The Windows Phone 7 Reviewby Anand Lal Shimpi & Brian Klug on October 20, 2010 7:00 PM EST
- Posted in
- Windows Phone 7
Microsoft developed the Windows Phone 7 UI under the codename Metro. It’s supposed to represent the sort of simple chic design you’d find popular in a big city. If Windows Phone 7 is Metro, Windows Mobile 6 was probably suburban. A more accurate codename for the UI would have to be Liquid - there’s just no other way to describe the interface other than fluid.
There are two dominant UI elements spread throughout Windows Phone: the tile and tappable text.
Tappable text is exactly what it sounds like and the OS is littered with examples. Even conventional tabs are nothing more than oversized text in Microsoft’s Segoe UI light font.
The tabs are incredibly useful in Windows Phone, I’d say just as useful as the first time we got tabs in desktop OSes. In the email app for example there’s a tab for viewing only unread messages. To get to that tab, just swipe to the left. Microsoft calls this "pivoting." You even get a preview of the tab before you swipe to it thanks to Microsoft’s wider-than-a-single-screen interface.
Windows Phone tabs are used extensively in other applications. The Music app uses tabs to switch between what’s currently playing and all of your sources of music. The Videos app uses them to sort between different types of videos (e.g. personal vs. movies or TV shows). Apple and Google use tabs in their smartphone OSes but they’re more traditional. Your finger tends to hover around content, and swiping an entire screen to get to the next tab is just quicker than repositioning your finger at the top or bottom of the screen to tap a button. Switching between tabs in Windows Phone just feels more fluid than in the Apple and Google offerings.
The second basic UI element in Windows Phone 7 is the tile. At least on the Start screen, a tile is nothing more than a giant, optionally animated icon. Tiles can either be square or what Microsoft likes to call a double wide, effectively two tiles placed next to each other.
The default tile is composed of a simple white symbol (e.g. a phone, a camera or an IE logo) and a single line of text.
There’s a fine line between a text heavy UI and navigating through a book. Microsoft stays on the right side of that line by making extensive use of color and animation. Most screens are static when you’re looking at them, but start interacting with the screen and the OS subtly updates various parts of the screen to keep everything lively.
Assuming you’ve synced your contacts and/or provided a Facebook account, the People tile will display mini profile pictures of your friends. The OS automatically cycles through your friends and you don’t have to do anything to customize it, it just keeps things fresh.
The same is true for the Pictures doublewide. Your actual photos will cycle in here. The Music + Videos tile will display a photo of whatever artist you just listened to.
The UI is also functional. The Calendar doublewide gives you a listing of your appointments for the current day. Tiles for email, phone and the marketplace spawn counters to tell you how many new items (e.g. emails, missed calls/voicemails) lay within.
Animations are spread heavily throughout the OS and virtually all of them are GPU accelerated.
Windows Phone 7 runs two threads in parallel related to the UI: the render thread and the UI thread. The former preps the current frame for rendering and the latter predominantly handles user input. Most manipulation of objects, animation and transitions is handled by the GPU. In fact, Microsoft seems to have recognized the performance deficit on current ARMv7 processors and shifted most of the performance burden to the GPU.
The entire OS only supports a single GPU at this point: Qualcomm’s Adreno 200. Eventually we’ll see support for the 205 and other GPUs, but today, that’s all Microsoft supports. It’s an important limitation because it ensures that all Windows Phone 7 devices, regardless of vendor, have a fully GPU accelerated UI. While Qualcomm’s Adreno 200 GPU isn’t exactly fast, it’s fast enough to run all of the OS UI animations at a constant 60 fps.
Start screen flying out, mid animation
The GPU is put to constant use in animating everything from moving around within an app to launching the app itself. Apps don’t just appear, they fold in. Tap anything pinned to your Start screen and the tiles will quickly fly, piece by piece. The app/hub you tapped on will fly in with similar pomp and circumstance. Even within an app, switching between tabs is an extremely smooth affair. The Start screen animation occasionally feels like it takes too long, but for the most part it’s a non issue.
The high frame rate animations and the absence of any dropped frames makes Windows Phone feel very fast (at times even faster than iOS). It also makes any occasional choppiness or slowdown from downloaded apps very frustrating.
For the most part the UI never slows down, but once you start downloading apps from the Marketplace all bets are off. Many of the 3rd party apps and even Microsoft’s own Xbox Live Extras app drop frames like there’s no tomorrow. That’s the biggest concern I have for the initial wave of apps: they won’t be tuned for performance as much as the apps you get with the phone. The core OS is so fast you assume the rest of the WP7 world will be the same. Ultimately as performance agnostic as Microsoft has tried to make Windows Phone, you will eventually run into UI slowdowns - just not with the Microsoft apps that come with the phone.
