For Windows Phone 7, all of Microsoft comes to play

For Windows Phone 7, all of Microsoft comes to play

Summary: Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 is notable for integrating several different corporate groups in one platform. ZDNet editor Andrew Nusca reports from the company's press conference in New York City.

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NEW YORK -- If there's one thing that's clear after the official debut of Microsoft's Windows Phone 7, it's that the new operating system is all in the family -- the corporate family, that is.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took to the stage in New York this morning to officially introduce the company's latest high-profile venture, an update to its maligned mobile platform, calling it "a very different kind of phone" that aims to "bring together the things that you love."

"[The difference in our approach is that it's] not just what you're going to do with the phone, but how you do it," Ballmer said. "We focused in on the way real people use their phones...so you're in, out and back to life."

The operating system, which ZDNet's crack team of writers has already covered in exhaustive detail, was framed as a software platform that is "always delightful" and "wonderfully mine" -- that is, personal.

But the real story is how Microsoft's latest mobile foray showcases nearly every development group within the company, from Bing search to Xbox gaming, to Zune media streaming to Office business content creation.

Flanked by corporate partners, Ballmer introduced nine new Windows Mobile Phone 7 devices, manufactured by companies such as LG, Samsung, HTC and Dell, on more than 60 carriers in more than 30 nations.

Among them were the LG Quantum, which has a full slide out QWERTY keyboard; the HTC Surround, which houses two Dolby surround sound speakers; the Samsung Focus, which features a 4-inch AMOLED display; and the HTC HD7, which sports a 4.3-inch display and a kickstand.

(The first three will be available on AT&T for $199.99 each with contract; the last will be on T-Mobile for an undisclosed price.)

But the software was the primary focus of the announcement, which threatens to propel the Redmond, Wash.-based tech giant back to the forefront of the mobile industry.

That's because the company is shifting its approach to being more personal, placing focus on "experiences" rather than specifications, features or even competition with its rivals.

In fact, Ballmer and corporate vice president Joe Belfiore both used their personal devices to demonstrate features of the new operating system, a new approach that signals that the company is trying to appeal to the mass market, rather than enthusiasts.

It's a sound move. As the popularity of the Apple iPhone and then Google Android devices has grown, the smartphone has displaced the feature phone across the country.

Until now, the smartphone has appealed to the early adopter, the enthusiast, the geek -- the customer who cares about having the fastest processor and the most memory and the biggest display.

But Microsoft's strategy signals a new approach, one that echoes Apple's own plan for the iPhone: market the device as a problem solver, a life companion, and forget about the stats.

The operating system's quick, graphical, geometric user interface is an extension of the one that debuted on its critically acclaimed but commercially unpopular Zune portable media player. (It does, however, preserve the Zune's signature media streaming service.)

AT&T mobility president Ralph De La Vega said as much in his speech on Monday, calling Microsoft's mobile interface "fun, fast and personal."

It uses square "live tiles" as shortcuts to "hubs" that address specific tasks, such as media streaming or photos or contacts or gaming or business tasks, rather than simply individual applications.

"How can we build a phone that takes those everyday tasks and simplifies them?" Belfiore asked the audience. "How can we take all the power and capability [in phones] and put those in a phone experience that makes them faster and simpler to deal with?"

Belfiore's answer: "smart design," through simplicity and a focus on details, from three common hardware buttons (back, start, search) to your next calendar appointment displayed on your lock screen to built-in voice search functionality using the company's "TellMe" servers.

"We really try to connect to these cloud services in a really interesting way," Belfiore said.

That said, Windows Phone 7 is foremost a consumer play, and it's telling that Ballmer didn't mention any business use cases until halfway into his introductory speech.

Still, it's all there, and as you might expect, Windows Phone 7 has tight, slick integration with Office 2010, including SharePoint, OneNote, Outlook e-mail and calendar and PowerPoint, the last of which you can edit presentation slides on the go.

Add all that to key maps functionality with Bing and gaming capabilities courtesy of Xbox Live and suddenly all of Microsoft is vying for your attention via your pocket.

After watching a full demo from Belfiore and playing with the devices myself, I left the event impressed. While I don't believe Microsoft has leapfrogged ahead of its mobile competition -- primarily Apple's iPhone and Google Android devices -- I do believe it has at least equaled them and in some cases surpassed them, offering a seamless user experience that does, believe it or not, delight.

