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Hands-On with Windows Phone 7, Part 1: Introduction

Hands-On with Windows Phone 7
Part 1: Introduction

This week, Microsoft is shipping hundreds of prototype Windows Phone devices to developers so that they can more easily create new software solutions that will run its innovative upcoming mobile platform. I've got one of those phones, and while it in no way represents what shipping Windows Phones will look like come this holiday season, the underlying software is nearly complete and provides the best-yet look at what we can expect from the final product. And since Microsoft has given me the OK to finally discuss these devices and that near-final software, I thought you'd be interested in a peek.

Full disclosure: I'm currently in the throes of writing a book, Windows Phone Secrets, which will more thoroughly document the Windows Phone 7 experience. I'm also currently blogging about my experience working on this book, and while you may believe I have some inherent conflict of interest when it comes to accurately describing where this system sails and fails, I want to be very clear about one thing: The reason I'm writing this book is because I'm honestly very excited about Windows Phone. In fact, whatever money I'll make from this book, such as it is, is almost an afterthought, given that I make more in one month writing for this site than I'll make on that book over its entire lifetime. This isn't about getting paid. This is about an excitement I haven't felt in ages.

On that note, virtually everything I've learned about this platform over time has only increased that excitement, culminating, perhaps, in my secretive first hands-on experiences with prototype devices back in May. At that time, I spent three lengthy days (literally, 8:00 am to 6:00 pm) working almost solely with Windows Phone. (I threw in some meetings here and there as well.) And the difference between seeing a demo of Windows Phone, or reading about it, and actually using the thing is profound.

Here's the deal. Windows Phone may or may not look interesting to you right now. But if you have a properly configured Windows Live ID--one that is connected with various third party services like Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, whatever--and get a Windows Phone, you're in for a treat. All you do is logon with that Windows Live ID and then watch as the phone populates with an astonishing amount of content. It's an experience you just can't get on the iPhone or Android, and it's the first of many things about Windows Phone that has made me just start grinning spontaneously. And in another "trust me on this" moment, I should now mention that I'm not exactly a giddy person by nature. But you knew that.

There are people out there--haters, people who are so invested in Apple products, or Google, or whatever--that will try to convince you that Windows Phone is a disaster. That this product should be avoided at all costs. That it is a tired retread of what Apple first shipped in 2007. Those people, to put it simply, are wrong.

Here's the truth. Windows Phone may or may not succeed in the market place. I have no opinion on that, and believe it or not, I have no vested interest in it one way or another. What I do have is an opinion on the value of this system, an opinion about how it compares to today's leading mobile systems from Apple and Google. And I'm here to tell you that Windows Phone isn't just competitive. It's better. It's more innovative than anything from those other companies, and people will be shocked by how good the big picture stuff is on these devices.

On the flipside, yes, Windows Phone is littered with tiny defects, or missing features. Famously, there's no copy and paste, and no "real" multitasking for third party apps, though those features will eventually be added. In preparing for and in writing the book, I've uncovered dozens of missing features, features that aren't just present in iPhone and Android today, but are in many cases also present in Windows Phone's predecessor, Windows Mobile 6.5.

To the power users in the audience, those who live by side-by-side charts and feature comparisons, these kinds of issues explain the "disaster" talk. And in my own capacity as a know-nothing industry seer, I've done my share of missing the forest for the trees, so I get how this works. I would remind people, however, that most consumers aren't like you. They don't buy things based on pedantic technical commentaries, charts, and comparisons. Real people, actual Joe and Jill Sixpacks, are a bit more emotional than that. (This explains the iPad and virtually every Apple product when you think about it.) And for those people--you know, that 99 percent of people out there in the real world--Windows Phone is going to be seen, immediately and correctly, as something special.

The key to this, of course, is the presentation. If Microsoft's wireless operator partners don't do a good job of educating their store staff on the benefits of Windows Phone, Microsoft's next mobile OS could have a tough road ahead of it. But if you put a nicely-loaded Windows Phone in front of anyone out there in the real world, they're just going to be impressed. Either that or they don't have a heartbeat. There's no in-between.

OK, now that I've gotten that bit of emotional psychodrama off my chest, let's take a quick look at the prototype hardware and, much more important, the near-final Windows Phone OS. I think you're going to like what you see.

Next up, Part 2: Prototype Hardware...

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