Seven big questions about the new Windows Phone 7 Series

Seven big questions about the new Windows Phone 7 Series

Summary: I watched this week's announcement of the new Windows Phone 7 Series from afar. Still, even over the Internet, it was an impressive demo, and the post-announce buzz has been positive. I've come up with seven big questions that stand out in my mind, wondering about the missing apps, the long wait, and whether that awkward name is really a liability.

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I watched this week's announcement of the new Windows Phone 7 Series over the web. It was in Barcelona, and I was stuck here at home digging out from under a mountain of work that piled up after a pleasant vacation. Still, even over the Internet, it was an impressive demo, and the post-announce buzz was uniformly positive. (ZDNet's coverage includes excellent posts from my compadres Mary Jo Foley, Matthew Miller, and Joel Evans, analysis by Larry Dignan, and a slick image gallery.) After looking at the announcement and thinking over its ramifications, I've come up with seven big questions that stand out in my mind.

Is this a complete reset of the Windows Mobile line? And can Microsoft pull it off?

This is a new operating system, a new user interface, and a new set of requirements on hardware makers. What's left? All in all, this is indeed a complete reset and a pretty spectacular admission that the old Windows Mobile line was years past its sell-by date.

The ZuneHD wasn't a mere media player, it was a stealth, hidden-in-plain-sight workout of a new hardware platform.

It does invite shuddering comparisons to the XP-to-Vista transition, doesn't it?

Fortunately, this isn't as big a leap as it appears. The hardware, the OS, and the new UI have already had a pretty thorough shakedown in the evolution of the Zune hardware, which culminated in the ZuneHD, which is impressive technically even if it hasn't been a hit sales-wise. For Zune-watchers who wondered why Microsoft was persisting in its seemingly quixotic competition with the iPod juggernaut, you now have your answer: The ZuneHD wasn't a mere media player, it was a stealth, hidden-in-plain-sight workout of a new hardware platform. Based on the ZuneHD experience, we already know what the UI and hardware can do at a minimum, and there are some pretty impressive new technologies in the Windows Phone 7.

There's a lot we can't evaluate about the Zune/WinPhone7 platform, because it's so opaque. Long Zheng identified the Zune's "Iris" UI framework several years ago, but we still know little about it. In a private conversation yesterday, Rafael Rivera called Iris "a huge blackbox of a framework" and promised to tear it apart to see what makes it tick. I'm looking forward to reading about his discoveries.

So yes, there are unmistakable similarities to the reset that resulted in Windows Vista, but three years later I think there's no question Microsoft has learned from those mistakes. No one within a thousand miles of Redmond wants to be associated with anything even remotely like another Vista, and there's enough understanding of where that project went wrong that I think history is unlikely to repeat here.

Page 2: Where are the apps? Why the wait? -->

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But where are the apps?

Patience, grasshopper.

Allow me to quote Microsoft's Charlie Kindel, who left the Windows Home Server group last year to work on this project:

There’s a whole bunch of stuff we did not announce today. Specifically we did not announce anything about building applications & games for the new Windows Phone 7 Series operating system. We did this because

(a) The new phone user experience we are talking about is so hugely cool we want people to be able to absorb it for a while, and…

(b) We are working on being able to tell the full story in March at the MIX10 conference in Las Vegas.  We have at least 12 sessions lined up and attendees will be the first to get access to the bits.

Oh yeah, I'll be at MIX10. Apple has stolen a trick from Microsoft's old playbook, defining the sheer number of iPhone apps as the criterion for success. Microsoft's challenge is to reframe that debate around apps that matter.

Wasn't this announcement a little early? Why such a long wait for the actual product?

At the Barcelona announcement, Microsoft never actually announced a ship date, only that it would be on sale for the "holiday season." For Windows 7, "holiday" meant October 22, but it could be a earlier or just a little later than that for the Windows Phone 7 products. If you assume a mid-October launch, that leaves about eight months from announce to on sale.

That's not out of line compared to the original iPhone, which was announced January 9, 2007 and available to the public on June 29, 2007, for a gap of nearly six months. Still, a lot can and will happen in the interim, including Apple's new iPhone and, oh yeah, the iPad. It will be interesting to see if either of those products can bring any surprises.

Page 3: Can partners trust Microsoft? -->

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Will Microsoft pull the rug out from under its competitors like it did with PlaysForSure?

