It's not here yet, but next week Microsoft is hosting a media event where it is expected to unveil launch details for the highly-anticipated Windows Phone 7 platform. With Microsoft's virtual absence from the smartphone arena in recent years, and the rise of iPhone and Android, Windows Phone 7 may be too little, too late.
However, there are a few compelling reasons to take a closer look and consider making a switch to Windows Phone 7.
1. Hubs. The hubs concept is one of the smartphone paradigm shifts imagined by Microsoft. Grouping apps and functions based on general categories is an innovative and effective means of navigating the smartphone. Case in point: Since Apple introduced the capability to nest apps in folders under iOS 4.0, I have essentially gone through and implemented a similar concept by creating categorized folders and housing the appropriate apps there. The iPhone version just requires more manual effort on my part.
2. Tiles. Rather than a smartphone display filled with little app icons a' la iPhone or Android (or a Windows PC), Windows Phone 7 uses tiles. These large squares let you see at a glance what is going on in your connected mobile world. How many e-mails have arrived, how many phone calls or voicemail messages have come in, or what's new on your social networks? There are apps and push notifications on iPhone and Android phones that perform similar functions, but not as clearly and intuitively as the Windows Phone 7 tiles.
3. Try Before You Buy. Microsoft lets you try out apps before deciding whether to purchase them. I have wasted a fair amount of money buying iPhone apps only to find out they don't really do what I need, or just suck at what they do. Even apps that are free place a burden on me to then uninstall them. Being able to check out an app before purchasing is a significant value for users, and will also benefit developers--at least the ones that make decent apps.
4. Email. Windows Phone 7 provides native Exchange access with Active Sync updates, and allows users to connect with multiple Exchange accounts. Windows Phone 7 also supports third-party e-mail such as Gmail.
5. Integration. Windows Phone 7 is a platform that combines Office productivity, Exchange e-mail, Xbox Live gaming, search, music, and voice communications. Granted, that is not all that unique in a smartphone these days. In fact, it's more of a baseline requirement. But, Windows Phone 7 meshes the various elements of your digital life together more seamlessly and intuitively than other smartphones--especially for users that are already more or less Microsoft-centric in other areas.
Microsoft has also taken some hints from Apple--some good, and some not. On the one hand, Windows Phone 7 follows in the footsteps of the original iPhone with no cut and paste functionality, and a very limited form of multitasking that only applies to apps designated by Microsoft--both things that Apple has finally overcome. On the other hand, Microsoft has taken tighter control over the hardware specs, and software customizations by vendors to ensure a consistent, quality experience no matter which Windows Phone 7 device you choose.
In the end, Microsoft seems to have learned from its own past mistakes with smartphones, and it appears to be paying attention to what its rivals were doing. The result is an innovative, compelling smartphone platform that does more than simply copy the iPhone and Android phones. Windows Phone 7 won't crush the iPhone or dominate the smartphone market per se, but Microsoft has certainly come up with a mobile platform worth considering.