Windows Phone 7 Series Takeawayby Brian Klug on February 22, 2010 12:00 PM EST
Lessons From Windows Mobile
Microsoft seems to have learned from Windows Mobile's heritage, and it is really reflected in their decision to disallow skinning by third parties. In the past, allowing hardware manufacturers to create new skins and user experiences atop the platform ultimately proved to be a double-edged sword. On one side, manufacturers like HTC were able to greatly enhance Windows Mobile functionality with skins like TouchFLO 3D and HTC Sense, as well as third party software developers like SPB with SPB Mobile Shell. On the other side, the difference in user experience across the platform created a fragmented user experience that made Windows Mobile increasingly difficult to market and create momentum with. Clearly demonstrating a single look and feel is at the core of Microsoft's focus with Windows Phone 7 Series.
Arguably, this is the biggest departure of Phone 7 Series from Windows Mobile. No longer will manufacturers be able to differentiate themselves with both software and hardware. Instead, they will have to adhere to a common template of minimum hardware requirements.
All devices will have, at minimum:
- Qualcomm SoC (Snapdragon platform is a likely choice)
- WVGA Screen (AMOLED or LED, but likely AMOLED will be favored for reasons noted later)
- 4 point capacitive multitouch digitizer
- 3 Buttons (Windows (Start), Search, and Back)
- 5 Megapixel Camera (assumably rear-facing)
- FM Radio
- AGPS and Accelerometer
The decision to go with Qualcomm might seem puzzling at first, especially given Zune HD's Nvidia Tegra history. However, choosing Qualcomm's Snapdragon makes considerable sense for a smartphone thanks in large part to integrated cellular modem and GPS. Snapdragon is already in devices right now, making it a proven platform and an obvious choice for a Microsoft ready to get going with deployment. It's a well-established and understood platform already, just months after launch of the HTC HD2. To a larger extent, mandating a particular SoC will allow Microsoft to make device-specific optimizations, something that has already given Apple's iPhone OS a clear performance advantage despite relatively modest hardware. It's a strategic move that makes sense for a Microsoft dead-set on communicating a single unified smartphone experience.
Subjectively however, performance on the unbranded hardware used to demonstrate the platform looked relatively slow. The downside of using hardware that's available now and not planning on something radical is that by Q4 2010, Snapdragon QSD8x50 at 1 GHz will be nothing special in terms of performance. Nobody has divulged specifically what SoC is going to be at the core of the Windows 7 Phone Series mandate, but with ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore SoCs coming just around the corner, it'll have to be impressive to keep pace. A possible alternative is Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8X72 platform, which is expected to start appearing in products at the end of 2010. QSD8X72 packs two Scorpion cores (the same CPU used in the current line of Snapdragon SoCs) built on a 45nm process and clocked at up to 1.5 GHz. More on this later, but if Microsoft aims to deliver a handset with an emphasis on gaming, it'll need the hardware to back that ethos up.
A hardware keyboard remains optional, and whether OEMs decide inclusion is necessary or not will depend strongly on how well the virtual keyboard works. Early demonstrations look reasonable compared to the absurdly small, stylus-required keyboard from Windows Mobile. There's no word on internal storage requirements, external expansion or whether Phone 7 Series will feature a user-accessible file system at this point, either. The rest of the minimum hardware requirements are relatively straightforward for a flagship smartphone.
Although users will be able to customize appearance settings to favor black text on a light background, the hardware demonstrated thus far has shown a white on black background style. This likely is done specifically to leverage the power saving features of inactive AMOLED pixels. Thus far, the white on black look has been well suited to AMOLED displays, however the ability to change back and forth will make a lot of sense for devices with traditional LCD displays.
What hasn't been said
But that's it. That's essentially all everyone has been told specifically about Windows Phone 7 Series. Perhaps more interesting is what we weren't shown or don't know yet.
Notably, it appeared that the unbranded hardware with which Microsoft demonstrated Phone 7 Series included a front-facing camera. It remains to be seen whether a front-facing camera will be added to the hardware minimum requirements, or if this will be integrated into Phone 7 Series software. Neither of the two cameras were demonstrated on the hardware sample, either.
There's also the question of what happens to the traditional Windows Mobile line of devices, including those that are still being marketed by some of Microsoft's most intimate hardware manufacturers, including HTC. Likely, support and manufacture of Windows Mobile 6.5.x devices will continue for some time, but how long and under what brand remains a big unknown. It's possible that Windows Mobile (henceforth probably called Windows Phone Classic) will have one more update enabling support for capacitive multitouch. For those that already own a Windows Mobile 6.5.x device however, it's likely that your hardware will remain on the older platform. It's probably safe to say that if it doesn't meet the hardware specs already given as minimum, it definitely will stay that way.