Notes on Windows Phone 7 Series

DISCLAIMER: The following are simply impressions and questions I have. Think of them as notes for the future, when the WP7S actually launches. I was prompted to post my thoughts by the following tweet:

@Mutantfroginc asked:

Impressions of WM7 demo? I’m still undecided, but it may be closer to Raskin’s transparent design than any phone OS so far.

No, this is not a humane interface. Full screen applications that are bounded to the edges of the device are humane. True, this is a windowless interface (at least, the Hub screens are), which Raskin liked, but the navigation is high concept, and not based on convention. Furthermore, the lack of chrome can cause usability problems. For example, how do we know what it clickable?

Other impressions

  • first, typical Microsoft style: showing a prototype months and months before release. Yes, the iPhone didn’t ship for a few months, but there were no rough edges. The iPhone was completed before it was demoed.

  • I do like the “chromeless” user interface concept, even though I think it may be confusing for consumers. The screen is a keyhole to a much wider application space. It reminds me of my favourite mug, but on purpose. Presumably phones with higher pixel density will show more of the app space. But I wonder how loading such a big app space will affect the CPU? Seems that will put lots of strain on a mobile CPU. Plus, all those motion transitions are not going to make things any snappier.

  • Hubs are confusing. The iPhone and Android have basically two modes: launcher and application. The Hub introduces a third, in-between mode, that pulls information from multiple sources on both the device and the cloud.

  • grid-based layout is awesome. Leads to more flexibility in customizing layouts.

  • geeks will love this, especially if they offer skinning capabilities.

  • Microsoft is bringing this phone late to the game, and they haven’t shown any “gamechangers”. What are they contributing to a space that has been rapidly maturing for the past three years? There are only a couple of things I can think of that may give WP7S an edge:

  1. Heavy integration with Windows 7. Where the iPhone uses MobileMe and iTunes to provide tight integration with Macs, and Android integrates with the web, MS could make its phone a vertical link in its desktop and cloud-based services.

  2. Leverage the Xbox brand. Even though the iPhone is years ahead in mobile gaming (and Android nowhere to be seen), MS has a big advantage in its successful Xbox brand.

To close, not much can be said about a demo like this, except I have a million more questions. We are still far from launch date, and since WP7 is a “Series” we can assume that there will be many different flavours when it actually hits the market. It is hard to write anything of substance when the product isn’t fully baked yet.

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