The much anticipated launch of Windows Mobile 7 – to be officially named Windows Phone OS 7.0 – at Mobile World Congress marks a sea change in Microsoft’s strategy towards the mobile phone market, with the Redmond software giant finally flexing its service integration muscles and focusing its efforts on creating a cutting-edge user experience, seemingly at the expense of its OEM and operator partners.
Microsoft could easily have followed its established path towards mobile devices – a furrow ploughed since the initial version of Pocket PC Phone Edition came into existence nine years ago – and continued to make a worthwhile business out of it. However, it has decided that now is the time for revolution rather than the simple evolution through continual tweaking that has characterized its approach to date, and which led to considerable criticism of the in-market Windows Mobile 6.5.
Gone is the shrunk-down PC user interface (UI) that has made Windows devices both instantly recognizable and, for many potential users, equally off-putting for many years. In its place is a graphically rich, flashy (although Adobe’s Flash is not currently part of its makeup) and user-friendly UI reminiscent of recent Zune media players.
This resemblance is also no doubt responsible for long-standing rumors of a “Zune phone”. But while Microsoft categorically says that there is no such thing, Windows Phone OS 7.0’s affinity to Zune devices does not stop at superficial appearances. As it has already done with its Xbox 360 games console, future mobile phones based on Microsoft software will feature integration with the Zune media store. Moreover, they will also integrate with at least some aspects of the Xbox 360 experience.
There’s also out-of-the-box access to the Windows Marketplace for Mobile application store, continued close support for Microsoft Office, social media and contacts integration and cross-platform photo management – all of which are surfaced via the UI in the form of easy to access content and application “hubs”. Microsoft’s rivals in the vertically-integrated device-software-services space may finally have something to be concerned about once devices reach the market in time for Christmas.