Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 has experienced some growing pains in its first few months, but the company continues pushing the platform as a viable one.
Windows Phone 7 represents Microsoft's next best hope for carving some
smartphone market share away from the likes of not only Google Android and the
Apple iPhone, but also Research In Motion's BlackBerry franchise and the Palm
devices resurrected under the Hewlett-Packard brand.
By some analyst estimates, Microsoft has poured hundreds of millions of
dollars into its Windows Phone 7 development and marketing efforts. It recently
signed a deal with Nokia that will see the software ported onto the latter's
smartphones, an agreement both companies hope will boost their respective
market shares in the long battle against their mutual rivals. Microsoft made
sure to sign a number of carriers and manufacturing partners onto its initial
smartphone rollout, and it imposed strict hardware requirements for the devices
themselves, to ensure a consistent user experience.
And yet Windows Phone 7 is still experiencing some growing pains.
It started when a February software update, designed to help with future
updates, stalled a small number of users' smartphones and sparked two days'
worth of drama on Microsoft's online help forums. In the wake of that
mini-incident, Microsoft seemed to take a more cautious note with
"NoDo," its March update.
"After careful consultation with the team and our many partners, we've
decided to briefly hold the March update in order to ensure the update process
meets our standards and that of our customers," a Microsoft spokesperson
wrote in a March 10 email to eWEEK. "As a result, we will plan to begin
delivering the update in the latter half of March."
The "NoDo" update brings a number of things to the proverbial
table, including faster app loading and the addition of a cut-and-paste
feature. However, for many users, the last week of March ticked by without an
update-sparking another round of online protests. Microsoft responded with a
pair of charts detailing the update status for devices in both the United
States and around
the world. The chart broke the update path into three categories:
Testing, i.e., the update is undergoing network and quality tests.
Scheduling, i.e., Microsoft is scheduling the update for delivery-a
process the charts suggest will take "10 days or less."
Delivering, i.e., the smartphone could receive the update within the
next "several weeks."
Although the substantial majority of Windows Phone 7 devices had reached the
"delivering" stage by early April, some initial slowness for users in
the United States-by March 27, no device had reached the "delivering"
stage for either the March or February update-led to another micro-burst of
public frustration, this time in the comments section of the Microsoft-owned
Channel 9 Website.
"We know the table would benefit greatly from more detail, and we are
hoping to add more to it by working with the operators who own the 'testing'
phase to get more clarity," Joe Belfiore, Microsoft's corporate vice
president and director of Windows Phone program management, wrote March 26 in direct
response to those comments. "If your phone is shown in 'scheduling,'
it'll be worth checking the table next week."
And therein lies a potential rub: By ceding the "testing" phase of
the update process to the "operators"-Microsoft's carrier
partners-the company surrenders control over the upgrade timetable to outside
entities whose strategic alliances and concerns may not wholly align with those
of Redmond. Those entanglements aside, the minor speed bumps with the first two
updates will likely pressure Microsoft to ensure that the software tweaks
scheduled for the next few months, including multitasking and a Twitter
feature, proceed on schedule.
In the meantime, Microsoft seems intent on plowing through the early and
more awkward stages of Windows Phone 7's lifestyle. Microsoft's MIX11 conference, due to kick off April 12
in Las Vegas, will assemble a broad range of developers and designers to
discuss, among other topics, the future of Windows Phone as a viable platform
for apps and services.
A March 30 posting on The
Windows Phone Developer Blog offers numbers that Microsoft executives will
likely use onstage to illustrate that viability: Windows Phone Developer Tools
being downloaded some 1.5 million times, the Windows Phone developer community
boasting 36,000 members and the Windows Phone 7 ecosystem containing around
"We recognize the importance of getting great apps on our platform and
not artificially inflating the number of actual apps available to [customers]
by listing 'wallpapers' as a category, or perhaps allowing competitors' apps to
run on the platform to increase tonnage," Brandon Watson, Microsoft's
director of developer experience for Windows Phone 7, wrote in the posting.
"We also don't believe in the practice of counting 'lite' apps as unique
quality content. In reality they only exist because developers can't have a
Trial API and must therefore do extra work."
Nonetheless, it remains unclear whether consumers are gravitating toward the
Windows Phone 7 platform. New
numbers from analytics firm comScore suggest that Microsoft's share of the
smartphone market dipped to 7.7 percent for the three months ending in
February, down from 9 percent in November 2010, when the first Windows Phone 7
devices hit store shelves in the United States. To be fair, comScore's gross
number also incorporates devices in Microsoft's antiquated Windows Mobile line,
which are presumably experiencing a degree of natural bleed-off in favor of
Windows Phone 7 and other platforms; nonetheless, Microsoft's smartphone
efforts continue to lag those of Google Android, Apple's iOS and RIM's
In order to change that picture, Microsoft is betting on partnerships with
companies like Nokia, a broad array of devices on multiple carriers, and
quality apps from third-party developers. As emphasized repeatedly by both
Microsoft executives and outside analysts, there is a very long game ahead.
Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.