Windows Phone 7 remains a distant underdog in the brutally-competitive smartphone arena, but a couple new reports this week show that Microsoft's latest foray into mobile has not been the total flop that many (including me) were expecting.
On Monday, Microsoft revealed that Windows Phone 7 has sold 1.5 million units in its first six weeks. Also on Monday, IDC reported that the Windows Phone 7 app store has reached the 4,000 app mark and is growing at a faster rate than Android was at the same point in time.
These two developments will take some of the heat off of Microsoft, which has come under fire in recent weeks for its silence about Windows Phone 7 sales figures. Most analysts and journalists have assumed that "no news is bad news" because if the sales figures were good than Microsoft would have wanted to brag about it. However, it's also important to keep in mind that the 1.5 million phones Microsoft reported represents the number of phones that hardware makers sold to telecom carriers and not the number of phones that people have purchased, so the the number is a little inflated.
Nevertheless, the carriers tightly control their inventories so unless we hear about a bunch of Windows Phone 7 devices languishing on the shelves and getting mailed back to the hardware makers than these numbers look pretty solid. It's not a raging success, but it's also not a stinging belly flop, which is what Microsoft needed to avoid.
As for the apps, 4,000 is a decent start. Leading up to the launch of Windows Phone 7 in October, I had repeatedly been hearing that Microsoft was putting the full court press on its registered developers and software partners about building apps for Windows Phone 7. There have even been rumors that Microsoft has been offering some significant "incentives" to some software developers to get on board with WP7.
Still, comparing the Windows Phone 7 app catalog to Android at the same point in its development is not all that useful. Android didn't really get cooking until the fall of 2009 -- a year after its debut -- when the Motorola Droid was first released and then was quickly followed by a string of other hit phones on multiple carriers, which drove lots of developer interest in the platform.
Windows Phone 7 has definitely benefited from low expectations, since its predecessor Windows Mobile was such a terrible software experience and Microsoft has been repeatedly unsuccessful in the mobile space. As I reported in my review of the Samsung Focus, my first impressions of Windows Phone 7 were much better than I expected. In many ways, it's more polished than Android, but it's still missing too many key features to truly be competitive with Android and iPhone.
Microsoft still has a lot of work to do with WP7, but it's done enough to remain in the game at this point.
Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).