Microsoft Corp. officials today described how upcoming Windows Phone 7 smartphones will make the mobile experience easier and more powerful for users because they will be able to operate within networks of Windows 7 PCs and Xbox gaming consoles with the help of a new Windows Live cloud platform.
"We're back, and we're back with something very different and very innovative," with Windows Phone 7 and Windows Live, said Andy Lees, senior vice president of mobile communications at Microsoft.
He was speaking at the software maker's Worldwide Partner Conference in Washington, which was also broadcast live over the Web.
Lees said Microsoft is committed to having WP7 in devices shipping by the year-end holidays. He also promised developers that applications that they write will work with "100% consistency" across devices from HTC, Samsung, LG and Dell with uniform screen sizes and features.
The devices will also be available in English, French, Italian, German and Spanish at launch. The consistency comment was a clear attempt to resonate with developers who have raised concerns about the variety of hardware dimensions and features in Android devices and other smartphones.
Lees tried to use Windows Live to distinguish Microsoft in the smartphone market, where sales of devices base on different operating system and from a number of hardware makers will double in the next four years. "It is the first time the PC, phone, cloud and console are all working in harmony," Lees said. He listed various software products that will work in an integrated fashion, including Microsoft's Office suite, Sharepoint, Zune media player software and Bing search engine, as well as Facebook and other social networks.
Microsoft announced today that it will launch the Windows Live platform alongside WP7, giving users of phones, PCs and consoles access to e-mail, calendars, pictures, services and the Bing search engine. Further details emerged in a Windows phone blog.
For the first time, Microsoft also said it will offer 25GB of free cloud storage within the Windows Live platform for accessing information shared between the Web and various devices. The storage service, called SkyDrive, will also host the Find My Phone Service, for using a PC to find and erase data on a missing phone. Microsoft has posted a SkyDrive link with separate functions for access to photos and office documents.
A spokeswoman said the Windows Live platform is different from the Studio cloud platform, which was developed by Microsoft for the recently canceled Kin phones. Studio was focused on sharing photos taken with a Kin phone and making the photos accessible from the Silverlight application on a PC.
Lees seemed to borrow a phrase from Apple Inc.'s description of the iPad as a "magical" device when he concluded his remarks by saying that Microsoft will deliver "magical, transformative experiences for consumers" and boasted that "this will be our best holiday ever."
Lees made that final comment after an Xbox 360 demo that showed how hand and arm motions will be used to interact with video games. Users will be able to play Xbox games on WP7 phones or PCs, and they will be able to call up an Xbox gaming avatar on a WP7 phone, officials said.
Earlier, Lees tried to assure developers and partners in the audience that WP7 will be "for business and consumer, and it's a great opportunity for you ... if you develop applications and games and a line of business applications."
In addition to illustrating Xbox integration, Microsoft's demos offered looks at several other features of the upcoming WP7 operating system. One demo, for example, showed how a working prototype of a WP7 phone could connect to the cloud so a user could buy an MP3 song found on the Web with one click and then play it through a Zune. When the phone is stored in a cradle, it will also synchronize wirelessly with a Windows 7 PC, officials said.
WP7 works with the concept of tiles within hubs, which are organized into groups, such as a hub for people, a hub for music and video, another for games, another for applications and even a hub for office information.
In another demo, Microsoft's Augusto Valdez showed how a PowerPoint presentation could be received wirelessly on the WP7 prototype phone, where it could then be edited, with the information stored in the cloud.
In another demonstration, Valdez received an invitation to a meeting on a certain day but found that the meeting would conflict with his plans to attend an event. With one click, his calendar was launched to determine what the conflict was, and from that window, he typed out a message to his colleague saying he could not go to the meeting -- and he did it all without having to launch Messenger or the calendar separately.
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.