Windows Phone 7 is unveiled

Borrows heavily from Zune HD

MICROSOFT WASN’T JOKING when it said that Windows Phone 7 was redesigned from the bottom up, well, at least not as far as we could tell from today unveiling at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

The Internet has been buzzing with comments about Windows Phone 7 and most of them have been very positive. It’s not hard to see why, as Microsoft has really put a lot of effort into making its new Smartphone OS look and feel different from previous generations. Windows Mobile 6.5 didn’t receive quite the same reception, but Microsoft is going to have to keep building on the momentum they started today, as we’re some 9 months away from actual products.

So what do you have to look forward to? Well, for starters the UI is a clean break from what we’ve seen from previous generations of Windows Mobile, if it’s for the better or worse is a matter of taste, but it does share a lot with the Zune HD UI. In fact Joe Belfiore who’s the corporate VP of Windows Phone program management was also part of the team that designed the Zune UI.

Windows Phone 7 is so radically different that those that are familiar with Microsoft current range of mobile operating systems will feel lost. The UI is heavily icon driven with large text, much like the Zune HD, although pictures are also playing an important role of the new UI. Everything in the demo as far as the main UI goes consisted of a grey background with mostly blue squares with white text on them. Once you dig deeper things change and may look very different depending on the application you’re running.

Microsoft calls the little tiles in the UI for hubs and as such there are a few key “hubs” that were demoed. There’s the People Hub which is where your contacts are, although it looks like Microsoft has gotten a fair bit of inspiration from Palm’s webOS here, as the People Hub will hook into social media services and integrate this content with your contacts. The Picture Hub works similarly for pictures, although in this case it also ties in with your personal online picture galleries.

The Music + Video Hub is pretty much a port of Zune HD onto Windows Phone 7, although it works slightly differently and allows you to get content from third party providers and not just the Zune marketplace. The Games Hub ties in with the Xbox Live service, although we’re not sure how this will work with games for Windows Phone 7 as that wasn’t touched upon. Finally the Office Hub gives you a pocket version of Microsoft Office with what appears to be some online tie-ins that allows you to remotely access a corporate network.

There are still a lot of question marks with regards as to the finer details of Windows Phone 7. The demo was run on pre-production hardware and although there were no crashes it was clear that there are still a few glitches that need to be sorted out before Windows Phone 7 is ready for prime time. On top of this, Microsoft has yet to unveil any partner devices. As for devices partners, many of Microsoft’s current partners are involved, including LG, Samsung, Garmin Asus, HTC, HP, Dell, Sony Ericsson and Toshiba.

Microsoft made it very clear that they want a uniform look and feel of the UI, no matter the device. In the past Microsoft hasn’t controlled this aspect of its mobile operating systems, but if this holds true it might alienate a few partners. Most of Microsoft’s partners have been keen on coming up with their own UI’s on top of Windows Mobile, although it’s possible that with the new and what appears to be an improved UI, this might be enough to convince the device makers to make do with what they get.

It looks like 2010 is set to become a very interesting year when it comes to mobile devices, as not only are we going to see several new operating systems, but we’re also getting better and better hardware in the devices. Right now the only problem appears to be the time it takes to get these devices ready, not only in the Microsoft camp, but also when it comes to many of its competitors. As such, you might have to wait until 2011 to actually get your hands on some of the cool technology being announced this week at the Mobile World Congress.S|A

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