Microsoft is back in the mobile game!

Microsoft is getting back on the smartphone race with the Windows Phone 7 (WP7) mobile operating system. Released early this November, WP7 gives users a fresh new take on mobile computing compared to the previous version of Windows Mobile. It has added features, elegance and easy navigation, all created with the end user in mind. One does not have to be tech savvy to get a handle on this phone.

Windows Phone 7 has a multi-touch functionality and a start screen made up of “tiles” — each tile takes the user to different applications and features. These tiles are the key user interface component of Windows Phone 7, and clearly differentiates it from the iPhone experience.

The tiles define the phone’s screen real estate, and most importantly,  the tiles are updated automatically. An email account tile will tell the user if there are any unread messages; other tiles give live weather updates or missed calls right on the start screen. Tiles can be changed and removed according to the users’ preference, and new tiles can also be “pinned” on the start screen.

In an attempt to make the Windows 7 phones work the way we work Microsoft has grouped activities into “hubs” that have both offline and online content. The People hub will have phone, email and Windows Live contacts as well as Facebook friends. The Pictures hub will not only show photos taken by the camera’s phone but also Facebook photo albums. It is all in an attempt to make social networking easier and more a more natural extension of the smartphone. Users can “like” and comment on friends’ updates from the hub, with a tap of a finger.  The Music and Video hub is combined with Zune, an online entertainment marketplace while the Games hub has Xbox LIVE. Other hubs are Microsoft office and Windows Phone Marketplace.

Users can easily text using an onscreen keyboard with a special emoticon key. It also has word prediction and spell checking. Unlike the iPhone many different manufacturers are going to build Windows 7 phones, so there will be a range of styles. Some will incorporate physical keyboards as well as onscreen keyboards so it will be very interesting to compare the success of the different Handset manufacturers as they release differing form factors.

Web browsing with the WP7 stays true to Microsoft with Internet Explorer Mobile, and Microsoft has gone to lengths to make the experience very much like browsing on a regular laptop or computer. The IE Mobile can load six different tabs at the same time, with smooth graphics, easy zoom in/out and users can save pictures from the web on their device. Web pages can be shared through email and favorite websites can be saved and shown on a tile on the start screen.  Microsoft also promises direct software updates so that users will continue to enjoy their Windows Phone 7 experience.

The first out of the gate include Phones from LG, Samsung, Dell, and HTC.

Steve DobbsSteve Dotto is Canada’s most respected geek. For over 15 years, as host and executive producer of Dotto Tech, a nationally syndicated TV show, Steve has entertained and educated millions of Canadians on all aspects of technology. Steve has a passion for understanding the social impact of technology. His DVD Cybersafe with Steve Dotto , teaches parents and caregivers about the opportunities, dangers and challenges of social networking.