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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Launch of Windows Phone 7 in Singapore

Windows Phone 7
Microsoft unleashed its answer to Apple's smartphone leader, iPhone, with its Windows Phone 7 platform. This is supposedly a significant upgrade from the previous Windows Mobile platforms and represents Microsoft's last chance to catch up with Apple.

Thanks to the folks from WeberShandwick, I was invited to the Windows Phone 7 launch at 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road. This event was a rather fancy shindig, attended by supposed luminaries in whatever industry they hail from. Sorry, you may be important people, but I certainly didn't recognize anyone. Though I met an old buddy there.

Doors were open at 7pm, but the event started at 8pm proper. After drinks and finger food, we were ushered into a darkened room and told to step within a lighted area. The show started with the MC welcoming us, then a few words of introduction from Microsoft Singapore's managing director, Jessica Tan.

This was followed by a brief introduction by Celeste Chong of Butter Factory and Loh Lik Peng of Hotel 1929 to talk about their apps in the Windows Phone Marketplace. No demos, unfortunately, so we had to imagine what their apps were like.

Matthew Hardman, Windows Client Business Group Lead, then came on stage to talk about a few key features of Windows Phone 7. Again, there was no real-time demo, not even a video, so the audience had to make do with the static images while Hardman rattled on. This was very disappointing, because Microsoft had a great big screen on stage, but failed to capitalize on it.

And then, the phones had their moment to shine as six models trotted out, posing with the phones from Dell, LG, HTC and Samsung. Someone should have taught the models to keep the phone screens on, because the phones didn't look picture-worthy with their black screens.

We were told to stand in the lighted box, because behind the black curtains surrounding us were the four exhibition areas: photos, gaming/entertainment, marketplace and office mobility (at a mock-up cafe). After the show was over, we were invited to experience Windows Phone 7's capabilities at these areas.

This turned out to be a letdown, from a first-hand experience point-of-view because... there was limited first-hand experience! Instead of having several phones available for the hundreds of attendees to play with, there were probably only about 15 in total in the room. And this included the few that were either already in the models' hands or handled by the Microsoft staff. I counted only four phones that were affixed to the exhibition areas for attendees to use. And, of course, these were hogged constantly.

So I had to settle for a verbal demonstration by Microsoft staff, as they played with the phones and showed us how easy it was to use. Yeah, I took their phones a few times to get my hands on them. But it felt quite pressuring to fiddle with a phone while someone constantly kept a close eye on me.

The few times that I did use one of the Windows Phone 7 phones, I had mixed feelings about the platform. The homescreen looked useful with its flashing tiles that let you know what's going on, e.g. friend updates on Facebook/Twitter, app updates, etc. Typing seemed easy enough, even though the touchscreen keys are smaller than the iPhone's, as did swiping/scrolling.

But the interface took a lot of getting used to. It wasn't something that I picked up intuitively. For example, the many small icons in the camera were for everything except taking a picture. I guess we're spoiled by the iPhone having its big shutter button on screen, so many times, I and my friend would accidentally find ourselves back at the homescreen or doing a Bing search.

That's another thing that irritated me. Each app had its small icon buttons at the bottom, even for common things like SMS and the contact list. But these icons somehow didn't look descriptive enough, nor were they easy to press due to their small size.

I was not the only one who thought that the Windows Phone 7 interface had a steep learning curve. Even a demo lady wearing a Microsoft polo T-shirt admitted to it! Haha, I appreciate such open honesty from those who've eaten their own dog food!

I was told that Windows Phone 7 will work with a Mac through an upcoming Zune Desktop Client. With the name "Zune" and memories of that failed Microsoft music player, I don't know if I have as much faith in it as I do with Apple's trusty iSync/Address Book/iCal combo.

I was also informed that, at least for the Dell phone, a full battery charge could last from about 7am to 10pm with constant web surfing, presumably with 3G or Wifi. That's not even a day's full use, quite like the iPhone.

As my old buddy had commented, Apple has nothing to worry from Windows Phone 7. The iPhone, with its iOS, is light years ahead, though the homescreen could be improved. Instead, Google should be the one shaking in its knees. Android still has a rather geeky interface, so ordinary folks would likely find issues with it. As he said, Android is like Linux -- it's powerful but would never work on a computer for laymen. But Windows Phone 7 looks sexy enough to challenge Android head-on, even in spite of its flaws.

Finally, a few suggestions for WeberShandwick:
  • Please provide a map in your invitation. Not everyone knows where the glitzy hotspots are. It doesn't help that GoThere didn't recognize "72-13 Theatre".
  • Stop giving out paper materials. Be environmentally friendly -- and practical! -- by putting your materials in a thumb drive. Not only can you also include high-resolution pictures (and thus saving us media folks from typing a complicated SkyDrive URL), but we can also re-use the thumbdrives for other personal purposes. And if you or your client brands the thumbdrives, hey, that's free advertising for you!
  • Provide better indication at the reception counter, so that we know which person we're supposed to register with. Or at least make sure the person whom we replied to is at the counter. If bloggers are considered as media, please let the bloggers know too.
  • Please hire Asian models. We're in Singapore, for chrissake! There are lots of gorgeous local girls who are not as plastic. In fact, I thought that the sole Asian model was the most natural and relaxed of the lot.

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