Quick history lesson: Back in 2004, Microsoft announced a certification called PlaysForSure that allowed content providers and device makers to become full-fledged members of the Microsoft media ecosystem. Around the time of the Vista launch, PlaysForSure became part of the Certified for Windows Vista Standard. And then, in 2008, Microsoft introduced its own incompatible music service and device family called Zune. Today, PlaysForSure devices are museum pieces.

So, are partners who line up behind Windows Phone 7 Series playing Charlie Brown to Microsoft's Lucy, waiting for the football to be yanked away again?

Anything's possible, but my take is that it looks like Microsoft has done things right this time. With PlaysForSure, the coordination between device makers and the music standard was, to be kind, loose, and the result for customers was chaotic and unmanageable. This time the exact opposite is true. There's a rigid hardware spec, a UI that device makers won't be allowed to modify, and a Microsoft-run media ecosystem (Zune Marketplace and Xbox Live) that's already running smoothly. Phone makers have already seen a similar combo work just fine for AT&T with Apple. Whether this new ecosystem can make a dent in the Apple hegemony remains to be seen, but the pieces are solid.

Where does Silverlight fit in?

Again, we'll hear more about this at MIX10, but I've been waiting for this shoe to drop for several months. Back at PDC 09, there was one set of announcements that didn't make much sense at the time but does now. When Microsoft talked about Silverlight, they talked about writing apps that could run on all platforms, which means any app written with Windows Presentation Foundation can run on any device. If you write a Silverlight app it will run on Windows 7 and a new Windows Phone, and even on a Windows Tablet. In a story earlier this week, ChannelWeb quoted several anonymous sources who connected the dots neatly:

"Native Silverlight on Windows Phone is going to open it up to a huge amount of developers and create a large ecosystem for building and acquiring applications," said one source, who requested anonymity. "We have been waiting for this for a long time."

With Silverlight running natively on Windows Phone, developers can get started building apps with the Windows Phone SDK even though devices won't hit the market until the latter part of the year. "The best thing about Silverlight is that you can start designing applications before ever touching or seeing a Windows Phone device," said another source, who also requested anonymity.

Page 4: Too early to tell? Dumb name? -->

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Is it too early to pass judgment on the new Windows Phone?

Of course it is. It's always a mistake to judge any new product on the basis of a spec sheet and a tightly controlled demo. A handful of journalists were allowed a short amount of hands-on time with prototype devices at the launch event in Barcelona. Similarly, press who covered the iPad launch event were allowed to play with the device only under controlled conditions and only for a few minutes. I don't expect to see any in-depth, independent reviews of the iPad until it launches. We might, however, see some early reviews of Windows Phone 7 devices. It's possible, even likely that Microsoft and its partners will make early devices available to some reviewers, but that would be months from now at best.

Having said that, the new Windows Phone 7 products are like the iPad in another sense: Yes, both are new products, but many of their core features and technological building blocks are well known and tested. So anyone who has experience with an iPhone or iPod Touch has some familiarity with an iPad, just as anyone who uses a ZuneHD already knows at least some of what the new Windows Phone 7 Series devices can do.

But just as an iPad will assuredly not be "just a bigger iPod Touch," the new Windows phones won't be ZuneHD devices with phone features grafted on.

Isn't Windows Phone 7 Series a wretched name?

Yeah. So what else is new? But I don't think Microsoft expects consumers to pay much attention to that brand. If their strategy is successful, customers will think of the Windows Phone brand (sans version number) and the manufacturer's brand together. That's the way the whole partner system works.

Still, given the positive mojo that Windows 7 has, it certainly can't hurt to reuse that lucky number.

Topics: Hardware, iPad, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software, Software Development, Windows

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  • Good balanced article and...

    I think that pushing Silverlight on to what appears to be a very cool mobile OS
    could be just what Microsoft need to kick start the uptake of Silverlight.

    If we can develop slick graphical apps for Windows Phone 7 then this opens
    the door for advertising on the phone like Flash Ads have done on the
    PC/Mac...something we can't currently do on the iPhone or iPad as Apple flat out refuses to support it.

