The view from the top of IT with TechWorld Editor Rohan Pearce
I finally got my hands on Windows Phone 7 mobile device – a LG-EG900 to be precise – to find out what Microsoft will go into battle with in its renewed assault on the burgeoning mobile computing market. As I’ve said in the past, Microsoft was actually a pioneer in rich mobile operating systems, but it did what was natural at the time and simply shoehorned the Windows desktop UI onto a mobile device.
Windows Phone 7 changes all that.
Instead of a tiny drop-down menu you are greeted with a set of large virtual tiles. You can slide around to access the tile and drag in the opposite direction to the arrows to reveal more applications settings and options.
It’s quite an intuitive user experience for a mobile device and the virtual keyboard is fast and easy to use.
I must commend Microsoft for forcing itself to radically redesign is user interface even if it took a tsunami of competition from Apple and Google to make it happen.
The tiles each cover a large area of the screen for a mobile device, but they are “live” and present the user with basic information that, in theory, should result in fewer unnecessary clicks.
Sure you can fit more icons on a phone’s screen, but if you need to perpetually click on them to access the information perhaps the real estate is not allocated optimally.
Time will tell if Phone 7’s live tile interface is a hit with users and adopted by competing products.
One thing that seems to take away from the new UI is the seeming lack of configuration options. I’m no expert but its looks as though tiles and menu items are set to particular configurations (eg alphabetical) and you have to really know what you are doing to change them.
These days smartphone interfaces are designed to be customised to the hilt by the user so that’s one possible area of improvement.
I also noticed in some settings menus the “slide for options” is used instead of just listing the options in the available blank space.
When you get around to looking at what applications are available for Phone 7, you can’t help but think Microsoft is pushing hard to cross promote its own products – just like how Android promotes Google’s services only more obvious.
The Web browser isn’t a Web browser it’s Internet Explorer, the mobile office suite is very prominently Microsoft Office (stylised logo and all), the diminutive “Games” is “XBOX LIVE”, the default search engine is Bing (expected), music and video resurrects the Zune logo, and the Marketplace tile features a bag with a Windows logo.
It’s worth mentioning here this particular LG model only has three buttons, once of which is a centrally located Windows key – so much for breaking away from the PC legacy.
As people have commented, the success of Windows Phone will depend a lot on how it is adopted by the ISV community.
By making Windows Phone less obviously a “Microsoft ecosystem” operating system and more an “open ecosystem” Microsoft may well achieve this.
In summary, Windows Phone 7 brings a refreshing look at mobile user interface design to touch screen devices. It still has a few usability issues to improve on, but it’s a marked step in the right direction.