Dell WP7S Lightning Strikes, Electrifies Buzz for New Windows Mobile Software Platform

A deluge of Dell leaks reveal that the PC vendor is prepping a striking Windows Phone 7 Series handset called Lightning being described as a "portrait slider" and slated for release in the fourth quarter.

The tech blog Engadget reports that the Windows Phone 7 Lightning will have the following specs: "1GHz Snapdragon processor, WVGA 4.1-inch OLED display, AT&T and T-Mobile 3G, 5-megapixel camera, 1GB of flash with 512 MB of RAM plus 8GB of storage on MicroSD card, GPS, accelerometer, compass, FM radio, full Flash support and video playback." The Lightning will also be upgraded to LTE in the last quarter of 2011, according to Engadget.

The news comes at a time when the wireless industry is bracing itself for the release of Microsoft's new mobile platform, Windows Phone 7 Series (WP7S), slated to appear toward the end of the year. Designed to be the successor to Windows Mobile 6.5, WP7S is the software giant's bid to become relevant again the lucrative mobile sector, so the buzz around the leaked Lightning details couldn't come at a better time.

Five Things You Should Know About Windows Phone 7 Series

Windows Phone 7 isn't simply a minor operating system update, and even to call it a major update seems like a bit of an understatement, because WP7S is essentially a ground-up redesign and represents a major break from its predecessors. As a result, phones based on Microsoft's newest mobile OS will look and work much differently than those running today's Windows Mobile.

Here are five important changes Windows Phone 7 has in store.

1. The Focus On Windows Mobile Biz User Is Changing

Next to RIM's BlackBerry, Windows Mobile has heretofore been the most business-focused of the various mobile phone platforms. In fact, a report out today by ABI Research shows that Microsoft Windows Mobile still has the highest adoption rate worldwide among operating systems of newly launched models.

But with Windows Phone 7 Microsoft is shifting the emphasis more toward the individual consumers in the hopes of better competing with the likes of Android, and of course, the iPhone.

Microsoft says its targeting Windows Phone 7 at people it calls "life maximizers"-customers that want to use their phones as much for activities in their personal lives as for work. Windows Phone 7 will still come with a mobile version of Office (naturally) and be able to do things like sync e-mail and calendar info with an Exchange server, but it will also conspicuously integrate lifestyle features like social networking and access to the Xbox Live online gaming service.

Moreover, each phone will essentially have the same capabilities as Microsoft's Zune HD standalone media player. In fact, the Zune PC software will replace ActiveSync and the Windows Mobile Device Center as the desktop synchronization tool (and incidentally, Microsoft has indicated that Windows Phone 7 will support synching over Wi-Fi).

2. Hardware Will Be Standardized

Currently, hardware manufacturers and mobile carriers have a lot of latitude when designing Windows Mobile products, which can make it a challenge to determine the exact capabilities of a particular device or compare features across several. This situation also complicates things when it comes to determining whether an application will work with a given phone (and due to different implementations, developers must often test their wares on lots of different models).

By contrast, Microsoft dictates a minimum hardware configuration for Windows Phone 7 in order to create a more consistent environment for customers and developers alike. For example, required features of Windows Phone 7 include an 800 x 480 WVGA display (a 480 x 320 HVGA option will also be available later), capacitive touch support, Wi-Fi, built-in GPS, accelerometer, compass, light, and proximity sensors, a 5 megapixel camera with flash, and at least 256 MB of RAM and 8 GB of internal Flash storage.

Also, Microsoft only allows Windows Phone 7 devices to have a three standard buttons on the face of the phone; a Windows button (Start/Home), flanked by Back and Search (read: Bing) buttons. (There are other minor controls, such as dedicated volume and camera buttons, required elsewhere on the phone.)

This new regime of hardware standardization doesn't mean all Windows Phone 7 phones will be clones of each other, however, because devices will be still be allowed to have optional differentiating features such as front-facing cameras or physical keyboards. (It's also worth mentioning that Windows Phone 7 devices will continue to be sold via OEMs and carriers; Microsoft says it has no plans to sell phones directly, a la Google's Nexus One.)

3. The UI is Radically Different

For all intents and purposes, the existing Windows Mobile interface is much like that of a Windows PC, albeit stripped and scaled down to accommodate the hardware and display size limitations of a small, handheld device. Windows Phone 7 drops the familiar Windows Mobile look-and-feel in favor of a completely revamped visual design Microsoft calls "Metro".

The new interface, which is optimized for touch control, uses clusters of animated tiles called hubs that pull in and organize live information from various related services and applications. For example, standard Windows Phone 7 hubs include People, Pictures, Games, Music and Video, etc.

Incidentally, much like Microsoft is standardizing the internal hardware and front panel controls of Windows Phone 7 devices, for the sake of consistency across products it's doing the same thing with the user interface. That means no more third-party shell replacements or front end overlays such as HTC's Sense UI.

4. Old Windows Mobile Apps Won't Work

Windows Phone 7 changes the way applications are written and run-- so much so that applications designed for previous versions of Windows Mobile can't run on the new OS. In other words, existing apps will need to be rewritten to make the jump to Windows Phone 7; no migration tools will be available.

Apps for Windows Phone 7 can be written using either Microsoft's XNA (for games) or Silverlight (for pretty much everything else). Moreover, all Windows Phone 7 apps (and content) must be purchased and downloaded via the online Windows Phone Marketplace, where they'll be subject to Microsoft's technical and content approval process (and can be made available on a try-before-you-buy basis, unlike the current Marketplace which only offers a 24-hour refund window).

Eventually, Microsoft says it will offer corporate/enterprise customers a mechanism by which to bypass the Marketplace and "sideload" custom or vertical apps directly to phones.

Windows Phone 7 omits a few capabilities that longtime Windows Mobile users may take for granted. For example, there's no copy and paste function (i.e. no clipboard). Rather, Windows Phone 7 will include a feature so-called "smart links" which recognize information in text and allow you to do things like open a Web link, dial a phone number, map an address, etc.

Windows Phone 7 also provides only limited support for multitasking. Although the underlying operating system is capable of multitasking and certain built-in apps will be able to take advantage of it (e.g. you can browse the Web while listening to listening to Zune audio), that doesn't extend to third-party apps, at least for the time being. Microsoft has indicated that this is in order to make judicious use of limited system resources and battery power.

While third-party apps can only run in the foreground and switching away from one it cause it be suspended or terminated, they will be able to mimic background processing by utilizing a built-in push notification service.

5. Windows Mobile 6.5 Isn't Going Away

Perhaps not surprisingly given the change in target customer, Microsoft is keen to point out that Windows 7 Phone isn't necessarily a replacement for Windows Mobile 6.5, which should be welcome news for those with an investment in existing products (or near-term plans to make one). In the words of a Windows Phone Program Manager, "we will continue to work with our partners to deliver new devices based on Windows Mobile 6.5 and will support those products for many years to come, so it's not as though one line ends as soon as the other begins."

Indeed, T-Mobile released the Windows Mobile 6.5-based HTC HD2 to much enthusiasm in the wake of the Windows Phone 7 announcement, though how long interest in Windows Mobile 6.5 will be sustained following Windows Phone 7's debut remains to be seen. At the very least the existing OS seem destined to live on as an entry-level product called Windows Phone Starter Edition for emerging markets.

TAGS:

Microsoft, Dell, windows phone 7 series, Windows Mobile, Dell smartphone

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