Microsoft has reinvented its mobile phone operating system, showing a new version Monday at Mobile World Congress designed to make the software company a more viable competitor with Apple and Google.
The Windows Phone 7 series will integrate message, gaming, music, video and productivity software in a way that brings together Microsoft’s businesses with Outlook, Xbox, Zune, Office and Bing.
“This is a phone built for people in motion,” said Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer in a news conference in Barcelona, Spain. He also acknowledged the company’s lack of progress over the past three years. “There’s no question in my mind we go back a couple of years that we wanted to think ouf of the box clearly differentiated from our past and clearly different from other things going on in the market,” he said.
The phones will not be available for sale until the holiday season this year. Microsoft says it plans to release more details about how developers can build applications for Windows Mobile at its Mix conference in March.
Here is a hail of bullets on the new features of Windows Mobile 7:
- The phone will have capacitive touch screens, meaning screens with pinch and pull technology, and three buttons for Windows, search and back. The demo phone had a touchscreen keyboard, but Microsoft said device makers can design phones with physical keyboards as well.
- The start screen will feature customizable “live tiles,” icons that link to contacts, music, messaging, games and photos. The tiles will pull updates from the Web, such as Facebook status changes and new uploaded photos. They can also be edited — a source of criticism of the Apple iPhone — and users can create a tile for individual contacts, Web sites and photos.
- Zune and Xbox Live are integrated on each phone. The phone displays your Xbox avatar as a Live Tile. The design of the phone overall mimics the Zune with its large clean type, square tiles and black background.
- The calendar displays Outlook Exchange work items and Web hosted calendar items.
- The search refines results, rather than just returning a list of relevant links as you would see in a Web browser. It automatically returns local results and, for instance, displays phone number, directions and nearby businesses for a specific restaurant.
- The e-mail mirrors many features from Outlook, such as the ability to sort messages based on read and unread, flagged, urgent categories. It also allows multiple deletion of messages.
- Social networks are well integrated, so pulling up a contact also pulls up that person’s updates on social networks.
- The Office integration, which is the big differentiator Microsoft has over its competitors, is also redesigned, with a note-taking area, documents screen and Sharepoint integration.
- In general, the software appears to have been designed with the phone, rather than the PC, in mind.
- Devices makers that have signed on to make Windows Phones include HTC, LG, Samsung, Garmin, Asus, HP, Dell and Sony Ericsson.
- Wireless carriers have signed on, including AT&T, T-Mobile USA, Verizon Wireless and Sprint in the U.S. International carriers include Telefonica, Orange and Vodafone.
- Ballmer reiterated Microsoft’s business model to license the operating system, rather than go the free route as Google has. He also remains committed to working with device makers and multiple carriers, rather than doing a soup-to-nuts phone like Apple.
- The themes hammered on in the news conference: “A phone is not a PC,” “integrated experiences,” “smart design,” “delight the user.”
I am headed to the Redmond campus for a local news conference and I will update you with more information after.