The 411: Mobile World Congress edition

Every two weeks, CNET editor Nicole Lee answers your questions about cell phones and cell phone accessories in The 411.

Nicole Lee Former Editor
Nicole Lee is a senior associate editor for CNET, covering cell phones, Bluetooth headsets, and all things mobile. She's also a fan of comic books, video games, and of course, shiny gadgets.
Nicole Lee
4 min read

Welcome to the 411, my column dealing with all your questions about cell phones and cell phone accessories. At times, I might solicit answers from readers if I'm stumped. Send your questions and comments to me at nicole.lee@cnet.com. If you prefer to remain anonymous, let me know.

Because of the Mobile World Congress 2010 coverage this week, I thought I would dedicate this edition of The 411 column to the big phone show in Barcelona. I received a few questions and comments about the week's announcements through e-mail and my Twitter account, so I thought I would address them here. I've also decided to expand the column beyond the simple Q&A advice structure to allow for more opinion-based answers.

Do u think it'll be a race for 3rd place between Win 7 phone & WebOS devices? - TypeZero3, via Twitter

Windows Phone 7: Will it succeed?
Windows Phone 7: Will it succeed? Microsoft

This was in reference to an earlier post I had written saying that I was glad that Microsoft had finally released Windows Phone 7. To me, it looks like what Windows Mobile should have done all along. It's clear this is Microsoft's response to both the Apple iPhone and Google's recent efforts with the Android operating system. Finally, it seems, Microsoft has managed to make Windows Mobile--oops, I mean Windows Phone--seem cool. The design bears more than a passing resemblance to the Zune HD, with a menu interface and navigation that really nails the look (and possibly feel) of the Zune's finer elements. I'm also intrigued by the "live tiles" feature that gives you a quick view of various applications and functions.

Further, Windows Phone 7 will integrate services from both Zune and Xbox Live. This means you will be able to access your Zune Marketplace and subscription music, and Xbox Live gamers will be able to see their gamer tag, achievements, and more on the phone. Both Zune and Xbox platforms have been a huge boon for Microsoft, and it's heartening to see Microsoft finally incorporating all of its many eggs into one basket.

But your question does remind me that we were once this excited about a mobile operating system before: webOS by Palm. I was definitely a sucker for the deck-of-cards feature when we first saw it at CES 2009, and I was excited about Palm's brave new effort to revitalize a tired brand. But it seems our excitement was premature; Android grew in dominance last year and phones like the Motorola Droid and the Nexus One have effectively pushed it aside. Palm still has its fans, of course, but Android's prominence is undeniable.

So will the same happen to Windows Phone 7? Perhaps, but I think Microsoft's previous successes with the Zune and the Xbox will push them over the edge. Microsoft has a clout that Palm never really had, and though Palm only has a few phones out with webOS, you can bet that Microsoft will be flooding the market with dozens of Windows Phone 7 devices by early 2011.

The real question is whether Microsoft's closed structure can outsmart the open philosophy of Google's Android OS. Microsoft has already said it is imposing hardware restrictions on to manufacturers so that Windows Phone 7 devices will have a similar look-and-feel, which is a far cry from the diversity in the Android realm. The opposite end of the spectrum is the very closed structure of the Apple iPhone, which is still very successful, despite its detractors. In the end, it'll depend on what we'll actually see in the final product. Which I suppose will have to wait until the end of the year.

Is it true that Windows Phone 7 won't have multitasking??? -- Topa, via e-mail

Microsoft has not officially said whether it will offer multitasking (which seems a little suspicious--if you have it, why not say it?), but did dodge by saying that you will be able to play music and still access other parts of the phone. The same goes for accessing e-mail and other push applications. This sounds a lot like the Apple iPhone, which as you know, doesn't do third-party multitasking. But maybe Microsoft might surprise us once Windows Phone 7 ships. So the short answer is, we don't know yet. Sorry!

Does the recent Skype-Verizon Wireless announcement change anything for current/older phones that already have a Skype client available, like WinMo phones? It sounds like the new VZW-Skype client will actually use VZW's voice network, so that VZW is acting like a cellular-to-Skype bridge. But the PR said they're only making this client for Android and BB phones. -- David, via email

When I first heard the Skype-Verizon announcement, I thought the same thing, David. But unfortunately the announcement only applies to BlackBerry and Android phones. You can still use your Skype client on your Windows Mobile phone of course, but it will be over data, not voice. The Skype-Verizon client will only be available on the Motorola Droid, the HTC Droid Eris, the BlackBerry Curve 8350, the BlackBerry Storm 9530, the BlackBerry Storm 2 9550, and the BlackBerry Tour 9630.

But if you do own one of those phones, you will indeed be able to make Skype calls via the 3G network. You can make calls to international landlines via Skype Out to save some money, and you can IM other Skype users, too. My understanding is that Verizon will apply this to all BlackBerry and Android phones going forward, but don't take my word for it. Verizon has said it will roll out this client starting in March 2010.