Epic unveiling of Windows Phone 7 Series – the true story

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We will not be judging Windows Phone 7 Series in this story, but we will just tell you how it was unveiled and what are our feelings regarding this unveiling.

And we tell you how it is or how it was. No BS.

So, behind seven seas and seven mountains there was a land called "Catalonia" where people were driving cars with "CAT" country symbol. Capital of this land was a city called Barcelona. To this very city Brits, who de facto are organizers of the Mobile World Congress, have moved this event from Cannes, France, because Cannes was too small and we even remember times, when in Cannes we had to carry out interviews on a motor boats and yachts, because there was not enough space elsewhere. Anyway the general idea of that Brits was to have this event in "some city at the seaside in a warm European country".

Unfortunately in early 2010 global weather went bonkers (north of the planet super cold and south of the planet super warm) and also city of Barcelona, instead of being sunny self, was cold and rainy.

More after the break…

On February 15, 2010, on Monday, 3PM, a majestic event in history of mobility has taken place: Microsoft has decided to unveil its major version of their mobile operating system for cell phones: Windows Mobile 7. That is what it would be called Windows Mobile 7 logically thinking but the real name is "Windows Phone 7 Series".

So how this legendary (as there were many rumours about it before) event started?Well, it started with very very long queue:

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Actually the room where this meeting was organized (called "Garden Room") is just a hotel restaurant where for example hotel guests are eating breakfasts. Clearly it was too small for such an event but since Microsoft for many years has its headquarters in Hotel Catalonia Barcelona Plaza, this year it was also there.

The only requirement to enter the press conference was to have press accreditation (i.e. press badge) at Mobile World Congress and no pre-registration was necessary. If you were not press you would have to be invited by Microsoft individually. However this lack of registration and lack of order at the entry was a bit annoying as several people were jumping the queue in a boorish way, and Spanish ladies who were scanning the badges (with use of Windows Mobile devices with SDIO card with RFID scanner attached to it) were obviously not strong enough to stop these queue-jumping boors. One of these queue-jumping boors co-owns quite popular website about gadgets and his initials are V.N. – you can guess who he is.

The broadcasting journalists were the first who were allowed in. These journalist had special podium in the back of the room, from where they could film from their mighty tripods.

Then the rest, i.e. other journos and bloggers and however got press accreditation at Mobile World Congress were allowed in. Even we.

Obviously the event didn’t start immediately but there was small chit-chat between Microsoft people and guests:

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In photo above you can notice Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft (the first from right in the standing group in the middle) chatting with guys from HTC. Speaking of HTC: nobody from HTC was speaking, even for few seconds, during this press conference and only 2 HTC employees were allowed in, one of them being CEO of HTC.

When the session started, it was Ballmer who was talking as first one. It was however clear that this whole mobility thingy is not his area of expertise or even interest, because he quickly introduced another guy – Joe Belfiore – who actually was introduced as the one who designed this whole new Windows Mobile, i.e. Windows Phone 7 Series. We will not delve here into details of the new Windows Phone 7 Series, but it was actually Joe Belfiore who introducing it. And he was very full of himself. Geez, it was like looky at me: I designed Widnows 95, and then I was working in Zune and here I am bringing my brilliance to cell phones.

It struck us strange that he portrayed "tiles" and "hubs" as something totally revolutionary. Hey, what about Android and WebOS widgets? Anyway, we wouldn’t like to judge this new major version of Windows Mobile, but generally speaking we got impression that in fact Windows Mobile 7 Series is actually a Zune Phone. The reason number one being that Zune is now integrated into 7 and this whole experience of Zune is transferred now to cell phones.

When Joe Belfiore was talking about 7, apart from his arrogance, what struck us was that a hot blond was being shown in one of screen shots and he suggested that it is his wife. Geez. Another savoir.

Another strange thing about Joe Belfiore was that he mentioned that he started working on these pesky cell phones merely 1, 1.5 years ago. So we thought: err, what? But Windows Mobile 7 is under development in Microsoft since 2006! The only conclusion that could be is: around 2008 Microsoft has dumped all older developments and started from scratch. Not that it is a bad thing.

During this whole presentation we could hear unusual cheering from the audience. We were almost certain that Microsoft hired some professionals to pretend that they are excited about these new announcement. We wanted to shout: calm down dude, this OS is coming in 9 months or so and competition is not sleeping and don’t know how it will sell yet… but then we realized: no, it cannot be, these super-loud cheers must be artificially manufactured by some hired professionals. Too load to be spontaneous.

