KUALA LUMPUR: A day after Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced it in the United States, Microsoft Malaysia yesterday launched the company’s latest smartphone operating system, Windows Phone 7.
While the new operating system could be the most significant for Microsoft since losing the lead in the smartphone market to RIM’s BlackBerry, Apple’s iOS devices and Google’s Android operating system, the local launch was marred by the unavailability of certain key features that would have made Windows Phone 7 devices in this country more competitive.
This is unfortunate, because Microsoft’s new smartphone operating system has a real chance of taking hold in the market, thanks to a well thought-out interface that has all the animation and flash of its rivals and yet looks completely unlike any of them.
For those who haven’t seen the phone in action, Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 interface is made up of customisable “Tiles” which are active shortcuts to various applications — for example, the Outlook tile not only takes you to the application when tapped, but the tile itself will show users how many e-mail messages are unread.
Similarly, the People tile, which takes the user to the contacts list, also has constantly active thumbnails of people taken from the user’s contacts list.
Tiles on the Home screen can be customised and the user can easily add (and remove) shortcuts to a variety of applications and even favourite websites.
Within this interface is a concept called “Hubs” which are essentially areas which hold collections of related tasks — for example, the People Hub not only allows users to access their contacts lists, but also to access each contact’s Facebook photos and Windows Live feeds.
Then there’s the Office Hub, which of course includes mobile versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint as well as OneNote, a new application in the mobile Office suite for note-taking on the go.
Microsoft’s hardware partners like HTC, LG and Samsung are set to launch products based on Windows Phone 7 in the coming months.
HTC announced that it will be releasing its HD7 and Mozart models early next month. The HD7 has a retail price of RM2,399 and will be available exclusively from Maxis at a subsidised price with a plan. Meanwhile the Mozart will have a recommended retail price of RM2,099.
In an effort to avoid the fragmentation in hardware (CPU speeds, screen resolutions, etc) which resulted in vastly differing user experiences in the company’s previous Windows Mobile operating system, Microsoft has this time set more stringent base hardware specifications for devices running on Windows Phone 7.
With Windows Phone 7, every device must run on a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, have a screen resolution of 480 x 800-pixels, have at least 8GB of storage and at least a 5-megapixel digital camera.
Missing Marketplace, Xbox Live
For Malaysians, however, the disappointing news could be that both Xbox Live and the Windows Phone Marketplace will not be available at launch.
For gamers, Xbox Live on Windows Phone 7 is one of its biggest draws, as the feature allows Xbox 360 console users with Xbox Live accounts to log in on Windows Phone 7 to customise their Xbox Avatars and even add to their achievement points for mobile games played on the smartphone.
While the unavailability of Xbox Live on Windows Phone 7 isn’t that big a surprise considering that the Xbox 360 console itself isn’t officially available in the country, the missing Windows Phone Marketplace, Microsoft’s application store for the smartphone, may turn off some users.
According to Ananth Lazarus, managing director of Microsoft Malaysia, the missing features are “to be rolled out in the future,” although no specific time-frame was given as to when this would be.
As it is, the missing Marketplace puts Windows Phone 7 at somewhat of a disadvantage, because the smartphone operating system itself has no Twitter application nor an instant messaging client like Windows Live Messenger built in.
However, Xbox Live and Windows Phone Marketplace have not been removed from the operating system altogether — the applications are still in the phone, but when registering for these services, Malaysia will not be in one of the sixteen countries listed in the registration page.
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