Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Windows Phone: A viable alternative?

Yes, there is another operating system besides Android, iOS and Symbian for smartphones. Microsoft has been toiling away in the mobile operating system area for more than a decade now. They started off with Windows Mobile which saw 6 iterations before MS dumped it entirely and built Windows Phone 7 (WP7) from the ground up. I have handled several sets featuring Windows Mobile, and contrary to the popular trend, always came away impressed. See, I have always fantasized about having a computer in my pocket, and back then, computer used to be a synonym to "windows based machine". Windows Mobile did a stellar job of bringing the look and feel of Windows XP to a mobile device. Unfortunately, it was not a marriage made in heaven. While the OS was certainly the most powerful around, with the ability to run Office and other core Windows apps, it suffered from difficulty of operation and small text that seemed ill suited to thumb operation.

After the advent of iOS with iPhone in 2007, the core focus of smartphones was forcibly shifted towards usability. It can be argued that iOS sacrifices too much functionality to achieve its ease of use goals. Ironically, some of the key features of iOS end up making the device more difficult to use. However, the competitors failed to notice this paradigm shift and stuck to their guns - Nokia to Symbian and MS to Windows Mobile. They believed that their solutions were superior to iOS and therefore there was no need to change.

Needless to say, the rest is history. While not being the first touchscreen phone, iPhone showed the world that it was perfectly logical to have a touchscreen on your phone, and sent Symbian packing, while MS went back to the drawing board.

This is what they came up with:

Windows Phone 7 was introduced in 2010 to enthusiastic reviews but lukewarm sales. Due to Microsoft's tightly defined hardware and software guidelines, all WP7 sets sport similar specs and identical software. This means that OEMs can only differentiate their phones with design and hardware features.

I have used a WP7 called HTC Radar and have the following impressions:

1) Very elegant and fluid interface
2) Very good built in apps
3) Entirely unlike anything else
4) Tight integration with MS Office, Internet Explorer and Outlook
5) No major features expected in a mobile OS are missing
6) Wide variety of sets available starting at Rs25k and upward

1) Screens are stuck to 800x480 resolution which is no longer par for the course
2) Limited applications available compared to iOS and Android
3) Simplistic approach sometimes reduces ease of use
4) No Flash support in browser
5) Your phone will look identical to everyone else's.

1) Not for anyone coming from Android - too much functionality missing
2) Ideal solution for iPhone users. WP7 is much more powerful and much more elegant than iOS

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