Windows Mobile 7 the “meh” release.

Look, I’m going to be that guy that doesn’t give a 100% positive review on the newest Microsoft toy, and its not that I hate its existence in favour of the iPhone (I honestly couldn’t care either choice), its for me a little bit of a disappointment.

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When I first saw the early specs of Windows Mobile 7 before I left Microsoft, i was little jaded with the whole level of commitment to the UX. As initially I’m thinking that this is just simply an extension to Zune, that the reality is it’s much cheaper and easier to take the existing work for Zune and bolt it onto the Windows Mobile OS. Problem solved move on, cheap, easy, effective and done.

There’s nothing wrong with this, but it for me is what I’d call a stabilize move and not a leap frog move. If the objective for the Windows Mobile 7 launch is to stabilize the bleeding, than the current iteration of the phone will do that and will do it in a way that will be declared a success. That is until the next generation of Apple comes off the assembly line and then the race is back on again.

The UX

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I think the UX is flat and is often obvious that the team are to busy trying to “own” their own UI and less about meeting a base benchmark. What i mean by this, is that it appears that the UI is trying a little too hard to do the opposite of the iPhone, like it’s a challenge they need to rise up against. Examples like no Icons, panning up/down instead of left / right for content etc seems to pack a little too much anti-iPhone. You can argue “we did a lot of research and 1 in 5 housewives preferred up and down over left and right”, which is meh, as I’ve seen how easily it is to manipulate usability to suit ones messaging (been there, done that, got the t-shirt).

I think sprinkling the Zune and mini-XBOX into the device will definitely grab peoples attention as i truly think the market is hungry for NOT an iPhone, so Microsoft may very well appeal to the folks who are bored with the iPhone as being this years fashionable technology must-have gadget.

That is until iPhone 4 comes out, and again i think this will raise the bar once again for Microsoft to meet and can they deliver? I think given the plain UX for the phone today, I think they stand a much greater chance of reacting to market conditions in a way that has low impact on development times as there’s less complexity in the room due to the over use of simplicity in the device.

Danger is, you’re left holding the current incarnation of Windows Mobile 7 and looking at the next generation of iPhone and go “aggh..i want that”, as make no mistake devices are really energising the “shiny object” buyers in today’s market.

For me, this is the Windows Vista launch, as after some code resets and downward pressure from above this is almost exactly the same internal conditions Windows Vista team had before their launch, “get it to market, get it fast and we’ll come back around for the bits we wanted to put in place”.

Apple are likely to react to this in a way that is going to be an interesting battle, as Apple is to iPhone as Windows is to Microsoft, so in a sense they are now fully engaged head to head with Microsoft once the device reaches the market.

Microsoft are playing hardball as well as you’ll most likely hear more about how Flash + Windows Mobile will play a role going forward and lastly they’ve yet to talk more deeply about how Silverlight 4 will play a role with the device as well (stay tuned for that, as this will get the developer propellers going).

In the end though, will this light up the soccer mums of tomorrow? probably, its new, it will be cheaper than the iPhone most likely and the Zune subscription model is quite palatable for the market. Zune Marketplace is where I think this device will live or die, if Microsoft gets the subscription model to work outside the US, then we’re in for a real threat to iTunes and iDevices world wide, as its definitely game on. The reason why Zune Market Place is a nicer approach is that its an appealing solution to Music/Movie piracy, as instead of people having to pay $$ for each individual song/movie etc, having a subscription model per month for all you can eat is less friction (especially for teenagers who can’t get access to credit cards)

Verdict.

I’d give the overall story an 7/10, I think the UX is weak and will face some challenges around usability, but overall the concept itself and how it ties in with other services from around the web is where it will most likely get its main momentum from.

Today, everyone is in the Microsoft “Zone” where its drink from the kool-aid, which is really an off signal response to a new products entry to the market. Two months from now, the reviews that are then talked about are the ones that are likely to stick and be consistent and they are truly the signal to the noise. This is where the Windows Mobile 7 team will need to bring their A-Game back and distil the message into  what’s coming next more so than what’s happened today.

Jokes aside, the UI still reminds me of Windows 3.11 where its very EGA 2D. is that good or bad? is it a design revolution where we kind of wind back the clock and go 80’s meets 2010, I don’t know. I do know I wanted more, I was hungry for more and i’m in a temper of a mood for not having my hunger satisfied.

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Will I buy one?

Yup. As I’ll do it simply because I’m a Silverlight / Flash UX guy and would love to tinker with a device that supports these two. Once again, Microsoft the engineering culture comes through and user experience takes a backseat.