Q: I hear there are new Windows phones coming out. What should I know about them?

A: Yes, what you hear is true. There are new phones being released very soon (within the month of this writing) that will run the “Windows Phone 7” operating system. As with any new technology, I always advise waiting for some time to make sure that any potentially serious problems are ironed out. However, there is also a lot of information available regarding these phones that can be potentially very confusing or misleading.

First, “Windows Phone 7” is not “Windows 7” on a phone. In other words, the Windows operating system that you may be using on your PC is not what you’ll see on a phone. Unfortunately, Microsoft’s versioning for their mobile operating system, previously called “Windows Mobile”, was at number 6, hence Windows Phone 7. However, Microsoft has not shied away from trying to leverage their marketing for Windows 7 on PCs to Windows Phone 7. In my estimation, this will only lead to customer confusion as people will think the two are somehow related, when in fact the only thing they truly share is the name “Windows”.

Windows Phone 7 does not use the now familiar icon-based interface that is primarily used on the Apple iPhone, Palm Pre phones, and Google Android phones. It uses an interface Microsoft calls “Live Tiles”. Microsoft claims they are trying to build a phone that is “thoroughly modern”. Because Microsoft is so behind the 8-ball in the smartphone market, many experts believe Microsoft was forced to create something different simply in an attempt to stand out. Whether Live Tiles is actually better than its competitors or simply any good at all will be up for debate until the phones are released. The bottom line is that you should thoroughly test out a Windows Phone 7 device before buying.

Windows Phone 7 is a brand-new operating system, completely rewritten from scratch. What this means is if you currently own a Windows Mobile phone, any apps you have purchased for it will NOT work with Windows Phone 7 devices. For Microsoft, Windows Phone 7 is in essence a complete reboot on their smartphone strategy. Again, many experts believe that Microsoft had to completely revamp their smartphone offering because new competitors had so thoroughly changed the market. They’re taking a gamble by abandoning current Windows Mobile owners, but it may be Microsoft’s only option to stay viable in the smartphone market.

“Windows Phone 7” is not a device. It is an operating system. Microsoft is not making an actual phone. They are making an operating system that other companies will build phones around. The first devices are reported to be from HTC, Samsung, LG, Sony, and Dell. So unlike the iPhone, in which Apple makes both the hardware and software, you can’t just ask for a “Windows Phone”. You’ll need to test the multitude of devices that will be available to make sure you pick the one that fits you the best.

As I mentioned at the start, you would be wise to see how the market for Windows 7 Phone shakes out. This is true for any new technology, but this may be especially true for Windows 7 Phone. Microsoft has been in the smartphone market for a long time but let new competitors pass them by quickly. It may be too late for Microsoft to be a significant player. For example, technology research company Gartner predicts that the new phones may increase Microsoft’s share to 5.2% from 4.7%, but eventually will decline to 3.9%. So pay attention to Windows Phone 7, but take your time before jumping in.

If you have a technology question, feel free to submit it to me and it may be featured in a future article!