That means that after several less-than-sure-footed moves in mobile, Microsoft is back with an offering that is at least as compelling as the competition and I dare say more, with regard to some lesser Android devices on the market.

It's hard to think that anything can stop the mobile industry from being dominated by the largest of tech companies: Apple, Google, Microsoft. (One, two, three.)

The big question: will Microsoft's new operating system will play nice with others when it first arrives to U.S. market in early November?

The Zune was a wonderful media player with limitations that left it useless to Mac computer owners; the question is whether Microsoft's mobile offering, connected in every way to the cloud via a bucket of services, will do the same.

Microsoft's phone is wonderful in a controlled Microsoft-only world -- can it survive with users whose allegiances aren't so strong?

And will that be enough of a deterrent to prevent the company from reaching a critical mass of users?

Topics: Mobility, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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29 comments
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  • Windows Phone 7 is a HUGE SUCCESS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Now I'm going to watch the ABMers reaction, if they come. I suspect they won't come, they became paralyzed by fear once they saw Ballmer's stellar performance on stage.<br><br>And he didn't do his monkey dance, his ultimate weapon. Ballmer is so sure about the success of WP7 that he didn't feel there was a need to dance it to success.<br><br>No monkey dance and no chair throwing, that shows how sure Ballmer feels.<br><br>Take that ABMers!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    OS Reload
    • No chair throwing yet...

      @OS Reload ... once this POS crashes and burns, and the senior management team departs for greener pastures.
      HollywoodDog
      • RE: For Windows Phone 7, all of Microsoft comes to play

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        Lina roy
    • RE: For Windows Phone 7, all of Microsoft comes to play

      @OS Reload
      Let us never forget that Ballmer was also "responsible" for Vista!
      Wakemewhentrollsgone
      • RE: For Windows Phone 7, all of Microsoft comes to play

        @ptorning - Not really. Allchin was responsible for Vista and he's gone ... along with most of his lieutenants.
        De-Void
    • Actually, I am really surprised.

      @OS Reload

      I had a chance to play with a WP7 last week and it surprised the heck out of me. Now, I don't know if it will take off but I was impressed with the level of thought MS put into actual user interaction and responsiveness.

      I find Android to be somewhat klunky and the 7-15 fps updates you get on various home pages (even on top end phones like the Droid X) is frustrating. The WP7 phone I used for a few minutes was amazingly fluid in its performance.

      The concept of Hubs seems unique though the skinny screen on the device I used (the interface seemed tall and skinny) was a bit off-putting but overall, I found it a well though out concept and a decent implementation.

      I other words, polish level feels much closer to iPhone than Android.
      Bruizer
  • RE: For Windows Phone 7, all of Microsoft comes to play

    I watched the presentation and it was solid. It was nice to hear the C&P was coming in 2011 (early) and the phones being debuted by AT&T looked good. I liked the HTC and Samsung devices the best, but I'll wait for final judgement when I go see them in person.

    Great event, Great OS. I can't wait.
    SmoothDouglas
  • Put a Comma in there, PLEASE!

    On your largest of tech companies paragraph, you write "Apple, Google Microsoft" Put that comma in there. I get cold creeps just thinking of it. Hopefully not a Freudian slip. Lord, have mercy on us. ;-)
    dunraven
  • RE: For Windows Phone 7, all of Microsoft comes to play

    I watched and was very pleasantly surprised.<br>The tone was even "we are reaching out to you, you matter".<br><br>I will be watching over the coming weeks as these devices and services roll out.<br>I'll definitely give it a try.....<br><br>nice change from the MS norm...
    rhonin
    • RE: For Windows Phone 7, all of Microsoft comes to play

      @zenwalker, I'm in the same boat...I like what I'm seeing sofar. Lucky for them my wife and I are in the market for new phones.
      USArcher
    • RE: For Windows Phone 7, all of Microsoft comes to play

      @zenwalker
      I think Microsoft puts every announcement within the frame of "our customers have been asking that we do this."

      I didn't see the presentation (I hope it's available in non-Silverlight format) but the quotes above, that Microsoft wants us to get in, use the service, and get away from our phones... I didn't think my phone was controlling me in that way. I don't think any one's is.

