News Analysis: Microsoft will launch Windows Phone 7 by the end of 2010, but certain elements need to be in place for the smartphone operating system to succeed.
While Microsoft placed the cloud front-and-center at its Worldwide Partner
Conference this week, it also devoted substantial amounts of executive talk time-and
a substantial booth on the convention-hall floor-to its smartphone initiatives.
Microsoft is preparing to launch Windows Phone 7, which it touts as a complete
revamp of its mobile platform, sometime near the end of 2010.
"The phone is going through a massive inflection point," Andy
Lees, senior vice president of Microsoft's Mobile Communications Business, told
an audience during his keynote in Washington, D.C.'s Verizon Center July 13
"There's this immense competition but in many respects, things are just
Windows Phone 7's approach to the smartphone user interface differs from
competitors such as the iPhone, which offers screens of individual applications
arranged in a gridlike pattern; Microsoft chose to instead consolidate Web
content and applications into subject-specific "Hubs" such as "Office"
or "Games." The smartphones will be paired with a new Windows Phone
Marketplace, where developers will be able to submit five free applications (rising
to $19.99 after that) along with an unlimited number of paid applications.
Given that Windows Phone 7 represents a total reset for Microsoft-devices
running its current mobile operating system, Windows Mobile 6.5, will not be
able to upgrade-the company needs it to thrive if it wants to maintain a viable
position in the smartphone arena, where its market share has been slowly
declining over the past few quarters.
Apart from Microsoft's eventual marketing strategy, Windows Phone 7 will
likely need the following factors to prove a success.
Poor hardware or software could doom Windows Phone 7 in short order. Take
the case of the iPhone 4: Although Apple sold 1.7 million of the
next-generation smartphone within its first three days of release in June,
subsequent issues with the device's exterior antenna rim have threatened to
tarnish the iPhone's reputation-one established via previous generations of
innovative, well-built devices.
Because of those years of accumulated goodwill, the iPhone will almost
certainly survive this latest crisis-but newborn Windows Phone 7 doesn't have
the user base or status to survive a similar situation. A major hardware defect
in one of its devices, or an endemic software bug, could short-circuit a
In the same spirit, a half-baked release build-loaded with smaller bugs, or
sluggish when performing most functions-could lead to the proverbial death of a
thousand cuts, with potential users choosing a rival device perceived as more
Microsoft seems to realize the task for it. "All the stuff has to work
pretty well, it has to be quick, it has to be stable," Casey McGee, a
spokesperson for Microsoft, told eWEEK in a July 13 interview at WPC.
"We need to launch with a marketplace that shows we have a variety of
applications that can be used on a daily basis."
In other words, Windows Phone 7 needs to be as perfect as possible from the
Windows Phone 7 needs third-party developers. According
, Microsoft has been offering to pay developers of popular iPhone
applications to port their wares over to Windows Phone 7; at TechEd in June,
Microsoft made a concerted effort to push the platform onto more
During the WPC, Microsoft prodded
developers yet again, with the July 12 release of its Windows Phone Developer
Tools Beta. The tools are available
from this site
Windows Phone 7 will leverage Silverlight and XMA to build rich content and
3D games. Features for developers include a Microsoft Location Service, for
acquiring location information via a single point of reference; Microsoft
Notification Service, for pushing information to the device; Microsoft Visual
Studio 2010 Express for Windows Phone; and a Windows Phone 7 Series Emulator
"The term 'beta' is understood to mean that things are close to
finished," Brandon Watson, Microsoft's director of developer experience
for Windows Phone 7, wrote
in a July 12 posting on The Windows Phone Developer Blog
. "It's time
to get serious about building the actual apps and games for Windows Phone 7
that consumers will be looking for starting this holiday season."
But third-party developers need the assurance that building apps for Windows
Phone 7-and all the costs and human hours associated with that endeavor-will
ultimately prove profitable. If Windows Phone 7 devices sell well at the
outset-and if those early developers see a resulting cash bounty-then its
Marketplace will grow as more developers join the party.
There are signs of interest in developing for Windows Phone 7. An April
survey by Appcelerator, which builds platforms for native mobile- and
desktop-application development, found that the percentage of developers "very
interested" in Windows Phone 7 platform climbed from 13 percent in January
to 34 percent by the end of March. During that same period, interest in
BlackBerry development climbed from 21 percent to 43 percent, while interest in
Android and the iPhone narrowed to a respective 81 percent and 87 percent.