1.48pm: 12 minutes to kickoff. If you haven't already had a read, then take a look at my early review of the Windows Phone 7 interface. It's an interesting data point that while many people have expected Microsoft to fail completely - after the failure of Windows Mobile 6.x once the iPhone appeared - the fact is that I've not come across anyone who has laid hands or eyes on a working version of Windows Phone 7 and not been impressed by it. So take a moment, before everything kicks off, to read what I thought.
1.50pm: An excited press release drops into my inbox from
"There's a huge amount resting on the launch of Windows Phone 7 for Microsoft, its device and operator partners, and for the ecosystem market in general. As such, the commercial launch of Windows Phone 7 devices by OEMs and carriers looks set to mark the most important watershed in the smartphone market since the launch of Apple's first iPhone."
So far so fairly predictable. But why is it a watershed?
"If Windows Phone 7 devices sell in large numbers, Microsoft will rightfully be able to congratulate itself for starting with a clean sheet of paper in its efforts to return to the smartphone top table - a strategy launched by CEO Steve Ballmer in early 2009."
And Gartner reckons this is the last roll of the dice:
"If it fails to claw back market share lost to iPhone and Android, then Windows Phone 7 may well mark the point at which Microsoft turns its back on smartphones forever: targeting its mobile resources at creating compelling services and attracting advertising may prove a better option than beginning again with another mobile operating system, in that instance."
1.59pm: Moments away: but they'll have to chase all the press out of the ICA bar, where they have set up fiefdoms and strongholds that would make an Afghan warlord stroke his beard in admiration.
Meanwhile, for those who want the multi-arrowed indication of where all the money is going in the smartphone market, here's Asymco's breakdown of who's a star and who's a flop.
Or just have a look at the image:
No, Microsoft doesn't appear there because it's not a handset maker. I'll update later with some of what Ashley Highfield, the UK managing director, said about the WP7 business model.
2.30pm: It's 2.30 and though we've been evicted from the bar, the gathered journos are restless. The Wi-Fi (which is what they all want to use) fails if you're under a theatrical rig. Everyone looks up. The ceiling is covered in theatrical lighting rigs.
The main cause of the delay, though, is a leopard on the line in New York where Steve Ballmer is meant to be kicking it off. Well, not actually a leopard, but it would have to be something comparable, we'd hope. More once it starts ...
2.37pm: I'm meanwhile coming courtesy of a 3 network Mobile WiFi-to-3G dongle, which is currently reaching the heat of a nascent star in my top pocket. Forget the winter fuel allowance, give these out as handwarmers. Still no action, though.
2.49pm: Andy Lees president of mobile for UK.
"Microsoft should hire Bozo the clown to run Windows Mobile. At least the antics would be funny." So that makes me a clown, Lees says.
There's a huge inflection point coming in the smartphone market. We start with the consumer. (Interesting that Microsoft is talking about the consumer all the time now. Enterprise is completely forgotten in this discussion.) "We had an internal mantra that the customer is king...give them the ability to do everything on their phone but easier and faster. Less stop and stare, more glance and glare."
They made a book of what it would be like. Shows attractive couple not talking to each other while they message on their phones. Um. OK. Emailing their divorce lawyers?
Steve Ballmer showed off the phones in the manner of a phoneshop staffer who had just seen them for the first time last week and who was about to inquire when your contract ended. The nine phones - in the US livelink relay - were laid out on a tablet. And then in the cheesiest of moments, they were rolled away like something out of a TV episode of the 50s. They've still got some way to go with his presentation skills.
2.55pm: Ballmer spoke about what their goals were for WP7: "….It has to be modern in its design principles, in the way that people use modern internet services, and we've taken a very different tack at the same time.
"I'd focus on two key things, Always Delightful and Wonderfully Mine. We wanted it to be delightful through a range of different devices and across experiences. We wanted it to be that way for the consumer and for the developers who will build the growing set of Windows Phone applications. We wanted it to be always delightful for you whether you're looking for a place to eat, emailng friends, or making a phone calls for example."
Shows his own phone. It has pictures. It can be made into his own.
He shows off his avatar. It is surprisingly svelte. Possibly the mirrors in avatarland are a bit wonky.
Customisation is very important. 9 phones. He standa behind a tablet like he's in a phone shop. It's really a bit embarrassing. I'm almost expecting him to tell me that it's a very affordable contract and inquire when mine is going to run out.
2.56pm: We're getting the ways that the phone can be customised so that it will do all sorts of things.
More interestingly, there's a rumour that Stephen Fry is going to be involved in the presentation. What! People gasp. But he often does these sorts of things for tech companies - I recall him doing one for Psion a few years back where he gently but thoroughly chided them for not having Mac compatibility. Wonder if he'll do the same about the lack of Mac integration here?
