Windows Phone 7 Series

The announcement this week of Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 Series has been getting a lot of attention. And, the reviews have been generally positive.

It’s funny how, as designers, we’re so often skeptical about Microsoft. My friend Eric Brown saw the announcement and emailed me, asking, “Am I crazy for liking this?” I feel the same way. It’s not often that we say something positive about Microsoft. But this new phone OS is a refreshing change. Even if it’s not perfect.

The overall aesthetic is surprisingly graphic — an appealing break from the reflections, bevels, and shadows that are so dominant in current UI design. The home screen has a great at-a-glance view of what’s happening within your applications. And the idea that content extends beyond edges of screen is quite bold. Images, headers, labels may appear incomplete and cropped — inviting the user to scroll to see more.

Luke Wroblewski compares the information resolution of a Windows 7 phone to an iPhone. He argues that the iPhone’s UI is more efficient in displaying information, showing more and requiring fewer gestures. I agree with him that the Windows 7 phone’s “teases” seem appealing, although it remains to see how well they’ll work over time.

The transitions are engaging, but is the spatial metaphor complete? In some cases, such as going from screen to screen, there’s the impression of movement through a virtual space. But elsewhere the metaphor feels forgotten, and the goal seems simply to have a dynamic transition. (There are some further examples, and discussion, of this topic here.)

Facebook integration is so strong that, at times, the phone feels like a Facebook device. It’s very different from the internet-device approach of the iPhone.

It’s definitely nice to see a new, graphic, vision for a smartphone UI. But has the real action moved elsewhere? As we wait for the iPad, the most interesting conversations seem to be about what sort of UI is going to replace the desktop metaphor. Is Windows Phone 7 relevant there? Has the focus moved past phones?

P.S. Watching Microsoft’s Hands on Demo I was reminded of how hard Microsoft can try to be casual and cool, but how awkwardly it can come off. Below are some snarky highlights.

Shoulder scratch
Tatoo scratch
Eye scratch