Progress bars echo the UI’s minimalist design. You get five animated dots that fly by the top of the screen when you’re waiting for network response (e.g. loading pages in the Marketplace).
All of the progress bars animate smoothly and seemingly linearly, which helps make the phone feel fast even when it’s taking a long time to do something. This is made most evident while loading web pages in IE mobile.
The overall UI is very well thought out. It’s clean, attractive and performant. It’s easily the best UI Microsoft has ever created and one that I hope inspires revolutionary designs within the company’s other business units.
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AssBall - Thursday, October 21, 2010 - linkLOL! Yeah, I think he needs to lay off the Ritalin.
morphologia - Thursday, October 21, 2010 - linkSeems to me you are creating the problem yourself by caring about it so much. No one is forcing you to take such exception to political imagery. All you have to do is not care and the problem magically vanishes.
Fleeb - Saturday, October 23, 2010 - linkI did not even noticed that there is a Pepsi billboard in there up until you mentioned it. :S
Exelius - Wednesday, October 20, 2010 - linkGiven the head start Apple and Google have, what are Microsoft's prospects with the carriers?
Carrier support is obviously very important with licensed models like WP7 and Android... As Google learned with the Nexus One, what are Microsoft's prospects in mobile? Verizon is highly invested in Android, so don't look for them to push Android phones heavily, and AT&T is still riding Apple's cash cow... I don't think the two platform's positions are a coincidence.
Furthermore, is Microsoft prepared to potentially be the #3 mobile platform long-term? And that's assuming they can get out in front of RIM. I don't know that they have a chance of catching Google or Apple (Microsoft as a consumer brand is probably irreparably damaged and Google and Apple are still very popular.)
anactoraaron - Wednesday, October 20, 2010 - linkthis is the #1 reason that I have right now for buying a WP7 phone. "Microsoft needs to pay the bills"??? Are you serious!?!? So their profits on Windows and Office are only for spending 1 billion on advertising and we get to eat it on seeing ads when I am searching through my email??? I can't understand the justification on not blasting MS here on this... which of their competitors do this now? This opens a door full of feces that I would rather not touch... Imagine turning on your phone to be bombarded by 3-10 ads before you can use the phone... and it starts with consumers being ok with an ad here and there while you do things not web related on your phone... "xbox live brought to your WP7 phone by Applebees- tap here to find the nearest applebees while your game loads"
NO WAY MS... good try though. I guess it's up to Nokia/Intel with their meego to get my hard earned money... I am not paying for those ads on my phone - no way no how.
Smilin - Monday, October 25, 2010 - linkWhich of their competitors do this now?
Apple and Google that I'm aware of. Settle down beavis.
mcnabney - Wednesday, October 20, 2010 - linkConsumers know of three key smartphone products right now - Apple, Android, and RIM. The people that do know about Microsoft's previous offerings are probably still bitter.
How will Microsoft overcome this deficit? They actually don't offer anything more than a nice slick interface that runs integrated functions smoothly, but falters on Apps. They won't even benefit from the latest must-have hardware - the launch phones are essentially 6 month old equipment.
RIM has always banked on the business customer, Apple with the trendy, and Android got everyone else. Well, they all have mature products now. Android was able to gain traction due to the iPhone/AT&T exclusivity which made them the only 'consumer targeted' smartphone on the other three American carriers. That was key to Android's success. There is no longer a pent-up demand for Microsoft to attach itself to.
What wasn't mentioned in the article is the competitive landscape for these devices. They will be going against superior Android hardware and a new version of the Pre. I just don't see much demand for these outside of the Zune-faithful.
lwatcdr - Thursday, October 21, 2010 - linkYep it all comes down to on thing.
Is Windows Phone 7 better in every way than IOS and Android. Frankly WebOS is also a very good mobile platform but is not getting anywhere near the buzz that it should.
Just being as good as just isn't enough when your competitors have a huge lead.
For me the big thing that WP7 offers will be ZunePass. If you are a music person that could be a huge benefit and it is a really good service I hear. I just don't think these devices are good enough and the lack of apps is a huge barrier.
AssBall - Thursday, October 21, 2010 - linkRemember the microsoft compatibility though. This OS has the potential to make for excellent corporate phones.
teohhanhui - Monday, October 25, 2010 - linkLatest must-have hardware? That won't really matter to the average consumer. (And higher raw performance doesn't necessarily translate into better responsiveness, which greatly affects the user's perception of performance.)