Foley on Microsoft

Windows Phone 7: A Good Bet?

Microsoft is taking a lot of risks with its forthcoming Windows Phone 7 platform. To be fair, the 'Softies had little choice. Windows Mobile has steadily lost significant market share to the point where it's no longer a major player in the overall market for smartphones. The question is no longer whether Microsoft should've embarked on a "Photon" reset -- which officials acknowledge the company did a year ago, when it went back to the drawing board with the coming version of the Microsoft mobile platform. Instead, the real question is whether Microsoft has made the right bets in the mobile space.

Microsoft is still trickling out information about Windows Phone 7. But here's a list of some of the biggest risks the company is taking:

  1. Tailoring the platform for consumers rather than for business users. (Yes, I know the 'Softies are saying Windows Phone 7 devices are being designed for both consumer and business use. But the reality is that Windows Mobile is Microsoft's enterprise mobile play and Windows Phone 7 is its consumer play.)
  2. Going with an entirely new -- and far more locked-down -- UI known as Metro, which Microsoft pioneered with Media Center and the Zune HD.
  3. Deciding against providing cut-and-paste functionality in the first release of the Windows Phone 7 platform.
  4. Opting against enabling multitasking for third-party applications.
  5. Selecting Silverlight and XNA as the development environments for Windows Phone 7, meaning programmers will have to create applications using managed code and using only the C# programming language.
  6. Providing no backward compatibility, meaning Windows Mobile 6.x apps (even Microsoft apps, like Microsoft Office Mobile 2010) need to be rewritten to run on the new mobile platform.
  7. Requiring all application downloads and purchases to go through the Windows Phone Marketplace.

Windows Phone 7 is an example of the 'Softies' newfound love of design overshadowing the usual Microsoft values -- like backward compatibility, developer-tool choice and partners as king. It's also an example of Microsoft execs letting their iPhone envy triumph over reason, some pundits have argued.

I'm not convinced that the company has made the optimal set of bets with Windows Phone 7. Some Windows Mobile developers and customers who stuck with Microsoft's meandering mobile platform and strategy say they're feeling abandoned and disenfranchised. They're taking their business elsewhere, they're telling me.

As much as I find the Metro UI on my Zune HD to be fun and intuitive, I'm not convinced that it will be as useful on a phone. I am also not convinced that Windows Phone 7 is going to attract as many or as large a variety of developers and applications as the iPhone and Android platforms have managed to do.

Do business users really want to see a broken-heart icon show up every time they delete a tile from their Windows Phone 7 device? Do they really want Facebook and Twitter integration more than they want CRM data that they quickly cut, paste and mail to their bosses? Microsoft execs say they've done a lot of research and are targeting Windows Phone 7 at "life maximizers" who want to use a single phone for both work and play. I say: Who are these people who care more about showing off their gamer tags and achievement scores than they do about accessing custom line-of-business applications on the go?

Microsoft has yet to finalize the operating system that will power the first Windows Phone 7 devices, which are due out by this year's holiday season, so there's still room for some technology and strategy tweaks. But the company is still taking a huge gamble with its new platform. Will it pay off? We'll see.



About the Author

Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She has a new book out, Microsoft 2.0 (John Wiley & Sons, May 2008), about what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.

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Fri, Oct 29, 2010

"Features will be on [any date]f through an upgrade". Are you sure? Previous versions of Windows Mobile have been incapable of any upgrade, even from version 5.0 to 5.1 on an HP Ipaq; Previous versions of WinMo have been hardware generic. WinMo 7 is highly hardware dependant / hardware designed, so I wonder how come one can "apply the patches" to have cut and paste and multitasking, features that are integrated deep into the operating system. I bet you will have the upcoming features... by trashing your 7.0 phone and buying a new one with WinMo 7.1 inside...