      Which brings up the most important point: Microsoft's engineers and partners are executing, will Microsoft's marketers once again fail to explain the product to its potential market. Fortunately for Microsoft the carriers and manufacturers have skin in the game and will rush in if Redmond flounders.
      DannyO_0x98
    • RE: For Windows Phone 7, all of Microsoft comes to play

      @zenwalker I don't see what's in it for the OEMs... But if Microsoft can do some weird "Jedi Mind Trick" on them and get them to produce phone without messing with them that'll be great. If they can do the same thing with the networks, that will be amazing.

      I'm not going to be onboard from the get go - just signed up for a new contract. But I'll be watching from the sidelines quite interested to see how it pans out.
      Jeremy-UK
  • RE: For Windows Phone 7, all of Microsoft comes to play

    "The big question: will Microsoft?s new operating system will play nice with others when it first arrives to U.S. market in early November? The Zune was a wonderful media player with limitations that left it useless to Mac computer owners; Microsoft?s phone is wonderful in a controlled Microsoft-only world ? can it survive with users whose allegiances aren?t so strong?"

    What do Mac users have to do with the success of a smartphone? The number of Mac users are so small I don't think it really matters to most people. <br><br>Could it be anymore obvious that an Apple Mac fanboy wrote this article? Seriously do you understand how minute the number of people who uses Macs are? I mean why not just claim that WP7's success depends upon how well it works with Linux PCs while you're at it. <br><br>"Microsofts phone is wonderful in a controlled Microsoft-only world"<br><br>Oh you mean the REAL world where greater than 90% of people use Windows. <br><br>P.S. I'm using a MacBook Pro running Windows 7.
    cool8man
    • Windows has nothing to do with it.

      @cool8man The problem with Zune (specifically, the HD model) is that it came so late that it had to win market share from Apple's iPod. Besides the UI, it wasn't otherwise compelling to make the switch, from a consumer's point of view.

      My point, which I may have failed to argue adequately in this post, is that Microsoft proved with the Kin that it had a compelling UI but not enough links with third party developers. Twitter and Facebook on those phones were simply not up to par, slashed down in features from their native versions to fit the Windows UI. That can't happen again if Microsoft wants to be a player.
      andrew.nusca
      • RE: For Windows Phone 7, all of Microsoft comes to play

        @andrew.nusca - all the music you could eat for $15 a month AND keep 10 tracks per month isn't good enough? That, for me, has been the killer feature that has caused my to remain a loyal Zune user even though my Zune player has died (waiting for WinPhone7 rather than buy another Zune device).

        That Microsoft utterly failed to help people understand the value in its subscription service is shocking. When Apple inevitibly roll out their subscription service we'll have to put up with all the DOTCOJ (Deciples of the church of Jobs) crowing about how Apple have out-innovated the market again while conveniently ignoring the truth.
        De-Void
      • RE: For Windows Phone 7, all of Microsoft comes to play

        @De-Void, OK fine - but if Apple do sell people on subscription, who's fault will that be? Nobody stops them getting their message across. I get that you're a hater when it comes to Apple; but they are getting their offering across, and customers are liking it. Who's to blame?
        Jeremy-UK
      • Maybe not so much a hater of Apple, Jeremy-UK

        but instead of the hypecritical use of logic that renders discussions useless on this web site.
        Zune is a fine MP3 player, well built and very easy to use, it does an excellent job at doing what it was designed for.

        Yet the Apple loyalist will point to market share as the actuall proof of the quality of the device, without ever having tried one.
        Yet should someone use that same logic in refernce to the market share of Windows verses OS X, then suddenly they cry marketshare means nothing in refernce to the quality of the operating systems.

        Apple has adapted ideas done before on other products throughout the years, yet many of the Apple loyalist ignor history, instead claiming that Apple invented it.

        I believe you are correct that it is all about getting the message across, and that these companies have no one to blame but themselves if they do not.

        But please do not confuse Apple Haters with many that are just Apple Loyalist Haters.

        There is a difference.
        :|
        Tim Cook
    • RE: For Windows Phone 7, all of Microsoft comes to play

      @cool8man

      "I'm using a MacBook Pro running Windows 7"

      Sounds awful... like serving fish with red wine.
      prof123
  • RE: For Windows Phone 7, all of Microsoft comes to play

    Yawwwnnnn. Gee, another touch screen phone. How original and daring :-P
    Monkeypox
    • RE: For Windows Phone 7, all of Microsoft comes to play

      @Monkeypox - use it and then talk to me about innovation. I've spent some time with WinPhone7 already and it's utterly won me over.
      De-Void