Lessons From Windows Mobile

Microsoft seems to have learned from Windows Mobile's heritage, and it is really reflected in their decision to disallow skinning by third parties. In the past, allowing hardware manufacturers to create new skins and user experiences atop the platform ultimately proved to be a double-edged sword. On one side, manufacturers like HTC were able to greatly enhance Windows Mobile functionality with skins like TouchFLO 3D and HTC Sense, as well as third party software developers like SPB with SPB Mobile Shell. On the other side, the difference in user experience across the platform created a fragmented user experience that made Windows Mobile increasingly difficult to market and create momentum with. Clearly demonstrating a single look and feel is at the core of Microsoft's focus with Windows Phone 7 Series.

Arguably, this is the biggest departure of Phone 7 Series from Windows Mobile. No longer will manufacturers be able to differentiate themselves with both software and hardware. Instead, they will have to adhere to a common template of minimum hardware requirements.

All devices will have, at minimum:

  • Qualcomm SoC (Snapdragon platform is a likely choice)
  • WVGA Screen (AMOLED or LED, but likely AMOLED will be favored for reasons noted later)
  • 4 point capacitive multitouch digitizer 
  • 3 Buttons (Windows (Start), Search, and Back)
  •  5 Megapixel Camera (assumably rear-facing)
  •  FM Radio
  • AGPS and Accelerometer
  •  WiFi

The decision to go with Qualcomm might seem puzzling at first, especially given Zune HD's Nvidia Tegra history. However, choosing Qualcomm's Snapdragon makes considerable sense for a smartphone thanks in large part to integrated cellular modem and GPS. Snapdragon is already in devices right now, making it a proven platform and an obvious choice for a Microsoft ready to get going with deployment. It's a well-established and understood platform already, just months after launch of the HTC HD2. To a larger extent, mandating a particular SoC will allow Microsoft to make device-specific optimizations, something that has already given Apple's iPhone OS a clear performance advantage despite relatively modest hardware. It's a strategic move that makes sense for a Microsoft dead-set on communicating a single unified smartphone experience. 

Subjectively however, performance on the unbranded hardware used to demonstrate the platform looked relatively slow. The downside of using hardware that's available now and not planning on something radical is that by Q4 2010, Snapdragon QSD8x50 at 1 GHz will be nothing special in terms of performance. Nobody has divulged specifically what SoC is going to be at the core of the Windows 7 Phone Series mandate, but with ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore SoCs coming just around the corner, it'll have to be impressive to keep pace. A possible alternative is Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8X72 platform, which is expected to start appearing in products at the end of 2010. QSD8X72 packs two Scorpion cores (the same CPU used in the current line of Snapdragon SoCs) built on a 45nm process and clocked at up to 1.5 GHz. More on this later, but if Microsoft aims to deliver a handset with an emphasis on gaming, it'll need the hardware to back that ethos up.

A hardware keyboard remains optional, and whether OEMs decide inclusion is necessary or not will depend strongly on how well the virtual keyboard works. Early demonstrations look reasonable compared to the absurdly small, stylus-required keyboard from Windows Mobile. There's no word on internal storage requirements, external expansion or whether Phone 7 Series will feature a user-accessible file system at this point, either. The rest of the minimum hardware requirements are relatively straightforward for a flagship smartphone. 

Although users will be able to customize appearance settings to favor black text on a light background, the hardware demonstrated thus far has shown a white on black background style. This likely is done specifically to leverage the power saving features of inactive AMOLED pixels. Thus far, the white on black look has been well suited to AMOLED displays, however the ability to change back and forth will make a lot of sense for devices with traditional LCD displays. 

What hasn't been said

But that's it. That's essentially all everyone has been told specifically about Windows Phone 7 Series. Perhaps more interesting is what we weren't shown or don't know yet.

Notably, it appeared that the unbranded hardware with which Microsoft demonstrated Phone 7 Series included a front-facing camera. It remains to be seen whether a front-facing camera will be added to the hardware minimum requirements, or if this will be integrated into Phone 7 Series software. Neither of the two cameras were demonstrated on the hardware sample, either.