    Personally as a developer in the digital space I can see $ signs on the horizon
    and increased job security for some time now :-)

    BondiGeek
    BondiGeek
  • RE: Seven big questions about the new Windows Phone 7 Series

    1. I like my ZuneHD very much (I don't love hardware). I use the ZuneHD or at least the Zune software to listen to the MacBreak Weekly podcast. The "Zunishness" of the 7 series phones is a very positive thing to me.

    I also like the Zune store (although some aspects of search there still are beyond my ken: that applies to iTunes store too).

    2. I would like to believe that Microsoft learned from the PlaysForSure debacle just as they learned from the Vista problems (I say "problems" rather than debacle because Vista worked just fine for me, thanks.)

    3. Silverlight should be a big plus.

    I don't know whether I'll buy a 7 series phone (obviously, since what it is is mostly unknown). But I'm not making any iPhone 3G replacement decisions until the 7 series is out and I can play with it. I don't even know whether I will stay with a "smartphone".

    A phone just smart enough to receive text messages (ie, pages) on a prepay basis, plus something like an iPad, is a clear alternative to some smartphone. I don't use many phone minutes; I don't send text messages (except once in a while to comment to a co-worker about a page).

    It's going to be an interesting year.
    John Baxter
    • Sounds good to me....

      I've been thinking about a new phone too and had the pleasure of someone showing me the win mobile 6.5 (6 or 6.5) apps etc.

      What I hadn't reaslised till then was that the iphone has no multitasking and you can only run one thing at a time. The win gadget however was able to kick-off google maps, word processer, download from internet, and let you hop between them.

      I'm holding of till I see win mobile 7, and maybe Blackberry connect ut that's maybe getting greedy.

      It's too much cash to outlay on a gadget at the moment and might as well wait and see what makes it into production. Looking good though !
      johnmckay
  • Another question I'd like to add ...

    Will it run legacy apps? One of the bonuses of using Windows Mobile or whatever it's currently called is the huge number of applications out there, even if they are a somewhat mixed bunch spread out all over the internet. In fact, the absence of one particular app (Laridian) is currently preventing me from looking seriously at Android, so I think this could be an important question for some.
    TV John
    • That was actually question #8

      ;)

      But I don't think we'll know the answer till MIX10 next month.
      Ed Bott
      • The real app compat question is...

        Will WP8 support WM6x apps? If not then best to make the break here and make sure that WP7 apps follow the same shell/app model as WP8 apps will so we don't end up with neither WM6 or WP7 app running on WP8
        Johnny Vegas
  • Here is THE question

    Why would any handset manufacturer use WinMob7 when it can get
    Android - arguably a far better product - for free? In addition,
    WinMob has a well deserved reputation for being simply junk. (Doubt
    it? Ask Mary Jo!)

    In addition, now that WinMob7 has been announced, WinMob "Classic"
    (why are MSFT dying products always renamed?) sales will dry up,
    accelerating the power dive of WinMob market share. From a position
    of nearly 50% of smart phones, WinMob is irrelevant and becoming
    miniscule. Probably by the time WinMob7 is released, the share will be
    down to 5%.

    Also, it comes with integrated Zune. Wow, is that not the NSA-CIA
    music player that no one has ever seen and no one wants? What great
    marketing! - integrating a music player no one cares about or wants.

    Long story short: THE question is: who cares about WinMob in
    whatever form, now or in the future?

    WinMob was a clunky, kludgy, monotonously stupidly designed (I had
    11 of them and they got worse over time!) monopoly defender
    product. WinMob was only intended as a stopgap so that corporations
    could impose it on their workers - "This is what head office wants you
    to use; it works with Windows.....

    Anyone who ever used its browser knew that it was merely a tediously
    inept and shrunken version of Win without any thought given to the
    limitations of smaller screens. Simply, the browser was unusable and
    got worse over time. It was another "To hell with the end user; he has
    no choice; he MUST use us" product.

    MSFT never saw that handset velocity is 3X that of PCs and has
    completely lost its position. As handsets become the dominant
    product, MSFT has, after 3-5 years, seen the light and wants to sell a
    product that is now only two years out of date. Good luck with that
    BloatFarm!

    The real question is: Why has a management that has such a titanic
    record of product failures (Zune, SPot, Vista, Xbox, WinMob) not been
    replaced years ago. (Did I mention the lamentable LiveSearch?)

