Late to the Party – Windows Phone 7 Series

Yesterday afternoon the internet was buzzing with details of the launch of Microsoft Windows Phone 7 Series in Barcelona. Only it wasn’t really a launch, it was more a demonstration of a preview version of the platform. It’s predecessor was only launched last autumn, and this pretty well complete rewrite of the Microsoft mobile phone platform isn’t going to be available to buy until around the same time this year.

Whilst it certainly seems to have innovative features – a user interface that does things rather differently from the current favoured multiple pages of icon design that is almost ubiquitous, along with an XBox Live tie up to link your mobile and console gaming – it does seem a pretty brave move to show your rivals what you’ve got planned months and months before anything is going to be released. Even when you take into account that Microsoft are often much more open about showing preview releases of upcoming products than Apple for example, it still seems very early to be showing.

However, when you think about it, if Microsoft wants any part of the rapidly growing mobile applications market, it had to do something.

Microsoft, just like Nokia, Sony/Ericsson and all the rest were caught massively on the hop three years ago by the launch of the iPhone. Smart phones were very much of a niche market, and most regular consumers used a phone to make calls. It was possible to add applications onto smart phones, but again it wasn’t something that many people did.

Roll forward three years and the iPhone has really gone mainstream, it still surprises me how many people have them, and who they are. Many of them, even relatively non-technical are comfortable with the idea of adding applications, reading e-mail, browsing the web and playing games from a phone handset. On top of this Google has moved in on the market making waves with it’s Android operating system. Established players like Nokia have found their market share falling after years of failing to ignite the smart phone market.

Then we get to Microsoft.

They had a niche in corporate markets, and certainly I’d come across techies from time to time using (and more often than not cursing) their Windows Mobile handsets. The ability to program applications in the same languages as desktop applications certainly helped adoption. However they largely dropped the ball. Whilst they have carried on releasing updated versions of their platform they’ve largely been left behind, giving the impression – intentionally or not – that they weren’t interested, that they were happy to relinquish their market share to Apple and Google. In the corporate space Blackberry has grown, certainly in our company those users who are issued with a smart phone are issued with a Blackberry, and many of the executives ask for one by name. Any mobile applications would have to be developed for Blackberry, not Windows Mobile now, and Blackberry provide the tools to do that.

As I’ve said, the iPhone seems to have really gone mainstream, introducing a growing range of people to a smart phone, and the techie space seems to be being filled by Google Android. The iPhone is selling by the million, and producing billions of application downloads.

What Microsoft were showing looks interesting, and if they can sort out the reliability and stability problems that established wisdom say plagued previous versions it would be a good platform, but it would be a good platform if the phones were on the market now. Between now and release Apple, Google and the rest will certainly be releasing updated and new versions of their phones and software. The Microsoft gamble is that having seen the show yesterday, people will be willing to wait, and that come the autumn they will be willing to put aside the previous reputation for being buggy, put down their iPhones, Blackberry and Android phones, write off the money they’ve spent on apps for those platforms – or in the corporate environment infrastructure, and switch over to a Microsoft phone. I’m sure there will be a good few techies who will do so, but the average consumer or the corporate user? It remains to be seen.

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