Mark Bridge writes:
We queued in the rain outside the Catalonia Barcelona Plaza hotel. We sat on the floor in a basement room. And we watched on TV as Steve Ballmer announced Windows Phone 7 Series.
The life of a reporter is not a glamorous one.
Look, let’s get something straight. I wouldn’t call myself a Microsoft fan – I reserve my fandom for an idiosyncratic collection of role models, entertainers and the Jensen Interceptor Ferguson Formula – but I’m happy enough with Microsoft. I use Windows on my laptop, I own a Windows Mobile smartphone and I do most of my work in Office 2003.
So, given all the anticipation about the launch of what we’d assumed would be Windows Mobile 7 at Mobile World Congress, I was looking forward to the press event. Steve Ballmer had taken the trouble to travel to Spain and it looked like we’d hear something big.
And I wasn’t surprised at the press queue at the Plaça d'Espanya. After all, people had queued for the Apple iPad hype-fest a few weeks before, hadn’t they? (Many had then been disappointed that it was wasn’t more like the Personal Access Display Device we’d seen carried by the crew in Star Trek).
Well, there was no chance of Microsoft doing that. Redmond had been locked down so tightly that I’d wondered whether there was going to be any OS announcement at all.
But, as I sat on the floor in the basement room, trying to figure out why a crowd of wet journalists smelled like damp dog, I was still hopeful. Then Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer appeared on TV, followed by Joe Belfiore from the Windows Phone team. And as Joe spoke, I felt… nothing. Now, Joe’s an enthusiastic man. But that enthusiasm couldn’t overcome (a) the feeling that I could have been watching this streamed live on my laptop in a tapas bar with a glass of sherry, not sitting on grubby beige carpet in the dog room, and (b) the feeling that this was nothing new.
I’d come to the press event from an interview with Amir Kuvervas, the CEO of Else Mobile. He’d been showing me the First Else, which is due to arrive in the UK later this year. Social networking? Yes. Music? Yes. Camera, GPS, music? Of course. Everything integrated? Very much so. Which left Windows Phone 7 feeling a bit of an anticlimax, especially as it won’t be arriving until the ‘holiday season’ this year. (That’s Christmas, not summer).
This feeling that WinPhone7 was nothing dramatically new inside was reinforced throughout the week at Mobile World Congress. I met Good Technology, whose Good for You consumer service offers mobile email, social networking and media sharing. I met INQ Mobile, masters of social networking mobiles. I played with the new low-cost HTC Smart, which aggregates social network information through the stylish HTC Sense interface. And I stopped off at the Microsoft stand, where Windows Phone 7 was being demonstrated (on a video screen rather than on live devices).
Is Windows Phone 7 any good? Yes, as far as I can tell – particularly the new interface, which now looks like it’s been designed for a mobile phone, not stolen from a PC. Is it better than anything else? Alas for Microsoft, that’s not the impression I’ve got at the moment. I’d say they’ve caught up with the competition… but they’ve not jumped ahead. Perhaps that’s why they didn’t want too many rumours in advance of the launch.