Tue, Jun 22, 2010 Tom

Geeez!!,,, folks relax and give WP7 a chance, will ya? Win Mobile is being increasingly abandoned by devs in favour of the iPhone & Android, and Microsoft has decided to embark on a fresh start to try to compete, what's wrong with that? For those who keep talking about OPEN platforms and not being 'locked down', well if that's what you want then ok, go with it and be happy. But the vast majority of people could prob care less whether it's open or not (if they even know what it means). People want a phone that does what they need now, and then it's replaced in 2-3 yrs. Why must everything suddenly be open everything? Come on really, so what. And why must it be backward compatible? Because devs don't want to do more work? - violin playing. Or maybe because users have this vast mountain repository of $2 apps they wish to reuse? - uhh yeah ok. Like some of you, I also develop for Win Mobile. And I look forward to a fresh start with WP7 - software is what I do, it's me. I welcome a chance to improve, enhance and add value to my products so my clients can get even greater value in return.

Fri, Jun 11, 2010 Nuke

I don't like where Microsoft is going with the W7 Phone. This is a complete reboot of the OS and is not backwards compatible. Like other 1.0 releases, it is incomplete and missing many key features. Meanwhile, iPhone and Android continue to move ahead. How can MS catch up? I am planning to focus my mobile development on Android.

Mon, May 3, 2010 Doesntmatter Earth

Headline: objective, Content: one-sided. Author should have named this, "7 reasons why '7' will fail". What a yo yo.

Mon, May 3, 2010

Like someone was pointing out in another forum I was following, can someone name the 1.0 of a new OS released with everything and was "feature complete" from day one? Android and iPhone included. It took three years for the iPhone to implement a simple funtion like "copy & paste". Like any Android user will tell you, using version 2.1 on the Nexus One or the Motorola Droid is ligth years compared to the first Andriod phone, the T-Mobile G1. Copy & paste will be coming very soon as an update after the phones are released during the holidays, so everyone should just move on regarding this argument. As a WinMo user of several years, I for one can't wait for WP7.

Sun, May 2, 2010 HATE IT

WP7 is so locked down and has a lot of the most basic features like a file explorer and SD card removed! I'll switch to Android or webOS. WP7 SUCKS!

Sun, May 2, 2010 Windows Phone Deserter SF

Microsoft had other choices. It could have created a HTC-style touch interface for Windows Mobile, which would have been popular, and kept WinMo on the market longer. If it had to do a platform reset, it should have done it later down the track, after it had designed an emulator for WinMo programs (the way Apple does platform resets). Microsoft engineers have admitted that backwards compatibility could have been technically achieved if there had been more time. As it stands, Windows Phone 7 will be going to market without backwards compatibility, with no app ecosystem, with underdeveloped APIs and SDK, with no mutitasking or copy-paste. It won't succeed. Yes, it does have a nice interface, but it has nothing underneath, and will be completely uncompetitive with Android and iPhone. DOA.

Sat, May 1, 2010

sounds like someone is trying to scare market shares and horde them for himself.

Sat, May 1, 2010 Malcolm McCaffery Australia

For those already developing applications in .NET for current Windows Mobile, porting the applciations is not that complicated...To me the .NET platform is such an awesome platform - as is Silverlight, C# and XNA. The benefit it brings to developer is massive reduction in development time over native languages like C++, so I think a lot of current .NET developers should be able to show off their skills in this platform, not to mention existing silverlight developers.... Although primarily a business user I will not miss Windows Mobile 6.1/6.5 - I absolutely hate using it everyday (it's probably the only MS product I really hate)

Sat, May 1, 2010

I agree with the first poster - "softies"? - come on. And as for not attracting as many and varied devs? You do know that you are talking about MS right? More than 600+ games in the Indie Games section of Xbox (with XNA 4.0 - guess what - Windows Phone 7) and that does not count anything of the professional devs making games for the Xbox.... next... windows apps via Visual Studio - so wide and varied I can't comment further - Windows Media Center developers, Silverlight developers, the list could go on and on... guess what else? C# is used in all of them. I am betting that WP7 is going to decend like a pack of flying monkies over the next 2-4 years - along with a legion of devs that have little or no interest in learning objective c for the iPhone

Fri, Apr 30, 2010

"Softies"? It sounds so condescending. Why not just make a point? Is it due to lack of a valid point? Tell us how you really feel "OB-wan"

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