    WinMob has been a disappointment and failure; its top management
    should have been pastured years ago; no amount of shilling will
    change that.
    Jeremy W
    • XBox a failure?

      I thought the XBox was successful, and Windows 7 is doing very well. Office continues to sell. So it's ok that they missed the boat on mobile.
      rynning
      • WM has been great for me

        I respect your opinion, but my experience has been the opposite of yours. I have owned over a dozen WM PDAs / Smartphones starting with PPC2002, and all have been reliable, stable, did what I wanted quickly / easily, and lasted years. I favor the bigger screen devices, and even the standard WM interface is finger friendly. I can't remember the last time I used a stylus on any of the devices. I still use a PPC2003SE Toshiba e830 daily without a stylus. I will shed a tear when that device finally fails. The 4" VGA screen is a pleasure to use without a stylus. I have tried using the slicker UI shells, and although they are nice, I usually return to using the standard UI enhanced with the Pocket Plus application.

        One of the nice features with WM Classic is the abilty to use multiple browsers. Even though Pocket IE gets constant negative press, the older versions were excellent for reading the mobile web. You had your choice of layouts, and text size. A great feature was the text would reflow when you zoomed the page so you could read the page with a comfortable text size without the dreaded horizontal scrolling something the iPhone / iPod touch has problems doing with some single column pages. Yes, Pocket IE did not do a good job displaying full web pages, but it was never designed for full pages. In addition, when Pocket IE was released, the mobile data speeds were so low you would not want a full page. I prefer the mobile web on screens < 7" because all the zooming, pannng, and scrolling required to read the full web gets tiring. For those who like the full web on a small screen, there are a plethora of alternate browsers for WM which do a fine job displaying the full web. I used NetFront 3.2 / 3.3 on a WM VGA device long before the iPhone was released, and I was able to log-on to my checking accout on-line, and do everything my desktop could including displaying copies of canceled checks. At the time, the bank did not have a mobile site. Even though another company advertises it gives the full internet experience, the only browser which can display the full web consistenty is the free Skyfire which was available first for WM, and recently for RIM.

        The standard WM UI was modeled after the Windows desktop which 95% of the potential customers had used to minimize learning curve. Wow, you may have to spend 10 minutes learning an interface, and for that 10 minutes of time, you gain years of doing things many other devices could not do, or do as well. Good trade IMO. If you prefer a slicker UI, many free, or low cost alternatives are available.

        I did not purchase an iPhone because it is too feature deficient, and controlled for my needs. I did purchase an iPod touch so I could gain extensive experience with iPhone OS, mobile Safari, and multi-touch (all grossly over-rated IMO) which is why I have experienced mobile Safari's failure to reflow text when double tap zoom does not work, and you use pinch zoom. Many times with the iPod touch, you have a choice between reading a page with about an 8 point font, or using pinch zoom, and horizontally scrolling to read each line which gets old after about 2 lines. From a stability pov, I have to soft reset the iPod touch due to Safari freezes much more frequently than any WM device I have owned, and I use the WM devices much more frequently.

        Again, I respect your opinon, but did want to relate my positive experience with WM.
        gadgetlover
        • Interesting

          It's interesting that's you've owned over a dozen WinMo devices in 8 years. Do you buy one every 8 months or are they given to you?

          I'm glad you've had a good experience, and I'm sorry for you that Microsoft is essentially abandoning the platform for R7. My experience was pretty bad for the WinMo phone I had for over two years. In my opinion, it could certainly do a lot, but nothing very well. The iPhone was a breath of fresh air.

          "The standard WM UI was modeled after the Windows desktop which 95% of the potential customers had used to minimize learning curve."

          Yeah, Microsoft didn't have a lot of imagination when it came to WinMo, right down to the "start" button. That was the problem. It took Apple to "reinvent" (Microsoft's word, not mine) the mobile interface. In my experience, the learning curve on my iPhone was much shorter than on my WinMo phone.
          rynning
          • Agree to Disagee

            I am a gadget geek, and buy a lot of devices. They were all bought, none were gifts. I do respect your opinion, but again, my experience has been excellent with WM devices. For me, WM did things most other devices could not, and did them well. Even the iPhone today cannot do things (without jailbreaking) that every WM device has done out of the box, such as file explorer which I use multiple times a day since I have many devices to share data with.

