Microsoft could face some difficulties as it attempts to kick-start interest in Windows Phone 7, according to a new analyst report. That comes along with new rumors that the smartphone's next software update, reportedly due in the next few weeks, will be massive in scope.
"Not all the stars are aligning for the Microsoft operating system the way it did for [Google] Android," Ross Rubin, the NPD Group's executive director for industry analysis, wrote in a Nov. 30 posting on the research firm's corporate blog. "First, whereas Verizon had a paucity of touch screen smartphones prior to the Droid, AT&T and T-Mobile are flush with them." Both carriers also feature competing devices with a proven track record-particularly the iPhone, which remains exclusive to AT&T for the time being.
"On the other hand, the devices at those carriers offer clear alternatives to the incumbents," Rubin wrote. "All of the Windows phones at AT&T pack something the iPhone lacks, and the HD7's screen looms large above others in T-Mobile's portfolio."
Microsoft's tight hold on its smartphones' software could also reap benefits as the actual devices penetrate further into the market. "Due to Microsoft's tighter control over updates," Rubin added, "each Windows phone sold represents an opportunity to rapidly spread the updates [that the] Windows Phone 7 needs to fill in its feature gaps."
Current rumors suggest that the first Windows Phone 7 update could be huge.
"I've been hearing the first #wp7 update is going to be massive," Chris Walsh, a Windows Phone 7 developer and co-creator of the ChevronWP7 unlocker app, tweeted Nov. 28. "They've been working on this update long before they actually shipped v1."
Walsh then tweeted in response to a question about the update's size: "Let's just say, they could have called it Windows Phone 8." By then, the blogosphere had seized upon his comments and linked them with other online conversations suggesting the update is due in January.
That time frame would dovetail neatly with recent comments by Microsoft executives. "Critics have commented on the lack of specific features like copy & paste and lack of 100s of thousands of new applications," Arpan Shah, Microsoft's director for SharePoint, wrote in a Nov. 4 posting on his corporate blog. "And while both are true, copy & paste will be available as an update in a matter of weeks (early 2011) and as for applications, it's just a matter of time."
Windows Phone 7 currently lacks multitasking, as well as support for tethering and Adobe Flash. Despite those missing features, Microsoft hopes that consumers and businesspeople alike will gravitate toward Windows Phone 7's unique interface, which includes six subject-specific "Hubs" that aggregate Web content and applications.
A truly massive Windows Phone 7 update could address some of these missing features, broadening the platform's appeal at a time when its sales prospects are decidedly mixed. Although Microsoft has offered no hard numbers, a report from TheStreet.com suggested that some 40,000 Windows Phone 7 devices had sold on Nov. 8, their first day of U.S. release on AT&T and T-Mobile. That number supposedly came from an unnamed "market research source who tracks phone sales."
International news outlets such as DigiTimes have reported strong Windows Phone 7 sales in parts of Europe and Australia, although a new report from retailer MobilesPlease indicated that the devices were being outsold by their Google Android and Symbian counterparts in the U.K.
"Windows Phone 7 has [gotten] off to a sluggish start as far as our customers are concerned," reads a Nov. 29 posting on MobilesPlease's corporate blog, "accounting for just 3 [percent] of smartphone sales and a little under 2 [percent] of overall sales through MobilesPlease.co.uk and our network of mobile phone partner sites."
If Windows Phone 7 succeeds in the marketplace, it will reverse several quarters of declines for Microsoft's smartphone franchise, which has faced fierce competition from the iPhone and a growing number of Google Android devices.