Windows Phone may be a game changer
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When it comes to simplicity, Microsoft and Google have swapped places in the phone market. On your PC, Google is known for simplicity -- with its single text field on its homepage to help you do a search. Microsoft over the years has become known for bloated software -- lots of commands, hard-to-find and lots of flexibility. Even Microsoft's original entry into the smart phone market was very tech looking, with drop-down Start menus with lines of small text, while its initial competitor, Palm (the original smart phone), had large icons on a simple interface.
That's all changed with Microsoft's recent introduction of its new Windows Phone software.
Windows phone reminds me in many ways of the original Microsoft Word for Windows. When it was introduced, it simplified the way we did word processing. WordPerfect, the market leader at the time, gave us lots of power with lots of commands, while Microsoft Word made decisions for us, eliminating the need to understand all those commands. Over time that has changed, as Microsoft has packed features into Word.
With Windows Phone, Microsoft again simplifies what has become a difficult task -- learning how to use a smart phone. Google's Android smart phones give us lots of apps and lots of power, but Windows Phone gives us simplicity, even as it takes away flexibility. A first look at Windows Phone really does make you say "really?" just like you see in their commercials.
The most intriguing feature of Windows Phone is the main menu, powered by "live tiles" -- large boxlike icons for the key things you do, like making calls, looking up contacts, sending text messages and e-mails, and browsing the Web. On the AT&T phone, which I have been carrying recently, it also has live tiles for AT&T specific services -- and of course for Microsoft services such as Xbox live and Zune music and videos.
Live tiles are fun because they're more than text and icons. Some live tiles even look as if they were rendered in three dimensions. The "People" tile, which is the one you press to see your contacts, is made up of nine smaller boxes like a tic-tac-toe board. The photos of the people in your address book show up in that tic-tac-toe board arrangement -- popping up randomly. If you're linked with your Facebook account, it will even pull the pictures from there. I created my own tiles of my wife and children, so they were one click away -- and the tiles included animations of their photos and names.
From a productivity standpoint, the biggest advantage of the Windows Phone is the large font that is used throughout the software. It's big, sharp, easy to read -- and just as easy to press because it creates big areas to select, even with fat fingers. My wife, who consistently has trouble reading small text on phones, would be quite at home.
With simplicity though, comes a lack of flexibility. Windows Phone smart phones might drive power users nuts. You're pretty much stuck with what they give you without a lot of options. Again, it's a lot like the original Microsoft Word, where it does your thinking for you. The help function is also lacking.
Undoubtedly, the bloat will creep in as time goes on and Microsoft releases new versions on future phones. In the meantime, Windows Phone may be a game changer -- with simplicity reminiscent of Apple's iPhone introduction -- even though it's totally different than the iPhone.
It wouldn't surprise me if Windows Phone becomes a hit.
First Published December 5, 2010 12:00 am