Microsoft has officially launched Windows Phone 7, the latest in its previously-titled Windows Mobile line of portable device operating systems, and it's taking a swing at Google's Android along the way.
Launched at an official press event this afternoon, with live high-definition footage being beamed to London from New York and vice-versa, Windows Phone 7 marks a reboot for the company's mobile offerings, offering a much more consistent experience across devices.
After a brief showing by outspoken chief executive Steve Ballmer, who took the opportunity to take a swing at the increasingly fragmented Android platform by reassuring press that Windows Phone 7 would offer a consistent software experience across all devices, and a not-terribly UK-centric speech from AT&T chief Ralph De La Vega, Windows Phone 7 developer Joe Belfiore launched a walk-through of the changes that have been made since Windows Mobile 6.5.
The biggest alteration to the platform is the concept of 'hubs:' tiles that offer access to various handset capabilities, allowing you to categorise your usage according to need. Showing off the hub feature, Belfiore demonstrated some hubs from his own handset, mostly concentrating on the social networking integration and gaming features of Windows Phone 7 - about which more in a moment.
Attendees at the event were also treated to a look at the messaging hub, which offers a unified inbox that will be a welcome addition to the platform for Exchange users. Also demonstrated was the in-built Microsoft Office compatibility, with Belfiore claiming that the support for common Office file types built in to Windows Phone 7 is significantly more powerful than that of third-party solutions on other platforms.
The big theme with Windows Phone 7 is the cloud: as well as tapping in to Microsoft's cloud computing platform to power the voice search functionality in much the same way as Android does with Google's cloud, the Internet connectivity of the handset is used to provide a richer experience by pulling in things like contact details, photos, and status updates from services including Twitter and Facebook.
The other major feature that Microsoft was keen to show off at the event was the handset's gaming credentials. As has been known for a while, Windows Phone 7 promises tight integration with the company's Xbox Live platform: users already registered on the Xbox Live service from their Xbox 360 will see their familiar avatar on their handset, while achievements - yes, there's achievements - and other activity will be logged onto the GamerTag as with other Xbox Live games.
Electronic Arts came forward as a launch partner, announcing that a Windows Phone 7 version of The Sims
will be one of the first games available on the platform, and Belfiore stating that developers can use the familiar XNA tools from the Xbox Live Arcade to develop their WIndows Phone 7 titles - possibly heralding a slew of quick ports of existing XBLA titles.
As far as hardware goes, that was left up to the networks themselves to publicise: Samsung's Omnia, a 4in Super-AMOLED device with 1GHZ CPU, 8GB of storage, and a 5 megapixel camera has been confirmed by Orange and Three, while Orange - in its role as chief partner of Windows Phone 7 in the UK - went one better than its rivals and snagged a UK exclusive on the HTC 7 Mozart 3.7in handset with 8 megapixel camera. Four other handsets will also be launching across multiple networks.
For those of you salivating over when you might get to play with such devices, general availability is scheduled for the 21st of October.
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