Well, clearly, the answer to the last question is yes. Windows Phone 7 is new software that Microsoft hopes will run on new phones from various manufacturers and cellular networks. I tried it out on the nearly identical Samsung Focus (AT&T), HTC Surround (AT&T) and HTC HD7 (T-Mobile). Each will go on sale in the coming weeks for $200 (with two-year contract).
The name “Windows Phone 7” is misleading twice. First, it’s not Windows. It doesn’t look or work like Windows, doesn’t run Windows software, doesn’t even require a Windows PC. (There’s an iTunes-like program for loading the phone with music and videos, but it’s available for both Mac and Windows.)
Second, this is not “7.” That number implies some relationship to Windows Mobile 6.5, Microsoft’s latest phone software attempt, which is corporate, cramped and complicated. No, Windows Phone 7 is most definitely a 1.0 release.
That may sound like a slam. But “1.0” can mean “unfinished” as well as “a fresh start loaded with innovations.” So while Windows Phone 7 shows some real genius, it is missing an embarrassingly long list of features that are standard on iPhone and Android. Ready?
There’s no copy and paste. No folders for organizing your apps. No way to add new ringtones. No way to send videos to other phones as MMS messages. No video chat. No front-facing cameras.
And there’s no multitasking. You can play your own songs while working in other programs, but you can’t listen to, say, Pandora Internet radio.
Sound familiar? These are precisely the features that were missing from iPhone 1.0, too. Furthermore, there’s a search button, but it can’t search your whole phone at once (for apps, contacts and e-mail simultaneously, for example). There’s no visual voice mail. And there’s no tethering option (where you pay an extra $20 a month to use the phone as a glorified Internet antenna for your laptop).
Like the iPhone, the Web browser doesn’t play Flash videos on the Web — but it also won’t play the HTML5 videos that the iPhone plays, or even videos in Microsoft’s own Silverlight format. So, no YouTube, no Hulu, no online news videos.
The e-mail program can’t unify your e-mail accounts into a single in-box. In fact, each e-mail account winds up as a separate icon on your home screen. There’s no message threading.
The calendar can sync with online calendars like Yahoo’s or Google’s. But, incredibly, it can show only one category at a time, like home or work. If you’ve color-coded your life’s appointments, then this feature is all but useless.
The address book has the opposite problem: it displays everyone from all of your accounts, including Facebook, in one long list. If you have hundreds of Facebook friends, they clutter up the list of people you call often. (There’s no Twitter integration at all, only a separate app.) That sounds like quite a lengthy to-do list for Microsoft, and it is. But heaven knows, if any company is famous for its slow, dogged, multiyear, multimillion-dollar approach to software improvement, it’s Microsoft. The company swears that it’s going to make Windows Phone 7 a contender. At the least, it’s safe to assume that it won’t kill the project completely after only two months, as it did with its Microsoft Kin cellphones this summer.
Here’s the thing: WP7 is a 1.0 release in a good way, too. It’s a complete rethinking of app phone software design. Somehow, Microsoft has pulled off the inconceivably difficult task of coming up with a fresh, joyous, beautiful new software design that doesn’t look anything like iPhone or Android.
The WP7 home screen doesn’t have evenly spaced app icons on multiple side-by-side home screens, like Android or iPhone. Instead, you see two columns of scrolling, multicolored rectangular tiles. Each represents an app, a speed-dial person, a favorite Web page, a music playlist — whatever you want to put there. They’re easy to rearrange, organize and remove. (Thank goodness. Microsoft lets cell carriers, like AT&T or T-Mobile, install their own junkware. At least you can delete it on Day 1.)
These big, finger-friendly tiles are also informative. A number on a tile tells you how many voice mail messages, e-mail messages or app updates are waiting. The music tile shows album art, the calendar tile identifies your next appointment, and so on.