Why I like Windows Phone 7 (so far)

A brief hands-on encounter makes me more hopeful that Microsoft is bringing real, useful innovation to the me-too mobile market

Don't faint in disbelief. But me, the avid iPod Touch user, I'm getting excited about Windows Phone 7. With the major caveat that the operating system is in early beta and the hardware it runs on is a custom prototype for use by Microsoft employees, I like what I've seen so far.

Last night, I got a chance to spend some time with an early prototype and talk to several members of the Windows Phone 7 team for a couple of hours. The new operating system uses a radically different approach to organizing information and apps. It will take some getting used to, but I think there's a good chance that Microsoft is on to something powerful and that will bring real innovation that matters to the mobile market.

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It could be as significant as Apple's original iPhone was, though I don't think for a minute that Windows Phone 7 is an iPhone-killer. But it's the first new major mobile platform that actually innovates in significant ways from the iPhone. Sorry, but Palm's WebOS and Google's Android are at best minor variations of what the iPhone brought to the table in 2007. They're me-too products, with some enhancements and some drawbacks. They don't break new ground, simply develop part of the ground that Apple broke. By contrast, Windows Phone 7 seems to be a truly new animal.

A new approach to working in mobile
What's compelling about Windows Phone 7 (despite that awkward name) is the concept of decks that bring together information streams. Although the iPhone made the mobile experience accessible and compelling, it's still based on the desktop metaphor of having application icons arrayed (on a home screen rather than in a Start or Apple menu or on a desktop, but that's just a cosmetic difference). You go to the app you want and launch it, then switch to the next app.

What Windows Phone 7 does is let you organize by area of interest. Each deck lets you have whatever cards you want related to the deck's theme. So, for the People deck, you might have cards for your spouse, best friend, fantasy baseball team, favorite movie star, and your boss and direct reports at the office. These decks pull in information from the sources you define, such as Facebook, Twitter feeds, and your company SharePoint discussions, so you see what is happening with each person at a glance. You don't traverse apps to gather this piecemeal; the phone does it for you, treating the information from your source apps almost as feeds. Behind the glossy visuals that Microsoft likes to demonstrate is a different metaphor for staying updated and connected.

You can get a rough idea of the Windows Phone 7 approach by watching Microsoft's own demo, but I don't believe any of us will truly get what this new approach means in practice until we've used one for at least a few days. I can't wait.

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