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Hands-On with Windows Phone 7, Part 3: Near-Final Windows Phone 7 Software

Hands-On with Windows Phone 7
Part 3: Near-Final Windows Phone 7 Software

It starts when you turn on the phone. The lock screen lights up with a favorite photo and provides information about your next appointment, as well as notifications about any incoming emails, missed calls, and voice messages. Nice.

Hands-On with Windows Phone 7
Lock screen (mock-up)

The Windows Phone user interface, Metro, is a revelation. Almost laughably simple, it gets out of the way so that your phone's content can take center stage. Subtle animations on the device's Start screen beckon for your touch, and because the device fills up with the content that matters most to you--all via a single logon to your Windows Live ID--it's immediately personal. Those are pictures of your contacts in the People live tile on the Start screen, animating and moving as you watch. That's your next appointment listed right there on the Calendar tile, which doesn't require you to navigate into an application to see what's next. Your Xbox Live avatar is being goofy on the Games tile and getting knocked around for his troubles.

Scroll further down and the real fun begins. The widescreen Pictures tile features one of your favorite photos, not some random, Apple-chosen clip art. And the Music + Video tile animates with imagery of your most recently-played band.

Hands-On with Windows Phone 7
My current Windows Phone Start screen.

The discovery, the epiphany, has begun.

It doesn't take long to realize two things about Windows Phone. First, Microsoft gets it. In a world of me-too smart phone solutions that all take the same route down application silo hell, Microsoft has rethought how important these devices are to our everyday lives and has come up with something that's not just different, but better. Second, you can never go back. I've often said that the true test of any upgrade, software or otherwise, is how it makes you feel when you have to go back to the previous solution.

And going back to the iPhone after Windows Phone? If not impossible then certainly painful.

On the iPhone, functionality that Windows Phone seamlessly binds together is siloed off in different applications and services. Let's take the most obvious example, photos. All you want to do is look at photos. On the iPhone, local (device-based) photos can be found in the Photos app. Facebook-based photos are in the Facebook app. Flickr? There's an app for that. MySpace photos? Guess where. And heck, you're an Apple guy, so your Mobile Me photos can be found in the Mobile Me Gallery apps. The photos you care about--yours and other people's--are all over the place. It kind of makes Apple's biggest supposed strength--that App Store--seem like more of a problem than a solution.

In Windows Phone, all of the photos you care about are in the Pictures hub. This panoramic experience can display your local, device-based photos. Your (and others') Facebook photos. Flickr photos. MySpace. Windows Live. All in one place.

Hands-On with Windows Phone 7
The stock Pictures hub, only customized with my own photo background.

Hands-On with Windows Phone 7
The Pictures hub automatically draws in photos from multiple locations.

Yes, you need to do a tiny bit of work to make this possible, by connecting your Windows Live account to the online services and social networks you've joined. But that takes minutes. And on Windows Phone, all you need to do is logon, and that content just appears. It's magical, to steal a Steve Jobs term and actually apply it to something that makes sense.

Let's look at the Music + Videos hub. This one hasn't yet been extended with third party services, though Pandora and others are on the way. But start playing some music, video, podcasts, and so on, and this hub turns into a wonderland of the entertainment content you care about. Don't believe me? Check out what it looks like.

Hands-On with Windows Phone 7

Hands-On with Windows Phone 7
Video playback.

Hands-On with Windows Phone 7

Hands-On with Windows Phone 7
Content browsing.

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