Microsoft's week was all about Windows Phone 7 Series, the company's newest smartphone operating system and its most concerted attempt to reverse its declining share in the mobile arena, where it faces fierce competition from Apple's iPhone, Google Android, and Research In Motion's BlackBerry. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer indicated during the software's Feb. 15 unveiling at Barcelona's Mobile World Congress that the company would also continue to support its previous smartphone operating system, Windows Mobile 6.5.
Windows Phone 7 Series takes a different perspective on the smartphone user interface, emphasizing "hubs" that aggregate Web and application content over presenting screens filled with individual applications. That may be an attempt on Microsoft's part to negate its disadvantage in mobile applications: at the beginning of February, its Marketplace for Mobile contained 1,245 applications in all languages, including Slovak and Portuguese; for U.S.-based Mobile 6.x smartphones, the storefront offers around 718 mobile applications. By contrast, Apple's App Store features over 100,000 apps, with research firm IDC expecting that number to expand to 300,000 by the end of 2010.
Those "hubs" include categories such as "People," "Pictures," "Office," "Music & Video" and "Games." The user interface draws obvious inspiration from the Zune HD, Microsoft's portable media player, in its look and touch-screen navigation.
Microsoft's Feb. 15 presentation seemed to focus primarily on the consumer uses for the device, leading a number of pundits and analysts to question whether the platform was suited for enterprise use. While the "Office" hub syncs productivity applications such as OneNote with the user's PC, and includes a baked-in SharePoint server connection, debate sprung up over whether developers would have to completely redesign proprietary apps for the new platform.
"The change will not endear Microsoft to its existing base of corporate users who will redesign and redeploy their apps if they are to utilize this new platform," Jack Gold, an analyst with J. Gold Associates, wrote in a Feb. 15 research note. "We don't think Microsoft can count on many enterprises making such a transition/upgrade, and most organizations will likely stay with older WinMo versions (especially those using ruggedized devices, e.g., Symbol, or those with apps that can't be easily transported.)"
On Feb. 18, the WMPoweruser blog posted what it said were leaked Windows Phone 7 development documents, which indicated that the Windows Phone 7 Series software is built on Silverlight, XNA and the .NET compact framework.
Microsoft also refused to confirm reports, which originated with Long Zheng and his Istartedsomething blog, that Windows Mobile 6.5 will be re-branded as Windows Phones Classic. Zheng wrote on his blog that he had learned of the shift in an interview with Microsoft representatives, but a Microsoft spokesperson responded to eWEEK about the matter on Feb. 18 with a standard-issue, "Microsoft has nothing to announce regarding any rebranding of Windows Mobile 6.5."
But some analysts feel that the enterprise and SMBs (small and midsize businesses) could both attach themselves to the business function presented by Windows Phone 7 Series.
"The main difference is that companies like Microsoft see the smartphone as a device that can accomplish work; Apple is on the other side, saying that we're going to make media devices that you can use to do most of the things you need to do for work," Charles King, an analyst with Pund-It Research, said in a Feb. 17 interview with eWEEK. "Microsoft is drawing a firm line between what their next-generation smartphones are doing and what other people are doing."
Key to that, King added, is Microsoft smartphones' "easy integration with office productivity apps and easy integration with Sharepoint and Exchange environments."
Microsoft intends to roll out devices running the new operating system at some point before holiday 2010.