Microsoft announced and demonstrated Windows Phone 7 Series today at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. It's a radical departure from earlier Windows Mobile operating system designs. They essentially abandoned the previous Windows metaphors in favor of Zune HD on steroids. The user interface is uncluttered, even Spartan, but very elegant and designed for excellent performance with today's smartphone CPUs and GPUs. It includes all the functionality of the Zune HD, and will be a gaming platform that's compatible with Xbox Live. (The Xbox Live-related features will be detailed at Microsoft's forthcoming MIX Conference.)
Smartphones with Windows Phone 7 won't start shipping until the end of the year. It's too early to say what impact the new operating system will have on the iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and other platforms, and given that Apple, Google and RIM now have nine months to respond before Microsoft gets to market, they could step up their games if they need to. However, it's a great sign that Microsoft has finally decided to drop the Windows Mobile baggage and build an operating system designed around how people really use smartphones today. Before this announcement, I was ready to write off Microsoft in the mobile phone market, but it now looks like they're going to remain a serious contender. This makes HTC, which stuck with the Windows Mobile platform despite Microsoft's problems, look even better.