Phone 7 makes the mobile war interesting

Ironically, had I checked my BlackBerry, I would have known Telus Corp.’s Windows Phone 7 briefing had been cancelled. As it happened, I showed up at the carrier’s shiny new 25 York St. building in Toronto, wondering why the designated handlers weren’t in the lobby to shepherd me upstairs.
(It’s a truly lovely building by the way, with a large, iridescent, ahem, mobile in its vast lobby.)
Turns out the handset manufacturers hadn’t been able to provide an adequate number of review units, so the show was called off at the last moment. As I was subbing for a colleague (who was subbing for a mutual colleague), that information didn’t get to me until I’d already arrived.
After a few phone calls, though, Telus hastily arranged a preview demo of the LG Optima 7, loaded with Microsoft Corp.’s new mobile operating system, by product marketing manager James Bishop.
I must confess, a few weeks ago, I was ready to pronounce Microsoft irrelevant in the mobile market. The last iteration of Windows Mobile was simply more of the same unintuitive dross that had preceded it. The tablets based on Windows 7 failed to materialize; Hewlett-Packard Corp. openly shelved its project and bought Palm Inc. and its WebOS platform, while others pushed machines based on Google Inc.’s Android operating system.
Phone 7 should change all that.
The experience is based upon a home screen composed of a tiled interface. Applications can be pinned to or removed from the interface; the list is a slide to the right away. Rather than the interminable drilling down through folder upon folder that made Windows Mobile such a horrible experience, apps are collected in hubs. The People hub, for example, lets you page through e-mail, contacts, Facebook updates, etc., by swiping sideways. The Office hub aggregates Microsoft’s Office Suite applications into a similar scheme. Bishop calls it “by far the best Outlook/Mobile Office interface that I’ve seen.”
It’s better organized than Apple Inc.’s iPhone OS in terms of accessibility to applications (how many screens of apps do you have on your iPhone?). And it’s more intuitive than Research in Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry OS, despite the dressing up that got recently. I was reminded more of the WebOS experience, though it’s been a year now since I’ve had that and I’m beginning to forget what it’s like, kind of like the restaurant you went to and really liked, but can’t remember what you ordered.
Which is another reason Phone 7 is interesting. HP finally announced its future direction for Web OS this week, with a Version 2.0 and a Pre 2 phone imminent in France and a couple months away in North America. The aforementioned buffing that BlackBerry OS makes it more intuitive without changing its functionality. And this week, Apple shares took a hit over lower-than-anticipated sales and Steve Jobs’s churlish attack on anything mobile that isn’t silver and black.
Phone 7’s pre-emption of WebOS might push the latter further to the margins with Nokia Corp.’s Symbian, which is well-represented in Europe but never really made inroads in the crucial U.S. market. Microsoft could muscle this into the enterprise, at least in the space where BlackBerry Enterprise Server’s hegemony doesn’t reign; the Microsoft infrastructure is already there on the backend. IT can show the starry-eyed a option to the iPhone that’s more integrated and more secure.
Caveat being, it doesn’t look like it’s designed to scale to use on tablets, though it appears Microsoft is intent on pushing a square Windows 7 peg into that round hole.

But it certainly does make the smart phone war more interesting.

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Dave Webb
Dave Webb
Dave Webb is a freelance editor and writer. A veteran journalist of more than 20 years' experience (15 of them in technology), he has held senior editorial positions with a number of technology publications. He was honoured with an Andersen Consulting Award for Excellence in Business Journalism in 2000, and several Canadian Online Publishing Awards as part of the ComputerWorld Canada team.

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