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Will OEMs and carriers spoil Windows Phone 7?

We already know that PC OEMs love to pack your machine full of junk. Maybe it’s because they really want you to have a great selection of ‘stuff’ installed on your new PC, or maybe it’s because they get paid to put it on there. Regardless, it’s annoying, it slows down your machine and most of the time it’s pretty ugly too. That last one is a concern when it comes to Windows Phone 7 (WP7), an operating system that’s built to be visually clear, consistent and attractive.

Now, if we were to take the LG E900 for example, you’ll quickly see that it doesn’t take more than a few ugly icons (or ‘tiles’) to change all of that.

The LG E900 (or Optimus). Source: Engadget.

So went wrong? It’s really very simple. Anyone that’s seen the development kit for Microsoft’s WP7 platform will have noticed the distinct lack of rules around what you can and can’t do – there aren’t even any spacing requirements listed for UI elements. All that’s suggested in the guidelines is that you space elements to ensure that they’re touchable. The guidelines do give strict instruction on the use of case, but then the SDK doesn’t enforce those guidelines either.

As a result of the weak guidelines, when it comes to designing tiles for applications, developers really can do whatever they want. Even if a developer wanted some guidance, it's not there (with the exception of tile notifications). If the tiles are removable from the start screen, this won’t be an issue. Anything that you download from the marketplace will certainly fall into that category. But will OEM and carrier tiles be removable? Those that have purchased Windows Phone devices in the past – such as the HD2 from Telstra in Australia – can tell you that OEMs and carriers aren’t above locking items onto your phone’s home screen. Whilst those decisions were OEM decisions and not in Microsoft’s hands, having unwanted items locked to your phones main screen is definitely not a good user experience and it’s something Microsoft needs to keep in mind with WP7.

Those that have been following will have noticed that as we draw closer to launch, more and more leaks are occurring. Many of those models feature OEM ‘hubs’, which are OEM attempts to differentiate those devices (Even though they all seem to be doing the same weather thing). Will these hubs be somehow locked to the start screen? Microsoft has stated that only OEMs and carriers can create tiles that are two spaces wide, however, Microsoft hasn’t discussed what customizations OEMs and carriers will bring to WP7 or if they’ll have the ability to lock things to the start screen.

LG isn’t the only offender here; the recent Sense UI for WP7 leaks showed us that HTC may also be placing some undesirable tiles on your phone’s start screen, as is Samsung. Keep your fingers crossed that these tiles aren’t locked onto your start screen, and that their designs pass through a good graphic designer or two before they get released for mass consumption. Maybe, if we’re lucky, Microsoft might even release a decent UI guide before launch?

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