Do Windows Phone 7 and MeeGo change the mobile game?

Just when it looked like an iPhone-Android-BlackBerry troika was shaping up, Microsoft and Nokia each tries one last shot

Finally, Microsoft has shown its cards for the successor to the sputtering Windows Mobile: The Windows Phone 7 OS debuted at the Mobile World Congress this week, and it should hit store shelves by the Christmas holidays. Also, Nokia and Intel dropped their respective smartphone OS contenders -- Maemo and Moblin -- and instead said they would merge the two efforts and produce a new smartphone OS called MeeGo this spring, with devices to follow by the holidays.

Do Windows Phone 7 OS and MeeGo change the equation for users of and developers for smartphones? Yes and no.

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Windows Phone 7: Upsetting the smartphone cart
The awkwardly named Windows Phone 7 is a radical remake of Windows Mobile, whose complex, variable interface and attempt to cram a computer into a smartphone's small screen simply didn't work. Originally popular in some industries as a minicomputer for field forces, Windows Mobile has increasingly been displaced by the iPhone and then Android operating systems.

Microsoft hasn't shared many details of WinPhone, so I have to take the love fests emanating from fanboy sites like Engadget with a big grain of salt. But based on what Microsoft has demoed, the WinPhone is at least interesting.

WinPhone mixes a very 20-something UI heavy on messaging, games, music, and photos with standard 40-something business capabilities such as a mobile Office productivity suite and the mobile Outlook email client. And there's the mobile Internet Explorer Web browser for users of all ages.

Microsoft is clearly taking a big page from Apple's book by putting its Zune and Xbox capabilities front and center -- much as the iPhone did with its iPod functions at the 2007 launch of the iPhone. The computer capabilities of the WinPhone are hardly mentioned, a major break from Windows Mobile's microcomputer legacy. And Microsoft is emphasizing gaming, much as Apple does for its phone-less iPod Touch -- but unlike Apple, Microsoft can leverage its Xbox reputation for the WinPhone.

But Microsoft is not only copying Apple's playbook -- it's lifting some innovations from the Palm WebOS, specifically the notion of cards. Additionally, it's aping Android's execution of combined capabilities in a single "tile," in which Android lets you see all messages in one app, rather than having to switch among dedicated apps for email, SMS, Twitter, and the like.

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