After years of fits and starts in the mobile business, Microsoft is now all-in on smartphones. It's got a modern mobile operating system. It's got a fleet of high-profile hardware partners. It's got 60 telecoms on board worldwide. It's got a development environment that makes it easy for coders to build apps.
Nevertheless, the questions remain: Will it be enough? Is it too late?
Microsoft officially unveiled Windows Phone 7 at a launch event in New York City on Monday. It mostly exceeded expectations with an announcement of 10 Windows Phone 7 devices that will be available in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific before the end of 2010, and an OS that tries to mix the ease of use of the iPhone with the customization abilities of Android.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer opened Monday's program by saying Microsoft has built a "different kind of phone" in Windows Phone 7. "Microsoft and its partners are delivering a different kind of mobile phone and experience - one that makes everyday tasks faster by getting more done in fewer steps and providing timely information in a glance-and-go format," he said.
While it's different than anything Microsoft has built, the devices themselves look very similar to many of the popular Android smartphones, which shouldn't be surprising since all of Microsoft's leading hardware partners — HTC, Samsung, Dell, and LG — all make Android devices as well. The only big difference, at least on the surface, is the UI for Windows Phone 7, which resembles Zune much more than iPhone and Android.
Microsoft repeatedly played up the concept of "smart design" in its Windows Phone 7 presentation on Monday and it revealed the marketing moniker "Always delightful... Wonderfully mine..." that it's going to use to sell consumers on WP7.
Windows Phone 7 features
Here is a quick summary of the leading features of Windows Phone 7:
- Simple button-based home screen using "Live Tiles" that can be customized
- Windows Phone "hubs" in the UI — Office, People, Pictures, Music, Games
- Deep Microsoft Office integration
- Built-in OneNote experience for mobile note-taking
- SharePoint integration for corporate documents
- Extensive maps and local information
- One button voice search (using Tellme for voice recognition)
- Instant camera access from sleep mode by just touching the camera button
- An option for automatic web uploads of any photos that you take
- Integrated photo album not only shows the photos you've taken on your phone but also photos from your PC and Facebook
- Integration with Zune for music and Xbox Live for gaming
- Electronic Arts (EA) will be a launch partner for games, including Tetris, Sims, and Need for Speed
- Unlike Android, software update will be controlled by Microsoft and will go out to all phones simultaneously on all carriers.
- Cut-and-paste, available as an update in early 2011
Windows Phone 7 devices
Here is the list of the 10 Windows Phone 7 smartphones that Microsoft and its hardware partners are launching before the end of 2010 (the HTC 7 Pro is early 2011):
- HTC HD7
- HTC 7 Pro
- HTC 7 Mozart
- HTC 7 Trophy
- HTC 7 Surround
- LG Quantum
- LG Optimus 7
- Samsung Focus
- Samsung OMNIA 7
- Dell Venue Pro
(We'll update this article with more details on these 10 devices as it becomes available today.)
Mobile operators launching WP7 phones
Here is the current launch schedule for the devices that each of the carriers will be offering:AT&T
- HTC Surround, United States
- Samsung Focus, United States
- LG Quantum, United States
- HTC HD7, United States
- Dell Venue Pro, United States
- HTC 7 Surround, Canada
- LG Optimus 7, Canada
- LG Optimus 7, Mexico
- HTC HD7, United Kingdom, Germany
- HTC 7 Mozart, including France, United Kingdom
- Samsung OMNIA 7, including France, United Kingdom
- HTC 7 Trophy, France
- Samsung OMNIA 7, France
- LG Optimus 7, Spain
- HTC HD7, Spain
- Samsung OMNIA 7, Spain
- HTC 7 Mozart, Germany
- Samsung OMNIA 7, Germany
- HTC 7 Trophy, including Germany, Spain, United Kingdom, Australia
- LG Optimus 7, including Germany, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom
- HTC HD 7, Singapore
- LG Optimus 7, Singapore
- HTC 7 Mozart, Australia
- LG Optimus 7Q, Australia
Microsoft deserves credit for having the guts to do a complete reboot with Windows Phone 7, ditch its beleaguered Windows Mobile platform, and forget about backward compatibility.
Still, make no mistake that Windows Phone 7 has a major challenge ahead of it. Google Android and Apple iPhone have been sucking most of the oxygen out of the mobile space in 2010, and RIM/BlackBerry, Nokia (with Symbian 3), and HP/Palm WebOS are all scrapping to regain the momentum they've lost to Android and iPhone. It's a very crowded space and Microsoft might be about 12 months too late to make a major impact. For now, they're a tough fight for third place in the mobile platform race.
Windows Phone 7's best shot is going to be with enterprises that are heavily invested in Microsoft technologies such as Office and SharePoint. Those businesses could choose to switch from BlackBerry to Windows Phone 7, since it offers a simpler interface and better integration.
In the long run, Windows Phone 7 will have to win over phone makers, telecom carriers, and consumers verses Android. Both are platform plays, and only one of the two can be the big winner. As I explained earlier today, Android has a ton of momentum. I think Windows Phone 7 has to hope that Android fragmentation develops into a larger problem and that WP7 can step in and fill the void. Otherwise, I think the hardware makers and telecoms will ultimately favor Android because they have far more control over it.
Jason Hiner has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.