Phone 7 like? Well it’s built on the same technology that you’ve seen (or not seen, if you’re a UK Partner) in the Microsoft Zune HD. It looks and feels very crisp and modern – no Windows Mobile v6 error messages or interface anywhere.
It’s all touch screen, swiping and pinching, ala the Apple iPhone. There is no longer a start menu. The interface has a very Social Media centre bent. Much like my own HTC HD2 with it’s HTC Sense interface, the Windows Phone 7 interface automatically connects to Social Media sites such as Facebook and pulls down status updates, merging them into a single view along with e-mails, contact details, links to Bing, and so on – so you can see a ton of information about any of your contacts in a single place.
There are some *very* cool media components – and the home screen itself (pictured left) is full of moving tiles. If you watch the Phone long enough, status updates from your main contacts flow into view. Neat.
There is a big emphasis on being able to access information from within any application. You could be in e-mail and want to view somebody’s Facebook status update – so instead of heading to the Facebook app, you swipe left and it’s there. Or you click on an address and Bing displays a map, and so on. The pictures hub, for instance, shows locally stored pictures but also pulls in folders from Facebook and Flickr. This is a really nice feature and timesaver.
By the way, Bing is featured heavily. Just about every external link you’ll click on will take you to a Bing site, but there are some great features contained within – such as the ability to find local restaurants, make bookings directly, and so on.
There is integration with Xbox Live too. Not much details about how Windows Phone 7 will be used as a gaming platform, but your Xbox live avatar and all the statistics are pulled through to the phone – so that opens some possibilities for gaming going forwards.
The Microsoft Office integration is much stronger. We were showed demo’s of an e-mail containing a Powerpoint presentation and an Excel spreadsheet, where the attachments were opened directly on the ‘phone, edited, and automatically sent back to the recipient updated. Very impressive and a fantastic feature for business users on the road.
Likewise, support for Calendars is much stronger too. You can differentiate between personal and business appointments easily – send “I’m running late” messages at the touch of a button, and see availability for meetings and schedule meetings quickly.
At the end of the keynote, we were given a demonstration of how it easy it is to develop an application for Windows Phone 7. It didn’t seem *that* easy to me, as a non-Developer, but with any luck this emphasis on improved 3rd Party apps will see a much stronger App Store than the truly pathetic Windows Marketplace that we currently have!
So in conclusion, Windows Phone 7 looks to embrace the idea that the Consumer and Business world is merging together, that the cool technology people use at home is the same technology they want to use at work, and Windows Phone 7 *does* look cool, make no mistake about it – and there have been some very positive press comments to re-inforce this (see picture at left).
Release date for the first Windows Phone 7 devices is expected to be this Autumn, but it was announced selected Developers would be shipped test units starting 19th July, and anyone can download the free Developer kit from at http://dev.windows.com/en-us straight away.
So I’m chomping at the bit to try an Windows Phone 7 device, but they are not available for a while yet. However, thanks to Microsoft I was lucky enough to procure a Microsoft Zune HD – a device not available in the UK (in fact, if you even try to visit the Zune HD link in the UK, you’ll be redirected) – but a device which has pretty much the same interface as Windows Phone 7 albeit without the, erm, Phone bits! Once I’ve had a chance to play with it, I’ll post some pictures and my opinion!