12 years ago, Microsoft launched Windows Phone 7 and became cult


What do you want to know

  • On October 21, 2010, Microsoft launched Windows Phone 7 globally
  • The official launch in the United States took place a few weeks later, on November 8
  • Windows Phone 7 borrowed heavily from the Zune media player and stood out from the crowd

Windows Phone 7 is considered one of the defining moments of Microsoft’s mobile ambitions. Until then, the company was riding steam with Windows Mobile 6.5 with previous rumors of a “Photon OS”, aka Windows Mobile 7, to replace it.

But instead of continuing with a new era of Windows Mobile design, the company went down the very bold path of Windows Phone 7 Series (Microsoft, thankfully, later dropped “Series” from the name).

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Windows Phone 7 was a whole new way of thinking about an operating system. The user interface borrowed heavily from the Zune series of music players, which borrowed from Windows Media Center, and was inspired by the Swiss movement of the 1960s. Steeped in fonts like Helvetica and later Segoe WP, the language of Microsoft’s “modern and clean” design had a philosophy behind it and even a clever name – Metro UI – as the layout resembled road signs: clear, iconic and text-focused.

Metro UI later evolved into a generic “Windows 8 UI” due to a trademark claim by German multinational Metro AG. That hasn’t stopped many apps, like MetroTube, from embracing the philosophy, which Windows Phone fans have embraced as a badge of honor.

Of course, what made Windows Phone 7 so fun back then was how unique it was compared to iOS and Android. Microsoft’s design relied on a pure white or black “theme” with no wallpaper and bold live tiles that featured photos, app updates, and whatever the developers came up with.

Live Tiles evolved into Windows 8, which unfortunately was rejected by the public as too drastic a departure from the classic desktop. Xbox also embraced a Tile-like design for many years as the company sought to bring its design philosophy in line with all brands.

Subway user interface

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Despite Microsoft’s very cutting-edge and radical reconceptualization of what a modern user interface should look like, many people found the phone’s operating system too austere or even remotely confusing compared to more familiar app icons. on a desktop approach to iOS and Android.

Basically, you either “got” Metro UI or you didn’t.

(Image credit: Microsoft)

But let’s face it, Microsoft’s flat Metro UI design language, which rejected skeuomorphism, was practically art. Its looks still resonate with people who grabbed Windows Phone 7 launch devices such as Samsung Focus, HTC HD7, Dell Venue Pro, LG Quantum, HTC Surround, and LG Optimus 7 daily.

Was Microsoft ahead of its time or just too late for the party?

The answer is both, of course. Windows Phone 7 arrived too late on the market, having to catch up since its creation. But Microsoft, and the talented people behind the Windows Phone 7 operating system, deserve all the credit for making the bold choice to create an operating system that’s still being affectionately discussed 12 years later.


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