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Can Windows Phone 7 Succeed?

After attending Microsoft's launch of Windows Phone 7 Monday in New York, I walked away feeling that Microsoft has put its best foot forward in attempting to regain share in the hypercompetitive mobile phone market (see Microsoft Launches Windows Phone 7). The defining question: will Windows Phone 7, despite its positive attributes, get lost in the crowd that is clearly dominated these days by Google's Android, Apple's iPhone and Research in Motion's BlackBerry?

"I've never seen anything like it," said Forrester Research analyst Jeffrey Hammond, who was at Monday's launch event. We were talking about the rapid ascent of the Android mobile platform, which had virtually no share a year ago, and now has emerged as the fastest selling smartphone OS, according to data released by Nielsen last week.

With Verizon Wireless reportedly set to start selling the iPhone early next year and the BlackBerry platform holding its own, where does that leave even a respectable Windows Phone 7? Hammond pointed out it is not game-over for Microsoft.

"Right now we see 23 to 25 percent of phones out there in the U.S. that are smart phones, so there's still another 75 percent of the market to convert over," Hammond said. "If they aggressively price Windows phones so they are logical replacements for quick messaging devices and they offer lower cost data plans, they can grow in the market without having to take Android devices out of users' hands."

Plus every two years, a good number of users swap out their phones, suggesting the long term outlook for all platforms could shift. Key to whether or not Windows Phone 7 will be a viable platform moving forward is whether the .NET developer community mobilizes, so to speak.

IDC analyst Al Hilwa believes they will. "They have a ready base of developers that haven't been very much engaged so far with either Android or Apple that will bring that whole base of developers on board," Hilwa said.

Hammond agrees: "I think there is general interest from the core Microsoft developer network out there and there's a lot of them," he said. There are two things that have to happen, he added. "They've got to get units in market and they've got to make sure they make the on-boarding process as easy and as inexpensive as possible."

Despite a slick batch of devices that will come at launch, this is very much a consumer play. Microsoft still has to evolve Windows Phone 7 into an enterprise-grade platform, adding the ability to remotely manage the devices and embed improved security. Still this is a market where consumers decide first and if a platform succeeds, enterprises will then decide whether or not to support it. So from that perspective, Microsoft's strategy makes sense.

At the same time though, Microsoft will have to win over consumers that want to use their devices to help them in their jobs. From that standpoint, the SharePoint support and E-mail integration are good first starts.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer summed up Windows Phone 7 as "a different kind of phone." It is from the perspective that it is focused more on what the user wants to do with their phones, Hammond pointed out. "They are focusing on what it allows you to do, as opposed to what it does," he said.

If you’re a Microsoft partner or enterprise developer, I'd like to hear your take on whether Windows Phone 7 still has an opportunity over the long haul. Drop me a line at [email protected].

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 10/13/2010 at 1:14 PM


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