It wasn’t too long ago that I was singing high praises of Windows Mobile when I received my shiny new Sony Xperia X1. In all honesty it really was the best Windows Mobile handset I ever had the pleasure of using but towards the end it began to suffer from the same kind of random issues that plagued all my other WinMo handsets that had come before it. The camera app would work only half the time and I was lucky if I could convince it to take video. I had long since foregone the panel interface because of how slow it was when compared to the default and the keyboard started sticking and missing key strokes. Still I couldn’t bring myself to sell or trash the handset and it still sits atop my desk with a fully charged battery, hoping that I find a use for it someday.
Microsoft was obviously privy to these kinds of issues that plagued WinMo users and in February this year they announced that they’d be releasing a new mobile operating system called Windows Phone 7. At the time of the release I was on the fence about it, realising the platform had potential but not convinced it was anything more than Microsoft’s me-too business model. More recently I came to see how Microsoft could employ their giant third party developing force to make WinPho7 one of the dominant players in the mobile space but there’s really no telling if the hordes of Microsoft developers would have any interest in developing for the platform.
Monday saw the final unveil for WinPho7 to the wider public with several handsets on display that the press were allowed to get their hands on. Initial reactions were positive with a healthy hint of scepticism:
As for Windows Phone 7 itself, it feels slick and polished. The interface is fast, the transitions are attractive, and built-in programs like e-mail are a pleasure to use. Anyone who uses a handset is going to want to explore it and learn more about it. If Microsoft can get good positioning in retail outlets, the platform should flourish. However, to get a feel for how well the operating system really works as a smartphone OS requires more time than we had today. First impressions are definitely positive, but it’s going to be a while before anyone knows what the software is like to actually live with.
Indeed going through the numerous posts I’ve seen about WinPho7 over the past 8 months or so it seems like many people feel the mobile operating system feels solid but aren’t really sure if it will catch on. If there’s one thing that Microsoft offers with all its products is deep integration between product families and that’s usually where the true value lies. Previous versions of WinMo might have been tedious for the regular user but for corporate clients they were pretty much spot on. They were beaten to the punch by RIM with the easy email to the phone integration but their competing product, Exchange ActiveSync, is quite comparable now. Couple that with a rebooted platform and RIM’s utter failure to capitalize on the touchscreen phenomenon Microsoft might just be able to claw back some of the corporate market they lost to them.
That’s not the only trick Microsoft has up it’s sleeve either.
iPhone owner’s out there are more than aware of the MobileMe service that Apple provides to its customers, usually as an up sell before you get your phone. For the low rate of $99/year (or $149/year if you have up to 4 people who want it) you get access to some cloud storage and a synchronisation service that keeps all your mail, contacts and photos in sync for you. Additionally you can use the service to find a lost iPhone should you misplace it or if it gets stolen. Microsoft has a competing service, known as Live Mesh, that was really only about files and remote access. Yesterday saw the announcement of a revamped version of this service that in essence replicates all the functionality of MobileMe. The kicker here is that Microsoft will be offering the service entirely gratis to all WinPh07 users, including the coveted find my phone feature that MobileMe is so popular for.
I don’t think anyone saw that bombshell coming.
Still the WinPho7 still has a little ways to go before it reaches its full capability. Whilst Microsoft has gone to significant lengths to drive development on the platform it will be a while before there’s a critical mass of users on WinPho7 to make it attractive to those looking to profit from the mobile space. There’s also a couple key features that are missing from WinPho7 such as copy and paste. Whilst that particular feature should be here early next year the absence of that feature and others will be enough for long time iPhone and Android users to think twice before replacing their handset. The lack of support for some carriers in the US could also serve to stymie adoption of the platform, but as the iPhone has shown many people are willing to make the switch if the platform is compelling enough.
If all this talk has you excited about trying out a WinPho7 device for yourself then you won’t be waiting too long with the first devices slated to hit Australia’s shelves in late October with the US getting theirs in early November. I won’t be lining up on launch night to get myself one but I’ll definitely be grabbing one of them (probably the HTC HD7) to fiddle with so I can start planning the Lobaco client for it. From what I’ve seen there’s definitely a lot of potential in Microsoft’s new grab at the mobile market but they’ve got an uphill battle in front of them. The next 6 months will be crucial for the fledgling platform’s success and I’m sure Microsoft will be doing everything they can to take back their title as the king of the smart phone arena.