If you read gadget sites like Engadget or Gizmodo, then you already know that the world changed today when Microsoft unveiled the “Windows Phone 7 Series,” the next generation of its software for cell phones and a serious attempt to break up the iPhone monopoly on cool handheld devices. Readers of those sites found out that western civilization has finally reached its fruition and mankind is likely to evolve into a higher form of life.

The attention span on those web sites runs about three weeks, so chances are they’ll be distracted by something else shiny by the middle of March. Nothing will ship with the new Microsoft software until Christmas, so there isn’t much yet for normal people to get excited about.

You can see videos and read breathless commentary here, or get a slightly more measured overview here. The new Windows mobile system is bright and colorful and has lots of pictures and things to touch, and they managed to come up with an appealing design without slavishly copying Apple – not an easy trick. There’s deep integration with Facebook, which I understand is important to lots of people. There’s also deep integration with XBox Live and Zune, and if those are important things that a lot of people will appreciate in a mobile device, then it’s more evidence of a shadow world that exists in some parallel dimension that is invisible to me.

By next year, there will be a large number of mobile devices that are only incidentally phones. (A really large number. You have no idea.) The iPhones, Android devices, and Windows 7 devices are serious computers with small screens, and a huge number of people will be carrying them. The cell phone carriers love them because of the extra income from the data plan that’s required. They’ll start to crowd less capable phones out of the stores.

It’s not easy to predict what small businesses or people over 50 will do. All of these phones will display a calendar and let you read email, and there are certainly valuable and serious business-related programs that will run on all of them. It’s pretty obvious that the primary purpose of all of these devices is social networking and playtime but don’t discount the appeal – you might be more tempted by one of these than you expect.

December is a long way from now, and Apple and Google won’t be standing still. If you’re looking at new phones and you’re thinking of something basic, this might be a good time to sign up for a one-year contract instead of a 2-year contract. The landscape for handheld devices is going to be changing faster than we can imagine and you might be tempted by something new in 2011.

Share This