            Concerning UI, I disagree with your opinion. Since WM was designed for business users, and basically a mobile extension of their desktop computer, it made sense to mimic the desktop UI the users already knew. The main goal of users at the time was to be productive, not entertained. The Windows desktop uses a start button, hence a start button on WM. Click the start button on WM and you have easy to understand menu selections such as programs, settings, IE, mail, contacts, calendar etc. along with your most used applications. A main feature of WM (at least Classic) was the ability to customize it to your liking. If you don't like the standard UI, customize it to your liking using included tools, or low cost utilities such as Pocket Plus. If you want a slick, animated UI, those are available as well. Mobile Shell is as glitzy, and slick as the iPhone's if that is your thing. Try customizing a non-jailbroken iPhone.

            Concerning the iPhone, IMO it was not the great leap foward many stipulate, in fact, in many ways, the feature deficiency was a step backward. The iPhone does have a great sceen, bigger menus, and a powerful, yet flawed for single column pages browser included. The main UI is a series of icons like every Palm OS device out there with a few slick transitions added before the selected app is shown. Older WM devices came with a Home app that had a similar icon arrangement. When you select the program item from the start menu on WM, you have a series of finger-friendly icons listing all programs. You scroll vertically with WM's program listing rather than horizontally on the iPhone, and could scroll with a button rather than flicking. One thing the iPhone did was enlarge the menus etc. to be more finger-friendly which is a good thing, but for me, that was a small evolution, not revolution since I rarely use a stylus with any of my devices.

            When WM was first designed, screen technology was certainly inferior to what is available now. I am not saying different approaches to UI design are bad, I welcome new approaches since user options are always great. I am not defending the concept of a start button per se, but I am defending why the start button was included in WM when the interface was designed as it was years ago. Five+ years later with a magnum increase in available technology, Apple evolved the experience a bit. I know many think Apple evolved the experience significantly. I respect their opinion, but don't agree with it.

            As indicated in my original post, mobile Safari is great for multi-column sites, but leaves a lot to be desired for single column pages, and forums. There are many browsers available for WM that do mobile, and full well.

            No mobile OS is the best for everyone. The iPhone is too feature deficient, controlled, and consumer oriented for my needs. I bought an iPod touch so I could experience iPhone OS, mobile Safari, and multi-touch extensively (all over-rated IMO). The iPod touch is definitely fun to use. Then I try to do the things I need to do, and the iPhone / iPod touch are big failures. I don't care how slick, fun, and pretty a device is if it can't do what you want to accomplish, it is a failure for you. If the iPhone meets your needs, fine you have a slick, solid device. IMO, the pendulum has swung way too far in the direction of how slick, fun, and animated the UI is vs. can the device do what you need easily, quicky, reliably with a minimum of inputs. Most of the press, both mainstream, and tech oriented, range between salivating, and orgasmic when they cover the iPhone with barely a mention of the missing features that are avaiable, and used on other platforms.
            gadgetlover
          • I had so many WinMobs

            because they kept falling apart.

            HTC truly makes junk. The hardware/software
            integration was silly and tedious but the hardware was
            certainly not up to "enterprise standard."

            WinMob devices show a gross lack of detail to software
            and hardware.

            I have owned an iPhone for almost two years. My
            experience is far, far better than WinMob. Plus, the Os
            was updated twice. That never happened with the junk
            from MSFT. It was clunky and kludgy and never got
            better. The only people who were advantaged by the
            WinMob devices were landfill operators.
            Jeremy W
          • Had great experience with WM hardware

            You can have problems with any mobile device,
            including Apple. Unfortunately, your
            experience has been negative with WM in
            general, and with HTC hardware. All my WM
            devices were well built, and have lasted for
            many years. The only thing
            I replaced were batteries after a couple of
            years which took all of 15 seconds to replace,
            and in most cases, < $10 on eBay.

            My current phone is a HTC Touch Pro which has
            worked flawlessly for a year and a half now
            even though it has been dropped several times.
            It has dings, and chips from the falls, but
            still works great. My prior phone was a HTC
            built PPC67600 which worked flawlessly for two
            years before being replaced by the Touch Pro.
            I still use the PPC6700 today via WiFI, and
            still works great. It too was well built, and
            the slide-out keyboard is still solid. The
            only thing I have replaced is the battery for
            about $6.00 on eBay, and 15 seconds to remove /
            replace the snap-on back cover. Try that with
            your iPhone when it is time to replace the
            battery.