Then Steve Ballmer came back:


… and another strange thing that surprised us was that impression that he gave that users will have the same experience across all 3 platforms/screens of Microsoft. Heh? And where is design of mobile-friendly user interfaces gone? Clearly a desktop user interface can’t be the same as mobile? No, that couldn’t be. Or could it? Maybe Microsoft thinks that it could.

Speaking of Steve Ballmer: no matter what is your opinion about him (generally speaking: a close pal of Bill Gates, who on his own would never become CEO of Microsoft, but as close pal of Bill he could) one thing worth noticing, particularly if you were in the audience and not watching via stream, was his shouting of some words. This shouting was brilliant because it was waking audience up and very well underlining some points (like the fact that Microsoft has no OBJECTION to Flash, that he shouted during FAQ session so loud that we had to clear our ears).

It was clear that Steve Ballmer is high in the sky on cloud 7 and he is only rarely lowering himself to this mobility thingies. Example of this was when he introduced Andy Lees, a Brit, who is now in Charge of Windows Mobile from the point of view of cooperation with partners, not design obviously (that is done by Joe the plumber, err, Joe the smartphone-er Belfiore):

Voice of Andy Lees was soothing to our ears as he is a Brit and clearly he was speaking nice British English. He mentioned 2 things: carrier/operator launch partners and hardware launch partners.

First came hardware launch partners (see picture above) and we were surprised to see Dell there (aren’t they doing Android smartphones now or something?). Obviously HTC was now considered as "one of many" and clearly neglected (as CEO of HTC was not even speaking at this event, not even for 5 seconds).

Then came mobile operator (i.e. carrier) partners: 
 

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… and no big surprises here, although, then Andy Lees mentioned so called "premium mobile operator launch partners":

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… and our collective jaw dropped and one could hear in the room things like "what? isn’t AT&T an exclusive iPhone vendor in USA?". Anyways 2 guys from AT&T and Orange were asked to say warm things about Microsoft and were thinking: "oi, Andy Lees and your 2 premium partners, why don’t you get a room?".

Funny thing was that obviously iPhone was not mentioned at all when David Christopher was talking (introduced by Microsofties as the guy that takes buying decisions for tens of millions of customers of AT&T – what a BS! Aren’t customers taking these decisions themselves?). David was trying hard to underline how early and well he was partnering with Microsoft in mobile phones.

Then Olaf Svantee from Orange (a European-only operator) came out and in Microsoft-love-fest he underlined that no, that actually he and his Orange SPV was even earlier than AT&T. One year earlier or so. Once again: get a room boys? Is it who loves Microsoft the most competition or what?

Then there was a FAQ session with questions from audience. These questions were so soft that your grandma could ask them. We were almost certain that people asking these questions were planet by Microsoft. We were raising hands too but we were not picked. We wanted to ask some really important questions like "when it comes to multitasking in Windows Phone 7 then is it possible for example to download podcast in background and browse Internet in foreground or are non-active tasks frozen?", but obviously Windows Phone 7 Series phones are still in early alpha development phase and running only on prototypes… so no luck here in asking hard questions.

When it comes to commercial availability then holiday season 2010 was mentioned, what could mean as early as October or November, but realistically speaking it means December 2010.

All in all we are satisfied with the progress. Microsoft has introduced new (new for Microsoft not for the mobile industry) look and feel where it is underlined that one can see everything at one glance in tiles or hubs instead of jumping to individual apps. However we must say that we have impression that around 2 years ago Microsoft has mostly replaced people making Windows Mobile and this arrogance and smugness from old times of Windows Mobile (5 years ago? when Windows Mobile was on the most sophisticated smartphones that only businessmen, professionals and geeks were buying) has returned in new people. Example: when later we asked Microsoft staff at Microsoft stand if they have some Windows Phone 7 to play with, they laughed us out with "we don’t have Windows 7 here, we don’t have desktop versions here, only mobile versions". Generally Windows Phone 7 was running on prototypes and it was shown to selected journos and bloggers but not shown to public, that had to be satisfied with big touch screens remotely connected to Windows Phone 7 phones:

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This is amazing what Microsoft has done: pre-announced an operating system 9 months before commercial release. In case of Apple it is maximally 2 months before commercial release. However Microsoft might have a point: it was underlined in this press conference that from the developer point of view, Windows Phone 7 will be discussed at MIX conference next month.
Where this story will end? Well, Microsoft has revived interest of masses in their mobile phones. Whether it will translate into sales (a trick that Zune HD, despite being praised by experts, failed to achieve) is another fairytale…

By Edward, WMPU correspondent at Mobile World Congress

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