I decided to visit both an AT&T store and a T-Mobile store to check out the Windows Phone 7 devices. I did this because nobody I know has one I can play with, and Microsoft doesn’t seem too keen on showing off the devices.
I noticed immediate differences between the AT&T and T-Mobile stores. The AT&T greeters and floor sales folks are extremely aggressive and helpful, and the store was nice and lively. The T-Mobile store was more laid back. Nobody even said hello. It’s as if the T-Mobile folks know that they are doomed and will gobbled up by AT&T at any minute.
Both stores have Windows Phone 7 well displayed. One $49 Samsung phone with an AMOLED screen at the AT&T store was a real gem.
I played with a couple of the devices to get a feel for the OS and upon some serious reflection I came to an interesting conclusion. The Windows Phone 7 OS and devices have no soul. It’s almost inexplicable, but saying this is the easiest way to describe it.
I now believe it’s because the folks at Microsoft have no understanding of the principles of Wabi-Sabi, a Japanese concept based on the premise that nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect. This is why many great artists from Eastern disciplines often damage or create flaws in what might otherwise be a perfect work.
Here is a description of Wabi-Sabi taken from the Wikipedia:
“Wabi-sabi is the most conspicuous and characteristic feature of traditional Japanese beauty and it occupies roughly the same position in the Japanese pantheon of aesthetic values as do the Greek ideals of beauty and perfection in the West.” “if an object or expression can bring about, within us, a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing, then that object could be said to be wabi-sabi.” “[Wabi-sabi] nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.”
I only bring this up to try and understand why Windows Phone 7 has no soul.
Let me begin by saying that Windows Phone 7 is incredibly slick. In fact, it’s impressive in every way. But there’s slick and then there’s contrived. This is both, which contribute to the lack of soul.
It’s like one of those over-produced annual company reports, with all of the same peculiarly lit photos of executives taken from some oblique angle. It’s as if Microsoft went way out of its way to make it perfect and modern. The problem is that there is nothing endearing or cute or personable. It’s just hyper-slick. The fonts are perfect. The colors are perfect. It’s like that perfect girl everyone knew in high school who had no personality.
I know I’m going to get blasted by someone for making these claims, but, really, why isn’t this OS and its devices—especially that $49.95 one—setting the world on fire?
In a recent column, I mentioned that it is apparent that too much of the Microsoft decision making seems to based on focus groups and audience reaction. This phone has to epitomize that process because it has amazing characteristics that only a committee would actually implement.
For example, go to the contact list. Details slide around in ways that are just too precious. When you play with the device, you are constantly reminded that windows are not just opening, they are debuting with fanfare. All that is missing is a trumpet bleep and a haughty voice to announce the scene.” Ladies and gentlemen, the contact page for Miss Jennifer Anthony. All rise!”
I dunno, maybe I’m making too much out of it, but I feel kind of bad for Windows Phone. To go through this much trouble to create what may be a masterpiece and get zero attention has got to be depressing for the developers. Apparently, perfection is not that attractive or fun. I hate to pile on, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a fun or playful element to the devices either.
So we perfection combined with no fun, no personality, and no soul.
How can you even manage accomplishing that? Windows Phone 7 devices have all of the charm of a dentist’s office. But for $49 on a decent plan, I’d get one. I’d have a conversation piece, at least.