Scott Barnes, formerly a Microsoft Rich Platform Product Manager (WPF & Silverlight), has voiced his opinions on the Windows Phone 7 user interface (UI).
Barnes covers various topics of thought on the Windows Phone 7 announcements and admits when he initially saw the early specs, whilst he was working at Microsoft, he was "a little jaded with the whole level of commitment to the UX." He compares the new UI to that of the iPhone:
"the UI is trying a little to hard to do the opposite of the iPhone, like it’s a challenge they need to rise up against. Examples like no Icons, panning up/down instead of left / right for content etc seems to pack a little too much anti-iPhone."
Barnes also feels the Windows Phone 7 launch is similar to Vista. "This is the Windows Vista launch, as after some code resets and downward pressure from above this is almost exactly the same internal conditions Windows Vista team had before their launch, 'get it to market, get it fast and we’ll come back around for the bits we wanted to put in place'."
After playing with a Windows Phone 7 series device I have similar concerns about the user interface. It's fast and gives you a quick overview of information but having to "Pivot" (slide) through panels of information isn't natural and could easily cause usability issues. Sliding to different parts of content is fine in principle, providing you know there's more content to slide to and you have a preview or understanding of what content you can slide to in either direction. I feel that Windows Phone 7 doesn't address this and buries options and content too far into what is referred to as a "Hub".
Microsoft switched their strategy for Windows Mobile approximately two years ago when they decided to "reset". Similar to the Longhorn (Vista) reset and subsequent development of Windows 7, Windows Mobile internal groups went through restructuring and a series of changes designed to improve the development process. I can't help but feel despite this effort, and the tasks involved, that it could be too late. The UI is basic and doesn't offer anything really compelling that makes you want to purchase a Windows Phone 7 device yet. The integration with web services is fantastic and a great step in the right direction but the UI is lacking somewhat. HTC spent years covering up the UI problems in Windows Mobile and Microsoft seems to have addressed this by ensuring every part of the OS now looks the same and functions the same. The problem is by doing this they have lost a great UI that they could have embraced and built upon in partnership with HTC. It's still not fully clear whether HTC will bring a cut down version of Sense to Windows Phone 7. The company could create a Start Screen tile or Custom Hub. Looking at Windows Phone 6.5 with the Sense UI and comparing this to Windows Phone 7, I don't get the feeling of "wow" or usability that I get with the HTC Sense bar or impressive weather animations. The rest of the Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system underneath isn't as consistent however, Windows Phone 7 fixes that issue.
Despite my UI reservations, Microsoft has many months until Windows Phone 7 will hit the market. We know very little about how applications will interface with the operating system and which developers plan to create Windows Phone 7 apps. The juicy details of how Windows Phone 7 will position itself in the market won't arrive for another few weeks until MIX 2010 in March. Meanwhile Apple is likely to react to the announcements with its own plans for the iPhone OS 4.0 and next generation iPhone device due in June/July. If Apple has some interesting changes to their iPhone OS and impressive hardware then Microsoft could be on the back foot before Windows Phone 7 Series devices have even shipped.
Until then there's a lot of excitement and curiosity around Microsoft's latest announcements but will Apple play its ace card in the summer?