Microsoft hopes shortcuts work this time for Windows phone

Windows Phone 7 is a contender for your next smartphone, and your business fleet.

Microsoft has always loved consistency. Ever since the first iterations of Windows CE, way back in 1996, the company has touted the omnipresence of its application programming interfaces across multiple devices as a strength.

The shortcuts offered to developers, it argued, would encourage them to extend their skills and applications across devices.

Users of devices powered by the mobile versions of Windows were also offered a shortcut in the form of a familiar user interface that modelled itself on the Windows desktop.

But this shortcut led nowhere. The desktop metaphor beloved of desktop graphical user interfaces was never a comfortable way to use a smartphone. Once devices like the iPhone and BlackBerry came along, followed by Android, phones running Windows Mobile were revealed as embarrassingly clunky and Microsoft’s market share became an afterthought.

Microsoft has since famously turned on the afterburners and created Windows Phone 7, launched today.

The phrase Microsoft uttered non-stop during the press event was “the things I care about most,” as the new operating system offers myriad ways to collect content and applications under “tiles” so that you can access information you desire with one click. This approach, local MD Tracey Fellows insists, is easier than rivals’ as it means users “don’t need to open an app to get things done.”

I played with a Windows 7 phone for a few minutes and the experience is undeniably appealing. The interface is certainly a rival for the Android and iOS alternatives, offering an intuitive and appealing way to navigate a phone.

Native apps can also be networked and personalised. Your contacts, for example, can have details of their social networks included so that you see familiar details like email address and phone number alongside their most recent Facebook updates or Flickr photos.

The “tiles” and “hubs,” as the navigational elements are known, quickly reveal useful information. Both are customizable: if you want a contact and their lifestream to reside on the phone’s front page, you can create a tile to make it so.

In a short time, it becomes apparent that these shortcuts offer a powerful experience. Customising your mobile environment has obvious productivity potential.

Which is not to say the phone is a revolution-in-waiting. The new versions of Office are clearly updates, but are still hard to use thanks to a combination of a small on-screen keyboard and insufficient screen space to edit documents. The majority of services mentioned at the launch were aimed at consumers, and the currently-anemic app store offers little to excite business users.

The OS does, however, boast various management features that will mean system administrators will not fear it represents an unusual threat.

Overall, Microsoft seems to have created a contender. And it’s the shortcuts that give Windows Phone 7 that status.

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