You have to hand it to Microsoft. They have certainly fulfilled the old saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Microsoft has had a number of previous attempts to build a successful operating system for the mobile market with WinPad, Windows Mobile and Win CE. These efforts – simply because they were Microsoft – generated some market presence but nowhere near the market share achieved by major players such as RIM (BlackBerry), Apple (iPhone) and Google (Android).
I thought it was poignant when Rob Tiffany, Mobility Architect at Microsoft, told me at CTIA that Microsoft went back to the drawing board to develop a new mobile OS from the ground up. Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, introduced Windows Phone 7 on Monday, Oct. 11 at a press conference in New York.
The reviews on Windows Phone 7 (WP7) have generally been positive. I appeared on Brian Sullivan’s show on FoxBusiness to explain why I thought Microsoft would succeed with WP7, especially in the enterprise space.
One of the most important changes that WP7 provides over past Windows Mobile efforts is a re-architecture of the user interface. Microsoft abandoned the desktop metaphor of the Start menu driving a list of applications. While that was acceptable on the desktop, it wasn’t well-received in the mobile environment.
There are a number of user interface and technical innovations that WP7 brings to the mobile market, including:
- New platform – WP7 is not an enhancement to previous Windows mobile efforts. It’s developed from the ‘ground up’ – no more forcing people to go through the Windows Start menu. It was designed to provide users with easy access to the information they want and need.
- Active tiles – users can decide what’s important to them and allocate tiles to give them the information they need, e.g. a tile for messaging, a tile for social, a tile for news, etc. Take a look at the sample home screen on a sample WP7 phone. It shows a number of Active Tiles that are user defined to make the initial images on the phone’s start up screen comfortable and personal to the user.
- Panoramas – with panoramas, you swipe left and right to get more information. This is a new user paradigm much like flip/scroll has become in the iPhone and Android for looking through lists by swiping up and down. This allows you to swipe left and right – a very cool concept. Take a look at the wide panoramas below. Notice that the phone image at the top can sweep to the right to cover all the information about a topic and the sweep back to the left. This allows applications to present a lot of information that appears the way the eye looks at the world – in a panoramic fashion. Vertical scrolling is good for lists where panoramas are good for showing more of one kind of information such as a photo or image or set of items in a group.
- Apps – Microsoft has created solid development tools to make it easy for (consumer and enterprise) developers to build exciting apps, e.g. extending X-Box for gaming, etc. and then publishing them in the Windows Phone Marketplace.
Phones will be produced using WP7 by Samsung, HTC, LG and Dell. I suspect that Motorola may follow along as well in 2011. Windows Phones will be distributed through AT&T Mobility and T-Mobile in the US at first and then via Verizon and Sprint in 2011. Some Windows Phones will have integrated keyboards and others will be touch screen only. For example, the Samsung Omnia 7 incorporates a Super AMOLED screen, a 4-inch display, 5-mp camera with HD video and support of Xbox Live gaming and media content.
Microsoft has implemented multiple processes in the first rendition of Windows Phone which allows each app to switch back and forth. Some developers may need full-scale multi-tasking for background operation which Microsoft will likely support at some future time. They store the last place the user was in an application and then re-store it back when the app is re-launched to give the feel of being multi-tasking. But, Microsoft wanted to make sure the first version was solid and, therefore, they deferred true multi-tasking to a later version.
Microsoft has made WP7 work well for both consumers and enterprise. Consumers get a good user experience right out of the box that they can then personalize with Live Tiles. Consumers will also get a streaming music service based on Microsoft’s Zune efforts.
I believe that WP7 will be received well in the enterprise for a number of reasons, including:
- Microsoft Office. Right out of the box, WP7 will support opening and editing Word, Excel and PowerPoint files in a mobile edition of MS Office.
- Outlook. Because Outlook is included as well, enterprise users who already are using Exchange/Outlook will get a friendly, familiar user interface for email.
- OneNote. This is a note taking application that has seen very little adoption in the desktop but may find a much larger following in WP7 especially when joined with sharing of notes from a meeting with co-workers.
- Security. Microsoft has invested a great deal of effort ‘under the covers’ to incorporate end to end security to make sure that enterprise IT professionals will be comfortable deploying WP7.
- Enterprise Development. Microsoft has provided the same development tools that many enterprises have used to create mobile applications.
Personally, I would have preferred if Microsoft had made a further separation from Windows by calling the new platform Microsoft Phone (with different version numbers) so that they could then have Windows 7 (for desktop and laptops) and then Phone 7 without the reference to Windows (for phones).
As for the tablet arena, most firms are leveraging the personal user interfaces and environments from the mobile world for tablets. Apple has done this by using iOS from the iPhone with enhancements in the iPad (rather than using the Mac desktop OS). A number of tablets (including the Samsung Galaxy TAB) are using Google’s Android mobile OS. Thus, it seems likely to me that Microsoft will eventually develop a version of Windows Phone that they might dub Windows Tablet to support larger screens, gestures and the application Windows Phone Marketplace in the tablet arena.
I think RIM should be worried with the introduction of Windows Phone. The BlackBerry user interface has not changed much in the past 10 years. BlackBerry devices are rock solid and work well but don’t provide the ‘sex appeal’ provided in Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android. Also, Microsoft has great relationships with enterprise IT. They make it easy for enterprises to roll out Windows Phone instead of just BlackBerry phones. It will be interesting to see how RIM responds to Windows Phone over time.
Overall, Microsoft is back in the game with Windows Phone 7. I look forward to spending some time with a Windows Phone and getting some hands-on experience. In the end, it’s the users and enterprises that vote with their pocketbook, but it seems highly likely that Microsoft will earn significant market share over the next few years as they evolve Windows Phone. Kudos to the Microsoft team to give the mobile world another good user experience.
We’ll look back on the mobile market 20-30 years from now and see how important it was to provide a number of different user interfaces and then to see how customers declare what they like the most.
J. Gerry Purdy, Ph.D.
Mobile & Wireless