Microsoft has dropped the traditional Windows Mobile look in its new Windows Phone 7 operating system, and gone for a multi-touch interface similar to the iPhone.
Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer made a veiled reference to the Apple product at a press launch at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona when he said that the firm "had to step back a couple of years ago to think what we were doing".
The result is a complete redesign which does away with the old Windows Mobile look modelled on the PC interface. Users are instead presented with a scrollable set of icons to access customisable hubs and draw together similar tasks.
A People hub brings together everything from email to social networking, a Games hub links to Xbox Live, a Marketplace hub offers third-party applications, and other hubs link to music, video and pictures. The Music hub is effectively a Zune player.
The corporate market has not been forgotten either, and an Office hub provides access to productivity applications.
This has some nice touches, such as automatic colour-coding of personal and work appointments. Addresses are recognised automatically, picked out in colour, and turned into hyperlinks that lead to Microsoft's Big maps and other information.
The interface as a whole looked good, albeit inevitably with a me-too feel. Ballmer said that Windows Phone 7 products should be on the market by Christmas, later than most of the new products on show, including those using the rival Android system.
Windows Phone 7 is a platform rather than just a suite of software. The demonstration phone evidently used an ARM-based Snapdragon chip from Qualcomm, which has been working with Microsoft to product a tight hardware specification.
However, a press release from Qualcomm implied that other systems-on-a-chip could also be used. One manufacturer said to be developing a Microsoft phone is Samsung, which makes its own ARM-based chips and might gain an edge by tail oring a chip to a product.
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