Microsoft CEO unveils Windows Phone 7

Microsoft unveiled the next version of its operating system for mobile phones, Windows Phone 7 Series, featuring a move away from applications and towards functions.

"It's all about the phone and how consumers react to the device," said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, opening a news conference held outside the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Monday.

"Phones looked like PCs, but a phone is not a PC, it's smaller, more personal," said Joe Belfiore, vice president for Windows Phone.

To make the interface more personal, Microsoft is counting on a checkerboard of customizable "live tiles" that can update automatically with information from the phone or the Internet.

Some of the tiles will update automatically to show frequent contacts or local information, while others can be customized manually. The tiles will be grouped into themed "hubs," for example a page of contacts called "people" or a page of photos called "pictures".

There won't be too much personalization though: some aspects of every Windows Phone will be the same.

"Every Windows Phone 7 Series device will have three buttons on the front: 'Start,' which gives you quick access to those tiles, 'Search,' because that's how you are going to find phone numbers and restaurants, and 'Back,'" said Belfiore.

Belfiore showed how the software will recognize addresses in incoming e-mails or calendar entries, converting them into hotlinks to Microsoft's Bing Maps property.

The interface has an on-screen QWERTY keyboard and will support multitouch interfaces in the same way as Windows 7 for PCs. Another feature borrowed from PCs is the Web browser: it's based on the same code as the desktop version of Internet Explorer, Belfiore said.

The graphics Belfiore showed are spacious, using a thin typeface with big one-word titles for the themes of each screen -- day, local, music and so on. The text is displayed using a more precise version of Cleartype that Belfiore called sub-pixel positioning.

Some of the page transitions in the user interface slide like the cards in Palm's Web OS.

Microsoft expects the first phones running the software to be available by the end of the year, and says that network operators including Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Verizon and Vodafone, and vendors including Samsung, LG, Sony-Ericsson and long-time partner HTC have committed to offering devices running Windows Phone 7 Series.

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