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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  • Pirks - Monday, February 22, 2010 - link

    hahaha I can imagine how reader1 laughs right now at all the PC loving idiots who bashed his closed platform prophesies. now look idiots where MS itself is moving! eat that dumbo winfanatics! hehehe hahaha cool!! :)))
  • Dainas - Monday, February 22, 2010 - link

    The biggest problem with Windows mobile, (besides the horrid performance).... was how you had to pan pan pan pan pan pan pan pan pan pan pan pan pan pan pan pan pan pan here to do this, or pan pan pan pan pan pan pan pan pan pan pan pan pan pan pan pan pan pan there to do that. THIS LOOKS FRICKEN WORSE, ITS STILL NOT WINDOWS.... Windows 3.0 was better and easier to navigate than windows mobile, cannot wait to see how microsoft will fail at surpassing it again.

    It looks like you still cannot do a thing without panning for an half and hour because your relegated to looking at a tiny spyhole on the operating system. And no, the resolution of smartphones is not an excuse, windows xp works fine at 800x600.
  • Tanclearas - Monday, February 22, 2010 - link

    Honestly, I was shocked to learn that Microsoft felt they couldn't update the UI without breaking compatibility. HTC gave them a really good start to show how it can be done.

    I definitely fall into the category of "if I have to change anyway, then I might as well look at all my options". The real risk MS is running is with businesses that are looking at their options right now. They might choose to make the switch to one of the competitors rather than a) stick with a platform MS has killed (WM Classic) or b) gamble on an incomplete, unknown solution.
  • Griswold - Monday, February 22, 2010 - link

    Just a new GUI wont remedy the huge pile of shit windows mobile is, so MS did the right thing. WM was mainly a business product anyway and one that kept losing ground to RIM at lightspeed. Can as well kick that garbage to the curb and finally embrace the consumer with a proper mobile OS. Way to go Microsoft!

    I for one am looking forward to it. Its now between android and series 7 to replace my iphone 3G, since i'm no longer interested in apples upcoming phones.
  • Tanclearas - Monday, February 22, 2010 - link

    I couldn't disagree more. While there are issues with the underlying OS, the UI was by far the biggest reason to choose something else. When someone is showing off the iPhone, what exactly are they doing? Showing off the UI. "Look how it scrolls when I flick my thumb/finger! Look how it reacts when I tilt/shake it!" When they talk about Windows Mobile, what is the first thing they ridicule it for? "You have to use a stylus?"

    I just honestly can't believe there wasn't a solution that allowed MS to correct the single biggest issue, without breaking compatibility with existing apps, and while starting a migration process to an improved underlying OS. If I wanted to go with a company with a proven track record of ditching its previous users, then I would have gone with Apple.

    The fact that you are considering a completely untested and unfinished platform for you to replace your iPhone indicates you either haven't been involved in the tech world very long, or haven't learned from the mistakes of millions.

    Good luck.
  • strikeback03 - Wednesday, February 24, 2010 - link

    While WM6 doesn't actually require use of a stylus, IMO the entire UI did need to be redone. Quite simply, it behaves too much like a collection of disjointed programs. Just the fact that something as simply as the alarm clock is done poorly, and launching a replacement alarm clock can take several seconds, is a indication of how much needs an overhaul in the UI. Really, when the best thing that can be said about the OS is that it allows other programs to run, you have issues.

    That said, if the new Phone7 doesn't allow multitasking I won't even consider it.
  • Thermogenic - Monday, February 22, 2010 - link

    "As it stands, social interaction with Xbox Live community takes place exclusively on the console itself; the experience is tethered to the TV."

    This is not correct - the Live community is also accessible from Games for Windows Live.
  • nerdtalker - Tuesday, February 23, 2010 - link

    You're indeed correct ;)

    I guess what I should have noted was that the experience is still ultimately tethered to either the desktop (through Games for Windows) or the console. If I'm not mistaken, there's some loose ability to interact through the web interface, but still that isn't entirely desirable.

    Even then, I've noticed through playing Halo 2 PC and a few other Games for Windows Live titles that the experience is relatively segmented; your gamerscore goes up, sure, and you can see those achievements from either side, but you can't say play Halo 2 games with people on Xbox 1. That, and I don't think they've seen the community on the PC side grow as much due to the whole subscription situation. It's a good thing for PC gamers that already have a gold account, but won't draw in PC gamers already used to free online play or for pay through a clan with a dedi slice.

    I guess what I meant to say was that the experience is constrained to the household; it isn't mobile. What Phone 7 Series might be able to do is finally expand that out into the mobile realm so you can take that same online persona with you everywhere.

    I mean, we could really start speculating and wonder whether there'll be direct phone->Xbox 360 functionality. Who knows?

  • Alexvrb - Monday, February 22, 2010 - link

    Yep. I'm half surprised Brian didn't know that. Regardless, extending it into their mobile phones would be a smart move. Especially if you can access your Live content on the go - if some XBLA developers port over their existing games, I'm sold. Castle Crashers on Phone 7 would rock, for example. For relatively simple games made with XNA it shouldn't be too difficult, given a sufficiently powerful phone.
  • gaiden2k7 - Monday, February 22, 2010 - link

    First of all, I'm so glad MS was able to see through what they done before wasn't working. WinMo UI before reminds me alot of BB UI very plain and text-based. But WinMo 7, this is so minimalist so simple with its words like tiles and pivots and hubs it's more google-ish than what google tries to do with android! Second of all, there is no doubt MS will be tying up its other toys with the phone: MS Office (when it gets the patent rights sort out), Bing search is cool, and gaming under xbox live is most interesting to me. Android lacks in gaming and has been one of its weakest link to buyers like me (owns N1 atm). But with these Tegra 2 WinMo7 phones on the horizon there is new phone in gaming phones other than iPhone!

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