Some Welcome Variation In Our Increasingly Mobile World

The iPhone may be my favorite device of the last ten years. No other gizmo since the PC has so fundamentally altered the way I interact with the web and my social circle.

But the iPhone’s ubiquity in the mobile space scares the living daylights out of me.

It frightens me the same way I’m frightened by the deceptive feeling of serenity that blankets me as I continue to surrender more and more of my data to Google (current buddy, future megalomaniac). The thought leaders at Apple have crafted an experience so warm and fuzzy it’s nearly impossible to escape its allure, even as it wallops all of its competitors.

I simultaneously sing the praises of the Semantic Web (often at the expense of rich media plugins such as Flash and Silverlight) while gleefully supporting dozens of apps delivered via the iPhone’s closed, draconian marketplace. The irony (hypocrisy?) therein is not lost on me.

It seems pretentious to avoid these products solely on insular, geeky principal, so I continue to champion competitors in hopes that a superior device will emerge or, at the very least, keep Apple under enough pressure and scrutiny to maintain their innovation and avoid sinking into mediocrity (remember?).

I had extremely high hopes for Palm’s WebOS, but a still-floundering app ecosystem coupled with some truly strange hardware choices appear to have sabotaged its chances. While I have much more confidence in the Android OS as a powerful and capable mobile device standard (especially in the long-term), the platform seems troubled by a lack-of-consistency between devices and the same snore-inducing, incremental release cycle that eventually tempered my excitement for ambitious open source projects like Ubuntu.

It could just be my ignorance of the platform, but as the iPhone becomes increasingly capable at performing business tasks I begin to look upon Blackberry users as I did AOL users ten years ago—with a feeling of solicitude generally reserved for endangered species.

What we need is a platform with a distinctive and decidedly un-iPhone-like user experience (an iPhone killer killer), produced by a company with experience facilitating ecosystems yet still capable of supporting a wide range of hardware and service providers.

Did you just say Windows?

That’s right, Microsoft showed off Windows Phone 7 Series this week, and it looks great. The minds responsible for the well-reviewed Zune HD have re-designed the mobile operating system from scratch. Designers like myself who admire the HD’s interface are thrilled, but considering the Zune’s marketshare could be very generously described as having a “lack of ubiquity,” it’s a brave (and admirable) move to hand them the keys to Microsoft’s mobile future.

Instead of forcing the user into disparate applications specific to function (iPhone) or allowing the user to multi-task until their poor little phone grinds to a halt (Android), Windows 7 Phones establish contextual hubs of interest. If you want to see what your cousin has been up to this week, you don’t have to check email, Facebook, Twitter and chat in separate apps; simply tap “People,” then select your cousin’s profile. This style of traversing your media and social circle is extremely thoughtful and appears to be well-executed. I know it won’t please everyone, but I’m certain a percentage of the population will instantly prefer it.

The interface itself looks completely unique, at least if you’ve never used a Zune. Subtleties like highlights, shadows, soft corners and texture are completely absent, allowing only color, typography and your content to show through. While occasionally abrasive (especially in the calendar application), it’s a striking choice that’s extremely memorable and looks beautiful in motion.

It isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, though. The browser is still Internet Explorer, albeit the improved (but sluggish) version found in the Zune HD. Until Mobile IE supports the same sort of HTML5 features that have enabled web app developers to deliver rich mobile experiences to the iPhone and Android devices, Windows Phones will still be an obstacle in the evolution of the mobile web. Perhaps most depressingly, hardware actually supporting this OS probably won’t debut until Christmas, and who knows what may have changed by then.

Aside from the platform itself, what excites me most about this announcement is that another Apple competitor has finally shown they’re awake. Watching Apple merrily stomp ahead with Android slowly gaining ground and Palm off in the distance is becoming tiresome.

But an Apple/Google/Microsoft/Palm slugfest? I’d pay to see that.

Responses

Tim Sears says

It sure feels a lot like history is repeating itself, doesn’t it?

Responded

chriskalani says

I highly doubt I will ever own one BUT I am excited about Microsoft trying something different. Not just different for them but different for mobile UI as a whole. I hope it does well, I really do. Anything that helps push everyone else’s design is a plus in my book.

Responded

Scott McAuliffe says

This is the right direction for Windows Mobile to go in by pushing a shift in the way we think about using a phone. Following doesn’t get you much in this space besides an “oh look, another iPhone variation” and I think WinMo is now seen more as a competitor vs. a follower (if even that).

Plus, I second your hype about the mobile competition. Looking forward to the innovations that will drive and I want to see what Apple’s response will be. This is the first mobile product that makes me feel like the iPhone is looking a little tired. we’ll see if it holds up in real life.

Responded

Vin Thomas says

I am running a WM 6.1 phone right now. If my work wasn’t footing the bill, it would be in the bottom of a creek somewhere. I am glad they’re taking steps to make Windows Mobile a bit more modern and relevant.

Responded

Tyler Sticka says

Vin, as a current Windows Mobile user, are you at all displeased that they’ll be cutting off 6.0 compatibility in favor of a clean slate?

Responded

Vin Thomas says

Personally I could care less. The phone I have now (Samsung Saga) is horrible. I think they are smart to just let it die completely. Although I don’t forsee myself going the WM7 route, it looks a heck of a lot better than any previous go at it.

I am more excited about the Android platform than any of the other “iPhone Killers” out there. My wife has an HTC Hero on Android and it is pretty slick.

Responded

Frosty Goodness says

I for one welcome it. Particularly if they stick to their guns about not letting individual manufacturers customize the UI. While I love my Android, the disparity between carriers/manufacturers and their UI/mobile versions is a particular sore spot that I think Google made a big oops on (hence the existence of the Nexus One).

As mentioned before, as a Mac/Android guy I’ll likely never own one, but I like the existence of qualified competition.

Responded

Allen Newton says

The draw for me to Win7 design is the move away from the “there’s an app for that” paradigm. Jumping in and out of applications that I use the most, like facebook and maps, is tedious right now. (WinMo 6.5 on HTC TouchPro2). I hope there is some developer love and a broader/successful marketplace on the new phone. The big question I’m hearing people talk about is how relevant will this phone be given the opening Microsoft made for the competition by showing us and making us wait. Still, I’m willing to shell out the money to get it as soon as I can.

Responded

Leave a response

Your email address won’t be published. You can use some HTML or Markdown.