LAS VEGAS--The next generation of Windows Phone, due out toward the end of the year, is a big focus at Microsoft's Mix conference here this week, and I'm starting to learn a few things about how Windows Phone 7 Series will--and won't--be different from the Zune HD.
Windows Phone 7 Series, the next-generation mobile-phone platform from Microsoft, is set to offer a great value to music fans: every phone will basically include the complete functionality of the Zune HD. Joe Belfiore, Windows Phone program management vice president, on Monday confirmed that the Zune HD's wireless sync--one of my favorite features--will be carried forward to the phone platform.
When you bring your phone home and plug it in, it will automatically scan local wireless networks to see if it recognizes your home Wi-Fi network. If it finds it, and your PC is turned on, the Zune software will launch and automatically do a two-way sync of all your music, videos, and pictures.
Application purchases should also be synced, though I'm still learning the ins and outs of the phone marketplace. (From what I can tell, users will be able to buy apps through the Zune PC client software, as well as directly from the Marketplace on the phone, but I haven't seen a full demonstration of the PC-based marketplace yet, so I'm not sure how it's integrated into the Zune software.) As Belfiore pointed out, this is actually more useful in a phone than in an MP3 player, as most people use their phone more and recharge it pretty regularly at home.
At the same time, the differences between phones and MP3 players also mean some differences in how things work, particularly when it comes to purchasing content. For example, today, all Zune Marketplace purchases are billed by Microsoft. With Windows Phone 7, Microsoft will allow mobile operators to bill customers directly.
Operators will love the additional revenue opportunity, and direct billing also removes a possible extra step for consumers--instead of having to enter a credit card number, you'll just see the purchase on your bill--which could increase purchases. It's a different approach than Apple has taken with the iTunes Store, and it will have to be managed carefully to avoid confusion--possible usability nightmares could ensue, if operators handle some charges, and Microsoft handles others.
This leads me to the Zune Pass, Microsoft's subscription service for the Zune HD. It's a great deal, offering as much music as you can consume for as long as you keep paying your subscription, plus 10 permanent downloads a month.
Unfortunately, Microsoft representatives would not confirm that the Zune Pass will carry forward. Windows Phone 7 users might see changes in pricing, terms, or the billing model...or Microsoft may simply decide not to make it available at all for the phone. I'll let you know more as soon as the company is willing to talk on the record about it.