Announced Monday morning, the Windows Phone 7 Series is a surprisingly fresh take on how a smartphone should look and work. Not only is the Zune software integrated, but third-party apps like Pandora are integrated into the interface.
At long last, the Zune Phone is here. Microsoft isn't calling it that--apparently it thought the name Windows Phone 7 Series rolled off the tongue a bit more easily--but the next generation of Microsoft's smartphone software not only features the entire Zune HD software and services experience (just like the iPod became a component of the iPhone), but the entire user interface itself bears a close resemblance to the Zune HD.
To be clear, Microsoft isn't building the hardware like it did with Zune--rather, partners like HTC, LG, and Samsung will do that work. But a lot of what the company learned from several iterations of Zune design has been rolled into its mobile platform.
Microsoft introduced Windows Phone 7 Series Monday morning at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, and there's a lot to wrap your head around. I'll leave the full rundown to others at CNET, but one of the most interesting aspects is the way Microsoft seems to be trying to get rid of the notion of "apps," which have become the iPhone's calling card and are widely imitated by every other smart phone OS out there.
I don't mean that Windows Phone 7 Series phones won't support third-party applications--of course they will. But you won't interact with those applications by selecting a specific icon, opening an app, doing whatever you want to do, then closing it and moving on to something else.
In the case of music, Microsoft demonstrated how you could integrate Pandora's streaming service directly into the Music and Video hub of the phone, right alongside your onboard music catalog and Zune Pass content. (You can see the Music and Video demo starting around 06:43:17 in this video from the conference.) So, for example, if you've created a new Pandora radio station, a "tile" (not "icon") for that station will appear under the "new" menu alongside any other music you've added from your PC or Zune Pass.
There are a lot of other mouth-watering features--Xbox Live integration and a version of Outlook that could put other mobile e-mail apps to shame--and a lot of unanswered questions like backward-compatibility and whether it will use the MyPhone backup service announced with such fanfare last fall for Windows Mobile 6.5. But overall, this is the first time I've been excited about Microsoft's mobile strategy since...well, ever.