Hubs. Hubs are things around which applications work. The idea is integration - so that everything comes together. "Recent" for people is about who you've interacted with, whether by Facebook or Twitter or email or phone calls or um, yourself. (Because you might update your Facebook status.)
3.02pm: OK, so I've seen WP7 interface before. It's interesting because it assumes a pervasive data connection, and it assumes that you don't really care how much data you're going to use. What happens when your network is down?
Aaron Woodman, Microsoft's head of the WP7 business, over from Seattle: "This is going to be the best phone for people looking for productivity". Ah, here comes the enterprise sell. But no, it goes off to the Zune software. Although Ashley Highfield did suggest to me in an interview earlier that this is going to be a great consumer phone. And there doesn't seem to be an enterprise sell at all; it's all about getting consumers to buy them and persuading enterprises to support them. Microsoft seems to have decided that Apple's approach - subvert the IT department - is the way forward.
3.07pm: Woodman: Half a million downloads of the developer kit. Including Twitter.
Now we get Tesco's app. On Windows Phone "it feels like a Windows Phone application".
Hubs, favourites, search... he nearly searched for app... then went back to "spam".
Then train travel. It's not just an icon but it has "a route I care about". "Panoramic, designed experience".
OK, at this point I will say that the thing that strikes about the WP7 interface is that it is, indeed, calm. But it is also, and this may be a problem, not information-dense. It's not even information-average. It's information-light. There's not a huge amount of type on a single page.
3.11pm: "I'm excited to announce that EA will be on the Windows Phone platform." When?
I earlier asked Highfield about Angry Birds and Tap Tap Revenge - will they be on the WP7? He was fairly sure they would - which is interesting given that there was all sorts of grumbling about it last night, as Angry Birds developers said they hadn't committed to a port.
OK, so that's done and now we're back with Jeff Lowe. Developers... phones.. operators...
From October 21st.
3.15pm:And now the phones:
1: HTC Mozart, 8MP xeon flash.
2. Samsung OMNIA 7 - 4" AMOLED screen, 5MP camear, Orange, T-Mobile, 3.
3 HTC Trophy, Dolby, 3.8" screen, Vodafone.
4 LG - plays to DLNA (home networking), LG Optimus 7, voice to text,
5 HTC HD7 with horizontal kickstand, because it's got a big screen.
6 Dell Venue Pro, 4.1" screen, physical keyboard.
3.19pm: Ah, but now we have the point: the carriers will be able to put their own software onto them. Tom Alexander told him that Orange+T-Mobile, would be able "with amazing software" to do so much.
"Our companies had so much in common... " And now to explain why Orange is the lead partner in terms of bringing these phones to market.. Tom Alexander of Everything Everywhere (Orange+T-Mobile).
(This is the Revenge of the Carriers: they hate the idea of being dumb pipes who deliver connectivity to you; they want to hold your data, put the software on your phones, and sometimes stop you from doing things with your phone that might interrupt their revenue streams. It's the opposite of the internet model where anyone can build anything without permission, as Lawrence Lessig pointed out about Facebook.)
3.22pm: Alexander: "ability for Orange customers to roam onto T-Mobile... T-Mobile customers to roam onto Orange.. two networks for the price of one." (You are one company, though, why should that be a surprise?)
Handsets. He can't remember the name of the handset - "Mozart" yells the prompt. (This is looking woefully underrehearsed, or are we too used to Steve Jobs demos?)
"It's a key part, a really key part, of our Q4 plans. So I'd like quickly to hand you over to Ashley [Highfield of Microsoft]." He wanders off.
Highfield: "we know this is not going to be an easy journey." Bit like Bing then.
3.25pm: Highfield reads out a quote which likens the former Windows Mobile platform to 1960s council architecture. And here indeed is Stephen Fry who says he's not being paid to be here: "I'm here as an amateur in any sense."
"Amateur is the French for lover.. I've made no secret of my admiration for what the chaps and chappesses at Cupertino have done since 2007."
He defends his description of Microsoft's old environments as being like 1960s grey council architecture. "Now they get it, that all human beings, are human beings first - you don't judge the machines you use or the houses you live in by listing their functions. The first thing you do is say how you feel about your office. When you buy a house, essentially they make the choice on feeling."
3.28pm: "Even when RIM came up with the Torch... I felt pleasure, the first feeling should be one of delight. When I heard Mr Ballmer use the word 'delight' I thought what joy there is in heaven when one sinner does repent."
...lots of how Microsoft has needed to get the idea of pleasure in devices...
"Only one I get to keep, though I'm not being paid." Er...
"Is it fun to drive? You know that story about the Volkswagen Bug when they reinvented it.. they were devastated to hear that people bought it because they liked the flowerbud vase on the dashboard.. they should recognise that people buy things because they feel the emotional pleaasure."
