Here is further evidence that Microsoft has succeeded in capturing the attention of geeks around the world, for there is even interest in what the dialer screen looks like in Windows Phone 7 Series! But before we get too over-excited about a touchscreen alphanumeric keypad, the version shown is not likely to be the finished article, unless they're planning to keep it looking the same as Windows Mobile 6.1, of course.
If you're looking for another in-depth look at Windows Phone 7, then we recommend the following three videos, which while covering much of the same ground as the keynote at Mobile World Congress, does so in a much more relaxed way, where the camera can get close to the actual phone, so we can see the way the OS is performing in this pre-production version.
Mobile World Congress is one of the largest and most important mobile technology trade shows in the world, where manufacturers like to show off their latest and greatest achievements. This year however, industry giant Nokia decided not to attend, as did LG; two players who have previously used the show to reveal some great devices to the public. We wonder if they had an idea that whatever they had planned would be overshadowed by Microsoft, who have been long rumored to be debuting the next generation of their mobile operating system there? If they did, then they made the right decision, as Microsoft may just have stolen the show.
At 4pm local time, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took to the stage and introduced the world to Windows Phone 7 Series, an entirely new approach to the mobile OS for the software giant. Anyone familiar with the current version of Windows Phone, either 6.1 or 6.5, should forget everything they know, as Windows Phone 7 has said goodbye to fiddly OK buttons, ranks of icons and best of all, resistive touchscreens, and replaced them with a new UI, designed by the same team responsible for the Zune's.
At the core of the new UI is something called Live Tiles. These square and rectangular icons make up the homescreen and are used not only to access features, but are also customizable information tiles, where anything from email and social networking profiles to browser pages for frequently visited sites can be displayed, providing up-to-date information and instant contact with friends. Naturally, other Microsoft products are featured heavily here, with easy access to Bing Search, Bing Maps, a new improved version of Internet Explorer, Outlook and Calendar too. Once inside one of Windows Phone 7's features, instead of drop-down menus and impossibly small text, there is an App Bar, where clear, easy to press buttons relate to whatever you can do in the feature, without cluttering up the main screen.
When you start to access key features, you'll encounter what Microsoft are calling Hubs. These are centers where information and data is gathered from different sources and stored in this single location. During the demonstration we were shown five different Hubs, including Productivity, where Office, OneNote and SharePoint live, the People Hub for social networks, email and status updates, plus the Pictures Hub which works in a similar way to People, but for images instead.
The most exciting Hubs were the new additions to the Windows Phone 7 family - the Gamer Hub and the Music and Video Hub. The Music and Video Hub introduces Zune to the Windows phone. Connecting your phone to your PC will automatically start the Zune software and sync the device, you can purchase music and video via the handset, plus use the radio and listen to podcasts - just like a standalone Zune. The Gamer Hub has done the same thing but with Xbox Live, where your Gamer score, achievements, avatar and requests from friends will all be accessible.
The new interface looks slick and pleasing to use and appears to live up to their mission of creating an operating system which 'made you smile when you used it'. Microsoft are keeping a close eye on the hardware side too, giving a set of minimum requirements - capacitive touchscreen, multi-touch and three hardware buttons for example - to their partners, revealed to be HTC, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Dell, Garmin-Asus, LG, Toshiba, HP and Qualcomm at launch. The new devices will be on the AT&T network in the USA and Orange in Europe initially.
Downsides? Well, a post press conference question revealed that Windows Phone 7 won't be supporting Flash out of the box, there will be no backwards compatibility and there are still some unanswered questions regarding its ability to multi-task. Other than that, it's only the commercialization of the interface which will divide users, as it will please the new order of smartphone users, but likely annoy the established business user. But, Microsoft did clearly say they changed their mentality as to who the new phone would be aimed at.
We're going to have to wait until the end of 2010 before the first Windows Phone 7 Series devices hit the stores, but judging by what we've seen at Mobile World Congress, it'll be worth the wait!