When we think of smart-phones our instinct is to immediately consider Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android platform. These are spectacularly popular operating systems that have transformed the way in which we use our mobile phones and are evolving quickly as the competition attempts to out do their opponents.
Microsoft may have been a little late joining this battle, however don’t let that fool you into thinking they are out of the game. Windows Phone 7 designed specifically for smart-phones is a platform that oozes appeal and simplicity and although lacking a few of the features you may expect, they have finally left the starting blocks with something to be incredibly proud of.
So what is Windows Phone 7?
Not Just Another Copy – The Metro User Interface
I have been using the LG Optimus 7 which just so happens to include Windows Phone 7 as the operating system. I have been using this phone for a few months now and having experienced both the iPhone (iOS) and HTC Desire (Android), I certainly have a good basis of comparison.
When first turning on the phone, the LG logo appears shortly followed by the Windows Phone branding in a nice whoosh-like animation. In no time at all, you’re ready to begin.
Windows Phone 7 is not just another copy of Apple’s iOS or in fact any other platform out there and instead opts for something a little more refreshing. Using what Microsoft designate as ’tiles’, these literal blocks offer information of the app or feature they relate to. These animate with a little personalisation so for example a ‘People’ tile shows the images of individuals listed in your contacts list and even Facebook.
A tap of a tile again triggers a lovely whoosh animation revealing the inner details of the function. This is where things really start to become interesting. Traditional navigation due to the lack of horizontal space consists of a row of buttons signifying options to other areas and scrolling vertically to digest the presented information. Windows Phone 7 does away with this locked in concept and instead hints at other bits of content that cunningly rests to one side. With just a swipe to the right or left, you reveal this additional area and it works oh so well. It feels incredibly natural to use no matter which area takes your interest, so much so that third party app creators have been keen to mimic this key feature.
As portable devices become faster and as technology speeds for smaller devices evolve to ever greater capabilities, the inkling for any operating system is usually to chuck in images and other assorted graphics until the screen is chock-a-block with clutter. Windows Phone 7 actually does the exact opposite, instead focusing on the information rather than demonstrating pure capabilities. Using cleverly used font sizes, colours and organisation – the on-screen information is easily legible and simple to navigate. You might be concerned at this point that the gloss and appeal is lost utilising this simplicity, but where over zealous graphics are left behind, the sheer delight of to-ing and fro-ing from section to section is actually an addictive experience.
Icons remain at the bottom of the screen, that are simple symbols and nothing more. If you are at a loss of what they mean, you can always tap a specific icon to reveal their exact function and again this is consistent throughout the operating system.
So we have discovered that the interface is super simple to use and a refreshing break away from the set standards that already exist in the mobile phone market. How this translates to the other software applications that exist as standard with Windows Phone 7 continues to amaze me.
Whether you are checking your email, viewing a schedule on the calendar or browsing the family photography – the Windows Phone 7 experience is consistent and very reassuring. All of the included software follows these set out rules of keeping things simple and clean.
Let’s take Facebook as a prime example…
Typically, you would download a Facebook app to access your list of family, friends and work colleagues that are stored on your Facebook account. Here you would also be able to browse the latest status updates and photos that are shared on the website. What this means is that you are having to open an app completely separate to experience content that you might expect in other locations of the phone interface.
Thankfully, Facebook is actually integrated within Windows Phone 7 and allows your logical thoughts and expectations to be realised. So if for example I select the ‘People’ tile, not only will you see your contacts you have stored on your phone, but also those you have on your Facebook account. Sounds so completely obvious when you think about it, however it is a feature many other operating systems lack. This continues in other areas as well, so selecting ‘Pictures’ not only shows images you have stored on your phone, but also those you have uploaded to Facebook.
This seamlessness will hopefully be adopted by other websites as well, as certainly from a user interface standpoint it makes such complete and utter sense, however those concious of identity may feel concerned that their brand is being lost somehow by lumping media in with other rivals without the typical logos strewn around their content.
The potential is certainly there though, and with an upcoming update Twitter will be enjoying the same kind of integration within Windows Phone 7.
Xbox Live Integration
As an Xbox 360 gamer, the thrill of unlocking achievements and being connected with all my online friends is a feature that is unmatched by any of Microsoft’s competitors. Apple may have something similar with ‘Game Center’, however they don’t have a gaming console in the market like Microsoft do with the Xbox 360.
Windows Phone 7 cleverly integrates the platform into a smart-phone, so while even on the move, your connection to this gaming universe is never lost and in fact enhances the experience.
On the home screen, a tile labelled ‘Xbox Live’ animates, with your carefully crafted personalised avatar popping his/her head in and out of view. This is the avatar you created on your Xbox 360, which the more sensible among us will have attempted to create a likeness of your real self, complete with clothing of course. This is all shown on your Windows Phone 7 phone and tapping the Xbox Live tile reveals another gateway into your online sanctum.
Many Windows Phone 7 titles feature Xbox Live achievements and leaderboards. Not only that, but let’s say you have been playing Angry Birds on your phone – friends playing on the Xbox 360 will be able to view this and the relevant progress you have made.
With upcoming updates, this could expand much further and Microsoft already have a rich history in console gaming giving them a distinct advantage over Apple and Google in this area as they can target not just the typical casual gamer, but that of the more enthusiastic ‘hardcore’ type as well.
With a pretty substantial update arriving known as ‘Mango’ – Microsoft are firmly placing their Windows Phone operating system for mobile phones squarely against its rivals.
Whatever you may joke about when referring to Microsoft, none of the same remarks can be implied here. It is a solid start to their own platform with what promises to evolve steadily over time.
My main concern is the speed at which this development is occurring and the ‘lag’ effect. Firstly as impressive and as exciting of hearing news of upcoming features is, the months and months of waiting for it to arrive can be quite painful. Another issue that also plagues Android devices is that of ‘lag’ and by this I mean even though the operating system creator has updated the core of the software, people with different carriers and phones created by various manufacturers never receive the update at the same time and it can be weeks or even months apart of each other before everyone is on an even playing field.
Microsoft’s Windows Phone software is an alternative that will appeal to beginner and advanced smart-phone users alike. It will be fascinating to watch how the platform evolves and it really does deserve to be one of the most successful platforms available.