Today at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona Microsoft unveiled the new Windows Phone 7 Series. Although Steve Balmer was at the event to introduce the new product, Microsoft had the wisdom to hand over to the project team for the main body of the presentation.
Windows Phone 7 Series is clearly a huge leap from its predecessor, the embarrassing Windows Mobile 6.5. As previously predicted it sports a new "Zune like" user interface and has tight integration with Exchange, Zune media/marketplace, Office, Xbox and third party social networking.
The most significant change is Microsoft's approach to the smartphone. Instead of creating a device that has the ability to install lots of seperate applications (like the iPhone and Android), they have taken a step back, and instead built an environment where relevant information is automatically pushed to the user.
This new environment begins with the new 7 series Start Screen, which Microsoft calls Live Tiles. This screen acts as the central point for your smartphone, providing you with customisable tiles that display snippets of information in real-time. As a result you can set-up connections to almost any part of your phone, including your pictures, mail, Xbox Live and all your favourite social networking sites. The tiles will then automatically update as new information is received. As you can see from the image below Live Tiles is a major departure from Windows Mobile 6.5.
Another key innovation is the use of integrated hubs. Hubs aggregate information based on content rather than specific applications. For example there is a People hub that not only includes your address book, but also provides social networking status and recent activity. To navigate the Hub you either tap a specific item to drive deeper into the content or swipe horizontally to move through the Hub. The entire operating system is built around seven hubs: People, Pictures, Music+Video, Office, Games, Applications and Marketplace. The hub driven user interface is radically different from any other smartphone on the market today and should be a great differentiator for 7 Series phones. The image below gives you a feel for the People hub (showing the horizontal navigation).
The new user interface is clearly inspired by the Zune HD, however with the tight integration of Live Tiles and the use of hubs, it definitely takes it to the next level. The entire package looks very fluid, with each hub flowing seamlessly and consistently from last. I also applaud Microsoft for building a totally new user experience that is clearly different from its competitors.
Overall I am very impressed with Microsoft's renewed dedication to the Windows Phone platform, and the bold risks they are willing to take to make sure it is a success. For example, it would have been easy and safe for Microsoft to have re-skinned Windows Mobile 6.5 to look and feel like a modern smartphone, such as the iPhone and Android. Instead they did what I hoped, they showed that even though they are a technology superpower, they are still agile enough to take risks by throwing away the rule book and starting over from scratch. I certainly admire Microsoft for this move and it has definitely renewed my interest in Windows Mobile.
Expect to see a lot more from Windows Phone 7 Series over the coming months, starting with Microsoft's MIX10 conference in Las Vagas on March 15th. As always for more detailed information (including hands on videos) I suggest you head over to Engadget.