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For Microsoft, today is the beginning of its uncertain future in the ever-growing smartphone wars. As it launches Windows Phone 7, arguably its last gasp at not only staying in the race, but also competing with the iPhone, BlackBerry and Android, the new OS will be under the microscope to see if it can bring Microsoft back into the fray as a serious player.
People is an interesting feature of the OS that aggregates information on your contacts, so that you can not only call or text them easily, but also write on their Facebook wall and see what they’ve posted on their profile. You can even “pin” a contact onto your home screen as well, which is pretty cool. The big drawback with this is that there’s no Twitter or LinkedIn integration.
Xbox Live integration, which I mentioned in a previous post, is also pretty cool. You can’t do too much yet, other than interacting with your avatar and checking out stats like leaderboards and your achievements. Only turn-based games are available, along with some games that have already been developed for the platform. Multiplayer gaming and Xbox 360 game integration are still in the works, apparently.
Office integration is another no-brainer, and it’s got some great potential. Not only can you easily open Word, Excel and PowerPoint docs, but you can also apply some editing where you need to. I’m not that well-versed in Excel, so I can’t speak too much to what’s offered in WP7, but there are more editing options compared to Word. In Word, you can make corrections and edits, but you can’t do things like changing fonts or add photos and audio clips to a document.
The inclusion of OneNote does solve that problem to some extent, since you can apply media onto note. In addition, you can also sync docs with a Windows Live SkyDrive account.
The Zune interface is actually one of the backbones of the entire WP7 interface, and the Zune music and video app is pretty neat, though it doesn’t necessarily do anything revolutionary. Syncing content over can be done on a PC using the Windows Phone software, and surprisingly — there is a beta version for the Mac too. One cool thing is the wireless sync that works when you plug the phone into an AC adapter to charge. Another nice touch is including YouTube videos you’ve watched into the video playlist.
Microsoft also doesn’t offer its Zune Pass subscription service here in Canada, so you can’t use the Marketplace to buy music or video — it’s purely for apps. There aren’t a lot available so far, but using familiar ones like Netflix, Shazam and YouTube worked well. Downloading apps is simple in that everything happens in the background. You would just need to set up a credit card on Zune.net to get paid apps.
One really noticeable downside to point out is the lack of multitasking. You simply can’t run more than one app at the same time. You can play music in the background with the Zune app, but you can’t do that with any third-party apps.
I’m also not a big fan of the way search works on the phone. There’s a dedicated button for it on the phone itself, but when pressing it, it takes you to Bing to search the web. It doesn’t include searching for anything already stored on your phone. For example, if you want to get to a contact quickly, you would need to go to People first and search through there.
Definitely a fan of the touch keyboard and messaging, except Microsoft should keep the colours different for threaded conversations. Web browsing is also nice, but there’s no support at all for Silverlight, Flash or HTML5.
To summarize, there is no question this is an impressive step up from the terrible clunker that was Windows Mobile. There is an elegance to this OS that doesn’t always lend itself to Microsoft, and it does a few things that other smartphones may have to find a way to compete with (Xbox Live and Office integration, along with People).
But a lot of this will come down to apps. Smartphones will likely live or die off them moving forward, and if Microsoft can’t secure an abundant supply of them, then WP7 could be in for a short lifespan.