            A friend of mine with an iPhone used it for
            phone, and email only. After two years, it
            failed. He went to the Apple store, and they
            could not fix it for less than the cost of a
            new one with a new contract of course. I
            belong to a mobile user group, and several
            users had iPhone failures in the first year
            which were replaced under warranty.

            Before I owned WM devices, I had about a dozen
            or so Palm OS devices. With the exception of a
            cracked screen due to drops on concrete, all
            the Palm OS device worked fine, were well
            built, and gave many years of use. If I put 2
            batteries in my Palm III, it would boot up fine
            today.
            gadgetlover
      • Xbox

        Kinda depends doesn't it? As a games console - yeah, pretty
        successful. As a "trojan horse" to get into the living room, not so
        much.

        The Xbox project has shown that Microsoft can get a lot right, Xbox
        Live is simply the best multiplayer service out there. The Xbox 360
        hardware has been less than a stellar success (though at least
        Microsoft has done the right thing by customers). Lots has gone
        horribly wrong too - the HD-DVD thing? (oops!) The whole "it's more
        than a games console" thing.

        Then there are the UI mistakes, the "Blades" UI wasn't brilliant, but the
        new one is actually worse. Of course, these seem positively inspired
        compared to the shambles that is Sony's Xross Media Bar (XMB).

        Of course, most people will look at the games, and here Microsoft
        have pulled some sheer brilliance, Halo (developed by Bungee) is
        fantastic, but other Xbox exclusives help cement the brand (Gears of
        War, Project Gotham Racing, etc.)

        So the "success" of the Xbox is a patchy thing,
        Jeremy-UK
        • XBOX is a failure

          because $billions were squandered on its development
          and ore $billions were wasted fixing it numerous
          times.

          The result is that so much money was spent on it that
          it can never return a positive ROI to shareholders.

          It is another in a series of brilliant failures at MSFT.

          With its current top management, $billions are spent
          on wasted efforts: Zune, LiveSearch, WinMob, SPoT,
          Vista, etc.

          The top management should have been pastured
          almost a decade ago but lives on from the monopoly
          rents and squanders shareholder wealth.

          Few companies could tolerate "successes" like Xbox.
          Jeremy W
    • If you have to ask "why"

      then you would not understand (or most likely [b]hate[/b]) the answer, so it is not worth explaining to you.

      Just keep up with your overlly bloated posts Jeremy, You are still amusing at times. :)
      GuidingLight
    • Did you even watch the announcement webcast?

      Make no mistake - WinPhone is NOT WinMo; they're entirely different beasts.

      Oh, and in case you missed it, most of WinMo's management team have indeed moved on and have been replaced with a FAR more capable team.
      de-void-21165590650301806002836337787023
    • Apparently You haven't been reading articles about this...

      Because your post ignored the fact that this is a totally DIFFERENT and NEW OS for phones? It doesn't have anything to tie it to the old Windows Mobile, and in fact is a refreshing break from MS trying to put Windows onto underpowered hand-helds! Trust me grumpy! When Microsoft turns out a product that will work better than Apple or Linux phones or any OTHER phone OS, People WILL buy IT!
      Your post is like any other from a (Microsoft/Apple/Toyota, name your poison) hater, ignoring the facts, just hammering away at the keyboard to try to make us feel the same as you! Got news for ya! It doesn't work! Some of us are adults that try before they buy! I like Apple, I like Microsoft, I like RCA! If Microsoft turns out a product that, after using the beta and RC's, I DON'T like, I won't buy it! I didn't like Vista, I didn't buy it. I like Windows 7 and I have it! I bought a Palm-Pre and I love some things, don't like some things, and have to wait for some things! If they don't come by the time my contract is over, and Microsoft has what I want in a Phone OS I'll buy it! If Not I'll look at Android and Iphones IF they are offered by the CARRIER that I want! But just downing a brand 'cause you bought something you don't like is childish!
      barefoot1976
  • Jobs demoed a real device in Jan 2007, Ballmer showed powerpoint vaporware.

    (nt)
    Zukuzu
    • They did have a real device...

      Joe was using real hardware and hooked it up to the video out. It was prototype hardware, but it was not just slides.
      DevStar