posted by Thom Holwerda on Mon 15th Feb 2010 15:47 UTC
IconSo, after much, much speculation and many, many rumours, Microsoft finally took the wraps off Windows Phone 7 Series, its newest mobile operating system. Hold on to your hats, because uncharacteristically for the Redmond giant, they've rebuilt everything from the ground up - this system has little to no connection to the Windows Mobile of yore. I don't say this lightly - but dear lord, Windows Phone 7 Series is full of win. Update: Hands-on video from Engadget inside. Update II: There is no sync application. It's all done over-the-air, to the internet. Only videos and music are synced via the Zune software. Update III: Since I didn't mention it clearly, here it goes: Windows Phone 7 Series is a clean break. There is no backwards compatibility at all. Update IV: Channel9 has a 22-minute in-depth demonstration of Windows Phone 7 Series.

Gone is the old Windows Mobile name, replaced by the rather long Windows Phone 7 Series. Everything has been rebuilt from the ground-up, resulting in what could be described as the Zune Phone, something many people have been clamouring for ever since the very positive reaction to the Zune HD.

As Engadget, who has played with it already, states, this is a new operating system. This isn't a new version of Windows Mobile - it's new like the webOS was new, new like the iPhone was new. It boasts some pretty radical ideas about how a smartphone user interface is supposed to work - no chrome, no overdone 3D icons, no shadows. It's extremely minimalistic, with plain and big white text and simple white icons. The simple white-on-black reminded me of something, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it until Engadget pointed it out: an MS-DOS terminal.

There's no more start screen. It has been replaced by a home screen with customisable tiles, which can contain widgets, application launchers, information displays, whatever. To the right of the start screen is a vertical list of applications. The interface feels and looks a lot like Zune HD's, complete with smooth transitions.

One of the core interface components of WP7S is what I've dubbed the "wall". On-stage, Microsoft's Joe Belfiore showed off what the company calls "Hubs"; there's a People hub, Gaming, Office, whatever. The People hub, for instance, has three panes: recent contacts, your own info, and one with latest social networking updates. Moving back and forth between them is like shifting your eyes from one section of a wall to another. The shots below really illustrate the concept:

Another concept I really liked is the command bar. It's a bar sitting at the bottom of the display of some applications, showing most-used commands. You can drag this command bar upwards to reveal more actions if the need arises. The built-in applications, like Outlook and the Calendar, are also very minimalistic in design, looking almost like vector line art. The browser, based on the desktop variant of Internet Explorer (supporting all the fancy multitouch stuff) barely has any chrome at all.

Most of the rumours were true. Every WP7S phone is a Zune, there's Xbox Live integration, and yes, Microsoft is going to be pretty strict about how the devices may look. Screen resolution, aspect ratio, CPU speed, memory, you name it; it's all mandated by Microsoft. Even the button configuration: Start, back, search. That's it. No deviations. Speaking of deviations - no more custom UIs, Microsoft doesn't allow them.

Microsoft already has an impressive list of carrier and device partners (shocking, isn't it), including AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, SFR, Sprint, Telecom Italia, Telefónica, Telstra, T-Mobile USA, Verizon Wireless, Vodafone, Dell, Garmin-Asus, HTC, HP, LG, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Toshiba, and Qualcomm.

As the rumours suggested, this press conference was mostly UI-focussed, so not a whole lot has been said on the internals, SDKs, multitasking, application distribution, and so on. Steve Ballmer said more is to come on this subject at MIX. The first devices are supposed to ship by the holiday season of 2010.

We'll update this story as soon as the big boys (Engadget, Gizmodo, etc.) have more hands-on information to share with us. So far, this looks like a tremendous leap forward for Microsoft's mobile effort, and they've truly come up with something unique, something not copied from the iPhone, Android, or webOS. I'm actually excited!

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