Smartphone fans have been abuzz ever since Windows Phone 7 Series was announced, but a lot of questions remain. CNET tries to provide some answers.
Bonnie ChaFormer Editor
Bonnie Cha was a former chief correspondent for CNET Crave, covering every kind of tech toy imaginable (with a special obsession for robots and Star Wars-related stuff). When she's not scoping out stories, you can find her checking out live music or surfing in the chilly waters of Northern California.
We realize it's still early in the year, but we don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that Windows Phone 7 Series is one of the biggest mobile tech stories to come out of 2010. Finally, Microsoft delivered a mobile operating system that not only looks completely new and compelling, but is also functional and competitive. However, there are still a number of unanswered questions and ever since the big reveal at Mobile World Congress 2010, we've gotten a steady stream of reader e-mails about Windows Phone 7 Series.
Instead of trying to answer each one individually, we decided to compile some of the most frequently asked questions and we sent them to the Windows Phone team in hopes of getting some more specific answers for you. We've incorporated their responses below, and included some of the latest information from MIX10 and from around the Web.
We'll be updating this FAQ regularly as more details are revealed throughout the coming weeks and months. Also, keep sending in your questions and we'll do our best to get them answered for you. Now, without further ado, your Windows Phone 7 Series FAQ.
When will we be able to get Windows Phone 7 Series devices?
Unfortunately, Windows Phone 7 handsets won't hit store shelves till the holiday season. LG recently raised some false hopes after the company told Engadget Mobile China that it would release its first Window Phone 7 smartphone as early as September. However, LG has since backed away from that statement and said its goal is to ship devices in Q4.
Who will make the devices and which carriers will offer them?
Microsoft revealed its Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) and carrier partners at Mobile World Congress 2010. Hardware partners include Dell, HTC, Garmin-Asus, HP, LG, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, and Toshiba. Qualcomm will be the chip provider. Carrier partnerships include AT&T, T-Mobile USA, Sprint, Verizon Wireless, Deutsch Telecom, Orange, Telecom Italia, SFR, Telefonica, Telstra, and Vodafone.
At the official unveiling event, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer added that the company is working closely with AT&T and Orange, in particular, to have devices at launch.
What will the hardware be like?
Though the new user interface was certainly exciting, one of the most interesting things we took away from the press conference was the fact that Microsoft is tightening its grip on what OEMs can and cannot do with hardware and software. With Windows Phone 7 Series, each handset will be required to have a Home, Back, and Search button, and they won't be able to replace or skin the UI.
Microsoft said the reason behind this is to provide a consistent user experience across all of its phones, but added that its partners will still have opportunities to customize devices, as long as its "synergistic with what we have provided." In fact, when we asked HTC about this at Mobile World Congress, the company said that you will still see HTC Sense on its Windows Phone 7 Series mobiles, but just not in the way you're used to seeing it now.
All that said, there are reports that Windows Phone 7 Series hardware will come in three models. Chassis 1 will have a full touch screen, 1GHz processor, and dedicated graphics accelerator. Chassis 2 will feature a touch screen and a dedicated keyboard (a la Palm Treo), but as SlashGear points out, the Treo comparison is somewhat strange since Microsoft has specific requirements for screen aspect/size. Finally, Chassis 3 is a mystery, though some suspect a candy-bar-type design. When asked about this, Microsoft said it does not comment on rumors or speculation.
Will Windows Phone 7 Series support non-touch devices?
No, it will only support capacitive screens and multitouch. The first batch of Windows Phone 7 Series handsets will support WVGA resolution (800x480 pixels) but eventually will open up to HVGA (480x320 pixels) touch screens.
How will Windows Phone 7 series handle multitasking and notifications?
At Mobile World Congress, Microsoft said that the OS was designed to provide a great user experience so you can do things like listen to music and search the Web. However, more details about multitasking were revealed at MIX10 that seem to point to the fact that the platform won't support true multitasking like Palm WebOS.
As CNET News reporter Ina Fried points out in her article, the devil is in the details. On the one hand, the core of Windows Phone 7 allows the OS to multitask in the sense of retrieving and processing Web pages and e-mail in the background. However, Joe Belfiore, Microsoft's corporate vice president and director of Windows Phone Program Management, told Fried that the company is more focused on ensuring that apps can save their place when another app is open in the foreground, rather than having them run in the background.
In addition, though one can play music using the built-in Zune player while working on another task, a third-party music app wouldn't be able to do the same thing using its own technology. Belfiore added that the company is exploring the idea of giving developers access to the Zune player to allow this type of multitasking.
