There’s that moment you get off a plane in a foreign land. The air smells different. You don’t understand people when they talk to you. And they drive on the wrong side of the road.
It’s all so foreign, so different; but it’s also appealing and attractive.
That’s how it felt the the first time I used a Windows Phone 7 device.
I was instantly enchanted. But also disoriented and more than a little confused. It’s very different – in a good way – from my beloved iPhone.
Windows Phone 7 is Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s iPhone. Or, to be more precise, Microsoft’s answer to iOS, which is the operating system software that Apple designed and built to run on the iPhone.
You see, Microsoft doesn’t actually make phones like Apple does. It just make the software that runs on phones, like the company makes Windows to run on computers made by other companies.
And that’s a problem.
I’m an iPhone user, and a huge part of the appeal of this glorious device is the graceful union of the hardware and software. They are consummate.
It’s quite the opposite with the wonderful Windows Phone 7, which feels at odds with the very limited array of generally crappy devices it’s currently available on.
But that’s really just a part of the platform’s growing pains, and we will likely see it remedied when – fingers crossed – devices like the gorgeous Nokia Lumia 800 arrive in North America next year.
Another problem with Windows Phone 7, and this is probably why you haven’t even heard of this year-old operating system, is its lack of availability.
Not all Canadian mobile carriers offer Windows Phone 7 devices, and those that do, offer only one aging model. And as I mentioned, these devices are generally gross, so you’ve probably passed them over when shopping for a new phone.
Simply put, Microsoft’s Window Phone 7 is the underdog in the mobile phone market.
That’s a huge pity. Because it’s arguably the best mobile operating system available.
There’s much to like about Windows Phone 7, and it begins with the home screen – the first thing you see when you turn the phone on.
The home screen is extremely attractive, well thought out, and useful beyond par.
It’s not a gallery of stale, stagnant app icons. Instead, it’s a collection of living, breathing “tiles”.
And unlike the iPhone, where you have to go digging for information through any number of apps, Windows Phone 7’s tiles are designed to deliver valuable data to you as soon as you turn on your phone.
The Calendar tile displays upcoming events and tasks.
As the people you know become active on Facebook or Twitter, you’ll see their faces appear on the People tile.
In fact, you can give certain people their own tiles on your home screen to have their latest online exploits displayed to you automatically.
It’s a great way to stay aware of what people are doing. Or stalk them, your choice.
Microsoft deserves tremendous credit for completely rethinking and advancing what the home screen of a mobile device can and should be.
The iPhone’s home screen is outmoded in comparison.
Beyond the home screen, though, there’s a lot to like about Windows Phone 7.
Its design is bold, simple, and intuitive.
Inside apps, rather than tapping between different views of information, you swipe laterally across contiguous panoramas.
This is a more effective way of dealing with information because it has a storytelling effect.
It’s like surveying a scene that logically presents relevant and related ideas and facts.
The People app, for example, (or “hub”, as Microsoft calls it) starts with a view of pictures of the people who you’ve been actively communicating with lately. As you swipe across the hub (or “pivot” – another new piece of Microsoft jargon), you move through an indexed view of contacts and then on to a more extensive view of Facebook activity, Twitter posts, and emails.
At any point you can view a specific person’s details for a consummate view of what they’re doing online.
It’s this method of aggregating, or bringing together, information from a lot of different sources into comprehensive views that makes the Windows Phone 7 experience so compelling and positive.
If the iPhone is a collection of holes (aka apps) you repeatedly dig down into for tidbits of information, Windows Phone 7 is all about sitting on a mountaintop to survey the total landscape, periodically using a pair of binoculars to zoom in on one aspect of the vista.
It somewhat pains me to say it, but Windows Phone 7 is a human-friendly platform that makes the iPhone feels downright geeky in comparison.
Once past the sheen of the home screen and the smarts of the platform’s various hubs, however, Windows Phone 7 quickly demonstrates its functional immaturity.
There’s no tethering your computer to your Windows Phone 7 device for remote internet access, for example.
The level of integration with Microsoft’s Windows and XBox ecosystems is virtually non-existent in comparison to what you can do with an iPhone and Apple’s various products.
And the Windows Phone 7 app store, called the Marketplace, can’t hold a candle to the selection and quality you’ll find for iPhone.
That might be why, though, app management in Windows Phone 7 is so simplistic as to be pathetic.
All that said, Microsoft is clearly committed to its year-old platform, and we should see the company make huge advancements in coming months.
2012 may well be the year that Windows Phone 7 becomes a contender in the mobile phone marketplace, with software improvements and new devices that you’ll actually be willing to admit to owning.
Of course, this all depends on whether or not Canadian carriers actually become interested enough in Windows Phone 7 to start promoting it to their customers.
I wouldn’t recommend purchasing any currently-available Windows Phone 7 device. The hardware options are awful in Canada, and the software isn’t quite up to the level of maturity we’re accustomed to on other platforms.
But give Windows Phone 7 six months to a year, and it will likely be worthy of your consideration.
Windows Phone 7 may be a strange, underdeveloped foreign land now, but it’s an emerging country that even a die-hard iPhone user like myself might one day consider moving to.
Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, December 20, 2011.