Microsoft Shows Zune-Like Windows (7) Phone

Microsoft has just unveiled its Windows 7 Phone. It "disses" apps, relies more heavily on widgets and promises a more integrated experience -- a "new beginning" in the smartphone story. It borrows elements from both the iPhone and Android but combines them in a new, visually distinctive way (kudos to Microsoft on interface design, except for the homepage, which I don't particularly like).

I don't have one in my hand so I'll rely on third parties and the press materials. It offers a very Zune-like interface (with Xbox Live integrated) and is a complete redesign vs. 6.5.

From the press release:

With Windows Phone 7 Series, Microsoft takes a fundamentally different approach to phone software. Smart design begins with a new, holistic design system that informs every aspect of the phone, from its visually appealing layout and motion to its function and hardware integration. On the Start screen, dynamically updated “live tiles” show users real-time content directly, breaking the mold of static icons that serve as an intermediate step on the way to an application. Create a tile of a friend, and the user gains a readable, up-to-date view of a friend’s latest pictures and posts, just by glancing at Start.

Every Windows Phone 7 Series phone will come with a dedicated hardware button for Bing, providing one-click access to search from anywhere on the phone, while a special implementation of Bing search provides intent-specific results, delivering the most relevant Web or local results, depending on the type of query.

Here's the Ballmer GSM keynote replay; here are Windows (7) Phone screens. Here are some first impressions (with a lot of blanks) from:

Ballmer is still on stage as I write this, promising this as a next generation device and user experience. He envisions lots of Windows Phones but wants more consistency in the user experience and says that Microsoft will work more closely with operators than it has in the past. Here's is the initial partner list:

Mobile operators AT&T, Deutsche Telekom AG, Orange, SFR, Sprint, Telecom Italia, Telefónica, Telstra, T-Mobile USA, Verizon Wireless and Vodafone, and manufacturers Dell, Garmin-Asus, HTC Corp., HP, LG, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Toshiba and Qualcomm Inc.

Microsoft is trying to position itself as more operator-friendly (vs. RIM, Android, Apple), "They're not just dumb pipes," says Microsoft's Andy Lees who shared the stage with Ballmer. Two key operator partners will be Orange and AT&T. This is a jab at Apple and AT&T asserting its independence a bit too. 

It won't be available apparently until "holiday 2010." We'll need to hold one and use it before any assessments can be made about its competitiveness. It does look much better than 6.5 however. There's no way this is an "iPhone killer," the question is whether it can compete with Android handsets. Regardless, it's good for everyone if Microsoft is more competitive in the smartphone market. 

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Related: See Bloomberg video/interview with Steve Ballmer (Windows Media only)