There's also the question of what happens to the traditional Windows Mobile line of devices, including those that are still being marketed by some of Microsoft's most intimate hardware manufacturers, including HTC. Likely, support and manufacture of Windows Mobile 6.5.x devices will continue for some time, but how long and under what brand remains a big unknown. It's possible that Windows Mobile (henceforth probably called Windows Phone Classic) will have one more update enabling support for capacitive multitouch. For those that already own a Windows Mobile 6.5.x device however, it's likely that your hardware will remain on the older platform. It's probably safe to say that if it doesn't meet the hardware specs already given as minimum, it definitely will stay that way.

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  • jms102285 - Wednesday, March 10, 2010 - link

    I'm pretty excited to see Microsoft go this route. I'm really wondering how Microsoft is going to plan out integrating this with Exchange servers. One of my pet peeves about my current WinMo phone is that it is unable to sync public folders from our exchange server and most of the information that is super important to me is there instead of in my personal folders. Also flipping through my tasks/e-mail/calendars is much too cumbersome, I'd prefer something as an All-in-One package.

    As far as what I'd love to see ideally:
    - Mini or micro USB connection for charging/computer connection. Nothing is more annoying then proprietary charging cables.
    - 3.5mm headphone jack for compatibility with all normal headphones
    - Optional Wi-Fi
    - Support for syncing public folders with Microsoft Exchange

    I almost half wonder if the release of Wave 14 is going to play into this phone. Any word about that Anandtech?
    - Consolidating Tasks/Calendar/E-mail/etc. into one program
  • jms102285 - Wednesday, March 10, 2010 - link

    And I failed at proof-reading. Go me.
  • krakman - Wednesday, February 24, 2010 - link

    I wonder if hooking up your phone to XP still deletes contacts at random, as is the case with 6.1.
  • paulpod - Tuesday, February 23, 2010 - link

    Wow, completely missing from the preview of this "phone" is any discussion of how easy it is to make/receive phone calls and send/receive simple text messages. (Especially when that task needs to interrupt all the other nonsensical functionality.)

    Would be funny if the thing comes out and they have to say "Woops, we forgot to put a phone in there."

    But seriously, I was looking at Phone 7 as the first sophisticated phone OS that, in a "Windows-like" manner, considers practical needs like being able to set a permanently large font size for text messaging. Little hope for this type of feature when things like gaming support are taking all the resources.

  • nerdtalker - Tuesday, February 23, 2010 - link

    Ironically, the reason I really didn't discuss much of the Phone side of Windows Phone 7 Series is because Microsoft admittedly hasn't fleshed out that experience yet.

    The dialer is extremely rudimentary (read: literally just a dialer, no smart dial, no lookup, no contacts, nothing), and the SMS application (which is probably what I'm most interested in) is largely placeholders that demonstrate rotation works.

    There's so little that's been unveiled at this point. Agreed.

  • strikeback03 - Wednesday, February 24, 2010 - link

    lol, considering how poorly SMS (or even more, MMS) works on WM6, I would hope they would put some effort into this.
  • nerdtalker - Wednesday, February 24, 2010 - link

    Honestly, I would too. One of the big problems with the entire gamut of WM devices I've had (smartphone edition and Pro edition with touchscreen) is that the SMS subsystem will sometimes silently fail sending messages. Or, it'll fail and pop an alert box up under the dialog; you can't see it unless you quit messaging and look for it.

    There's no surer way to frustration because you think you've sent the message, only to discover that both you haven't, and the dialog has stopped notifications of new messages.

    I agree; Phone 7 Series really will be defined by how the phone/messaging alert system interacts with an already abstract UI. Nothing has been shown there, and user-polling the tiles really isn't what I'm hoping for.

  • strikeback03 - Thursday, February 25, 2010 - link

    I guess since I am using TF3D and rarely leave the messaging program open I haven't had that problem. Though it will randomly decide to start notifying me a MMS message has failed to send, despite not having tried to send a MMS message. Since it does not integrate with Verizon's system of notification that the other party has actually received a message you never know what has happened though.
  • Stas - Tuesday, February 23, 2010 - link

    Who uses iPhone anymore? It died off around my area about 6 months ago. Those that still have theirs, are either waiting till the contract is up, or are looking for a buyer (good luck). Time to embrace progress people, Android is where it's at. I hope WinPhone 7 is good though, as I wouldn't mind better integration with my Windows PCs and good games. Google Voice is pretty much epic, there better be a similar Live! service :)
  • kmmatney - Tuesday, February 23, 2010 - link

    You are truly talking out of your ass if you think the iPhone is going away...

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