Microsoft also demonstrated at MIX10 how push notifications would work on Windows Phone 7. Using the Major League Soccer app as an example, Microsoft's Charlie Kindel showed the audience how one could be working the Calendar app and still receive notifications (e.g., updated soccer scores) via an inconspicuous pop-up alert along the top of the screen, even if the app isn't running. From there, the user can tap on the notification to open the full app and get more information. You can see the push notification system in action from the MIX keynote presentation here (skip to the 1:54 mark; Silverlight required).
Will Windows Phone 7 Series support Flash?
Adobe has already gone on the record to say that it is working closely with Microsoft to bring Flash to future Windows Phone 7 Series phones. However, it most likely won't be ready when the first batch of phones ship during the holiday season.
Will developers have to completely rewrite their apps for Windows Phone 7 Series?
At a briefing with journalists on March 4 in San Francisco, Microsoft's Charlie Kindel revealed that XNA and Silverlight will be the main means of writing software for Windows Phone 7 series. "Overnight those developers become Windows Phone developers," Kindel said. "One of our principles is to build on the shoulders of giants."
Developers can download the Windows Phone Developer Tools now, which includes Visual Studio 2010 Express for Windows Phone, Windows Phone 7 Series Add-in for Visual Studio, Windows Phone 7 Series Emulator, and XNA Game Studio 4.0, as well as a preview of Expression Blend 4 for Windows Phone.
Microsoft's Tom Biggs told Engadget Mobile that developers will have to submit their applications for approval but the company plans to make the process more transparent than Apple does and will meet regularly to re-examine rules and adjust them if needed. App partners already onboard with Windows Phone 7 Series include Pandora, Shazam, Seesmic, Foursquare, Namco, EA Mobile, the Associated Press, and Sling Media.
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Will you be able to side-load apps with Windows Phone 7 Series?
No. In fact, Windows Phone 7 Series phones won't support user-replaceable memory cards at all. In an interview with PC Mag, Kindel said that Microsoft will work with OEMs to make sure that the devices will have enough storage for media and apps, and though some handsets might have a microSD slot, it will be locked down under the battery.
It was also revealed at MIX that the new Windows Phone Marketplace will be the only way to get apps on Windows Phone 7 Series devices, though you will be able to uninstall and reinstall them on other devices via your Windows Live account.
Will Windows Mobile 6.5 smartphones be upgradable to Windows Phone 7 Series?
This has been a hot topic of debate. Some say it will be up to the OEMs, and others say it's flat-out just not happening. For the record, here's Microsoft's official statement on the matter: "For Windows Phone 7 Series, we are enforcing a strict set of hardware requirements to ensure a consistently great experience for end-users and developers. While we cannot confirm that WM6.X phones that satisfy those requirements will be upgradeable, every Windows Phone 7 Series device will be upgradeable with improvements and features we deliver with subsequent Windows Phone 7 Series releases."
Somewhat of a nonanswer, but if we were to read between the lines, it sounds like even though a device, such as the HTC HD2, meets some of specifications (1GHz processor, capacitive touch screen, multitouch) since it doesn't have the three hardware buttons, it wouldn't meet all the requirements of Windows Phone 7 Series.
Microsoft has now confirmed our suspicions. Following the aforementioned March 4 event, the company held a Q&A session via Twitter, and responding to a user question, wrote "we have no current plans to support updating the HD2 to Windows Phone 7 Series." Kindel also wrote in his blog, "To enable the fantastic user experiences you've seen in the Windows Phone 7 Series demos so far we've had to break from the past. To deliver what developers expect in the developer platform we've had to change how phone apps were written. One result of this is previous Windows mobile applications will not run on Windows Phone 7 Series."
What will happen to current Windows Mobile 6.5 smartphones?
Microsoft will continue to support Windows Mobile 6.5 devices when Windows Phone 7 Series handsets are available. In fact, Kindel said that the company will work with its partners to release new smartphones based on Windows Mobile 6.5 for years to come and writes in his blog, "it's not as though one line ends as soon as the other begins."
The company, however, has not made any rebranding decisions for Windows Mobile 6.5. In other words, it may or may not be called Windows Phone Classic.
Will Windows Phone 7 Series work with Zune Pass?
Microsoft has not shared details about the full Zune experience for Windows Phone 7 Series. Generally speaking, the Music + Video hub will allow you to access content from your PC, online music services, and even a built-in FM radio in one place. You will also be able to use Zune Social to share your media recommendations with others.
Will users be able to sync their music from Windows Media Player?
Windows Phone 7 Series will require the Zune client to sync content to the phone. Microsoft has not commented on Windows Media Player.