"Yes I can say that it has its deficiencies. And that's what people fell on with the iPhone .People laughed to scorn the iPhone because it didn't have those functions. But remember the tedious drilling down to get to the wireless. People embraced the iPhone because it was simple, closed and clear."
3.31pm: Stephen Fry: "We can see how bad we all are at predicting how things work out. In a year's time where will be RIM, ioS, HP WebOS, Android,... yes I do love Apple but I'm not a monotheist, I want biodiversity in this market.
"Will I be using this Windows Phone 7? Yes, with a BlackBerry Torch.. and an iPhone in the other pocket...
"But here I am standing on a stage saying Microsoft has done this thing it can be proud of. Better than Vista... no shit on my shoe, no, Stephen, behave..." Laughter.
"I think of Leeds United. There was a time when they ruled the 1st division, they were so powerful. And then you feel sorry for them. Who thought there would be a day when Microsoft would make an announcement as the underdog? And the British part of me says that's always interesting."
3.34pm: Highfield breathes a sigh of relief at the fact that Fry didn't tear Microsoft off a giant strip. "That was high-risk, wasn't it?" he says rhetorically.
Which brings us to the end of the formal proceedings. There'll be more periodically. (Apologies for the delays at the start which were brought to you by Unruly Technology That Cannot Be Tamed.) I'll deal quickly with comments...
3.36pm: What we didn't see: it's often important to note the things that haven't been shown in a demonstration. Here's a few of the things that one might reasonably have expected to see in a demonstration of a new smartphone platform - yet were oddly missing here:
• loading Facebook. Come on, it's the biggest social network in the world. Could we see it either as a web page or as an app? Howcome not?
• loading Twitter. The biggest real-time conversational/microblogging network around. There was a Twitter app in one of the phone screens - yet we didn't get to see mobile.twitter.com loaded on a browser, or in an app.
• anything on any browser. No web pages. At all.
• any email. Why not?
• YouTube or any sort of Flash content. Surely this is rather an important element these days? Yet if it's true that this is shipping without any Flash capability (which seems weird if true, yet that was the implication of the conversations I've had before - Highfield didn't contradict me when I suggested, before the launch, that there won't be Flash or HTML5 capability in the browser).
Most peculiar: for a launch that has been planned absolutely forever, this had a slightly rag-tag feel to it; the fact that the closing speech came from Stephen Fry who was speaking unscripted indicates that.
Now it's time to go and play with the phones for a bit. If anyone happens to have a good idea why those sorts of demonstrations were missing in the talk, and finds out before I do, please tell us in the comments...
4.15pm: So I've laid hands on a few of the phones and got an answer to a couple of those previous questions, at least.
• Why no YouTube demo? Because Internet Explorer (on WP7) can't show Flash (as we knew), which means that that is handed off to an application that has to be downloaded from the Windows Phone Marketplace. This I find surprising - Apple similarly hands off the task of showing YouTube video to another app, but it has had it built in there from day one.
But with WP7, the YouTube app won't be available for download until later on this evening (or possibly early morning UK time). So that's the YouTube answer.
• Why no email? slightly more confusing. Possibly because Microsoft would have felt obliged to demo Hotmail, and the web layout of that looks really a bit of a mess, if I'm honest. The font isn't optimised for a small screen (I found it less legible than the iPhone/iPod Touch font) if it's trying to show web elements as well - the zoom doesn't seem to be able to reformat the content smartly enough.
• no browser demo? Hard to explain. The browser is OK. But maybe they felt there would have been the inevitability of showing any page somewhere on the web that might have had, oh noes, Flash on it.
4.22pm: and re Facebook and Twitter - I think ledevelyn has half a point in saying that "Because it's integrated into the user experience so you don't need a separate app.. surely that's forward thinking?"
Certainly updating your Facebook status is something that's tightly integrated. Twitter status too? Could be - remains to be seen.
Oh, and I also got a brief chat with a British blogger called Stephen something for the podcast - listen in tomorrow..
5.27pm: Having seen O2's new phone - which is the biggest of the bunch, both in screen size (4.3") and storage (16GB; the standard for Windows Phone 7 is 8GB) - I've now RTB, as taxi drivers say. The O2 phone is free on a 24-month contract wiht 750MB of data; I'll be trying it out over the next couple of weeks, and later on we'll aim to do a comparison of handsets, OSs and prices. (Maybe we'll enlist your help to compile that, dear reader.)
Overall thoughts: Windows Phone 7 is a huge advance on anything that Microsoft has done before in the mobile space. It has rough edges and loose ends - the question of developer support and the value chain and where Microsoft will make sufficient money to recoup its investment (assuming that matters), for instance. But from next week, the mobile OS market will get a jolt. It will be interesting to see where it goes from here.
Burgess Powers enables social media management and security