Battling Chimeras: Windows Phone 7



Windows Phone 7 is a sprawling mobile platform that, by year’s end, will power about a dozen devices, from four manufacturers, spanning 60 carriers through 30 countries. According to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Windows Phone 7 was created to be, “Always delightful and wonderfully mine.” It was a reactionary moment in the company’s history — an answer to a question asked three years earlier.

On January 7, 2007, Bill Gates, then Microsoft chairman, took the stage at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held annually in Las Vegas. Although the keynote would focus heavily on Windows Vista, the overarching theme was the pervasive connected experience. Gates:

”We see portable devices proliferating a higher and higher part of the growing PC market. We see the connections, both through Wi-Fi and 3G getting to the point where you can get information wherever you want to go. And we’re just scratching the surface.”

Robbie Bach, the former president of Entertainment & Devices at Microsoft, would explain then that delivering a connected experience was a collective ambition within Microsoft:

”[Mobility and mobile phones are] an area where we’ve made tremendous progress. This year we have some of the hottest selling phones in the marketplace, and the cool thing for me about those phones is it’s not just about phone calls, although we do that great. It’s not even just about e-mail, since that was the next round of things people wanted to be able to do, but it’s also about IMs; it’s about movies; it’s about TV; it’s about music; it’s about connected entertainment on my phone.”

Two days later, on January 9, the press room in the Las Vegas Convention Center was near capacity, but attention wasn’t on CES, which was now in full-swing, but rather a smaller event happening San Francisco. At the Moscone Center, Apple CEO Steve Jobs had just begun the the keynote for Macworld.

Rumors surrounding an Apple phone had been spread with such fervor for so many years that the device had become a sort of chimera of gadgetry. In the months leading up to Macworld 2007, however, speculation had reached fever pitch. It was all but confirmed that Jobs would unveil the device, but a showman never leads with his best material.

Jobs went on to describe how Apple had virtually conquered the digital music space through iTunes andiPods He announced AppleTV, and though it didn’t quite live up to initial expectations, it did bring iTunes directly to home theaters. And then he announced the first iPhone. The device came to define handheld connected entertainment, and it was the crucial link in the Apple connected experience chain.

Back in Vegas, it was as though all the air had been sucked out of the press room. The most important device of the decade had just been announced and it wasn’t from Microsoft or any other company at CES. Some 400 miles away, Steve Jobs was holding a weapon of mass destruction with built-in iPod and cell phone capabilities, and he was asking the the tech world what it planned to do.

And so this week, on the morning of October 11, 2010, at a swank arts center in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood, Steve Ballmer pulled back the curtain for the public reveal of Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s question. Windows Phone 7 didn’t suck the air out of the room like the iPhone did back in 2007, but it is a formidable adversary.

Hardware regulations ensure that all devices running Windows Phone 7 will perform at a high level. Microsoft is also preparing to battle Apple on the music front with its Zune Music Pass, an all-you-can-eat subscription music service (which is all the more relevant in light of continuing talks of Apple’s own subscription service).

Microsoft has partnered heavily with AT&T to bring AT&T U-Verse content streaming to the devices, meaning subscribers can watch live TV for a monthly fee. There is deep Facebook integration built directly into the platform. It influences many functions of the Windows Phone 7 experience and feels as native as placing a call.

Apple has played up its gaming capabilities in a major way over the past year, but it doesn’t have Xbox 360. Microsoft does, and Xbox Live is on the Windows Phone 7 main screen. It won’t play Halo: Reach, but expect to see plenty of Xbox Live Arcade games in the very near future.

It might all be too little, too late, but it’s too early to decide with any authority. As Apple moves toward non-exclusive carrier arrangements, Microsoft has not only inked a prominent deal with AT&T, but will also be launching its devices on pretty much every other carrier you can think of. The iPhone was a revelation of a device and it caused a complete revolution in mobile, but that was the aughts.

It’s almost 2011, and anything is plausible, but what I saw yesterday left me with a number of doubts. Windows Phone 7 has likely the best user interface ever seen on a phone, but when it comes to devices that people depend on as heavily as their phones, function will always beat form. Every device that I handled had difficulty launching applications. The pervasiveness of this issue indicates something systemic (i.e. Windows Phone 7) and probably not hardware related.

This was such a problem that when Windows Phone Program Manager Joe Belfiore was demonstrating games, he specifically used multiple devices to not eat up demonstration time with app loading. In such a heavily app driven mobile environment, difficulties in this area can quickly spell disaster. Then again, maybe it was just a fluke. There were enough positive features that I’m willing to give the platform the benefit of the doubt until it proves that I shouldn’t.

story by: mashable

Categorized as Market

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