Undeniably, the prize for the most interesting event today goes to Microsoft. CEO Steve Ballmer came on stage, skipped the usual boring talk about the company's "great success" and got right to the point, which was to introduce a brand new operating system to the world. We knew this will be a milestone for the platform and we knew it will be completely different from any previous versions, but what Microsoft unveiled went even beyond our expectations. We can now safely state, that Windows Phone 7 Series is indeed, a brand new OS that has absolutely nothing to do with WM 6.x.x, WM 5, Pocket PC or whatever. Well, it was about time.
In its core, Windows Phone 7 Series does not feature any code from previews versions, and that's why no current apps will be able to run on it. So this is kind of a new beginning for content developers as well. This time around though, we can see a much better future for the app support of the OS, with Microsoft's plans to provide a more consistent experience, meaning there won't be countless screen resolutions and critical differences in hardware power. And of course, having to develop an app for just one device is way easier than having to get it working on a wide range of handsets, each with its own specifics. One area where this concept takes place is the hardware keys. All Windows Phone 7 Series devices will have three keys: Start, Back and Search. That said, Steve Ballmer did say that they want to enable manufacturers to create a great variety handsets with different form-factors. So we hope they will manage to find the right balance between diversity and standardization. What we can say for sure about the hardware is that all phones will have capacitive screens (with multitouch) and will also use a lot of horsepower, somewhere around 1GHz. (The prototype unit used in the presentation had a Qualcomm chipset, Snapdragon maybe?) Microsoft's hardware partners include Qualcomm, HTC, LG, Garmin-Asus, Toshiba, Sony Ericsson, Dell, HP and Samsung, all being said to manufacture Windows Phone 7 Series handsets at some point.
If you are wondering which carriers will be selling the devices, the initial list includes all four major U.S. carriers: AT&T, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and Sprint. Orange will be among the first carriers to launch a Windows Phone 7 Series device in the UK. As for when the first handsets will come out, it looks like this will happen sometime in late Q4 2010... though we do hope to witness some early launches.
So let's say a few words about the look and feel of the new software. Right from the "Start" screen (this is the new "Today" screen), the user is greeted to a very simplistic interface. Only a few colors and some basic shapes are making up what Microsoft calls the "live tiles". As Joe Belfiore, VP Windows Phone, said, think of these live tiles as of super icons. They not only lead you to the desired app, but also show you information that's updated real-time over the air. This means that a live tile of a person for example, can provide you with information about their latest status updates, posts, image and so on. And you can make tiles out of many things, for instance of an internet page so that you can use it as a bookmark.
Then come the hubs. There are six hubs that take care of different areas of the whole experience: People, Pictures, Games, Office, Music + Video and Marketplace. These, as a whole, can be looked upon as the main system applications that integrate information from the device, the PC and various web services. A pretty neat concept that's presented in a truly innovative visual manner (you will find some design ideas from the Zune HD interface here).
But we won't go into great detail describing the interface now. Check out the video demonstration for more details on that.