What Microsoft has shown of its new mobile operating system, for Windows Phone 7 Series looks nothing like the tired Windows interface of old; instead it looks like the much more enjoyable Zune HD. The idea of putting people and photos in one place where one can do multiple things is a good one. The connection to Xbox Live could help Microsoft appeal to a whole new area, while a pervasive connection to social networks like Facebook is also a key advance.
But Microsoft isn't showing the devices themselves, or even going into that much detail about the new Windows Phone 7 Series software. That means that for every potentially cool feature, there are also many questions yet to be answered. One of the key questions is how much, if any, software written for previous versions of Windows Mobile will work on the new phones.
The biggest new feature that is coming as part of iPhone OS 4.0 is multitasking. Until now, Apple has handled multitasking in much the same way Microsoft proposes to handle it. That is, the phone's built-in applications can multitask while those from outside developers generally can't. That means you can do things like listen to music and surf the Web or check the calendar while on a phone call. But it means that two third-party programs tend not to work simultaneously.
With OS 4.0, Apple is opening this up significantly, allowing a variety of background services that will make for some interesting new combinations. The iPhone will be able to do things like have Skype running in the background, while this seems unlikely to be possible with Windows Phone 7 Series.
One of the areas is bringing together photos and contacts from a variety of sources. Like Palm's Pre, Microsoft is taking the approach that people have their media in lots of places and they want to access all their media in a category, regardless of where it came from. Along with that, I'd expect tight integration with social networks like Facebook, whereas Apple tends to view that as a separate "app."
An interesting issue is Apple's just-announced Game Center social network. Although this has Apple taking on what was an area Windows Phone 7 Series would have had to itself with Xbox Live, this could work some to Microsoft's advantage. Its Xbox Live service already has the features Apple was talking about as well as an existing, huge community.
Meanwhile, Windows Phone 7 Series isn't Microsoft's only play in the phone business. The company also has an event on Monday where it and Verizon are introducing two new feature phones, code-named Turtle and Pure, aimed at the always connected messaging crowd.
Apple's announcements on last don't spell doom for Windows Phone 7 Series, but they sure do highlight the challenges of trying to play catch-up in the fast-moving smartphone market