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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