WASHINGTON, D.C.-Microsoft is taking a page from Apple and other smartphone manufacturers, but also trying to avoid in Windows Phone 7 some of the mistakes that plagued the evolution of the iPhone.
During a series of interviews at the company's Worldwide Partner Conference here, Microsoft executives suggested they had a road map for when Windows Phone 7, regarded as the company's best chance to reboot its smartphone operating-system franchise and compete against the likes of the iPhone and Google Android, makes its debut near the end of 2010.
Windows Phone 7 takes a different approach to the smartphone user interface than those competitors, consolidating Web content and applications into subject-specific "Hubs" such as "Office" or "Games." Microsoft plans on pairing the operating system 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.
Apple's App Store has run into a few widely publicized controversies over its acceptance policies for applications, of which Microsoft seems aware. During June's TechEd conference, Microsoft offered up a document on its Windows Phone for Developers Website, clearly delineating its content policies; in addition to forbidding applications that are libelous, slanderous, threatening or discriminatory, Microsoft also bans applications that somehow promote hate speech, the use of illegal drugs and excessive alcohol consumption, and violence.
"Philosophically our approach with Marketplace is in line with what's existed for Windows Phone traditionally, and for Windows Mobile 6.5," Casey McGee, a spokesperson for Microsoft, told eWEEK in a July 13 interview at WPC. "What we've sought to do with Windows Phone is be very transparent-here are what the fees are going to look like, etc., and here are the guidelines.
"There's a lot of subjectivity in the guidelines, and there will be judgment calls, but there will be an attempt to be consistent." McGee said. "The process is important because it tells the developer that if they invest the time, the app will be approved."
But an even bigger challenge may be persuading users to choose Windows Phone 7 in a market already saturated with robust options. For that to happen, the company seems to feel, the operating system will need to be a quality launch from the very beginning.
"All the stuff has to work pretty well, it has to be quick, it has to be stable," McGee added. "We need to launch with a Marketplace that shows we have a variety of applications that can be used on a daily basis."
Much of the WPC has focused on the cloud, with some keynotes devoted to Windows Phone 7.
"The phone is going through a massive inflection point," Andy Lees, senior vice president of Microsoft's Mobile Communications Business, told an audience gathered in the Verizon Center here July 13. "There's this immense competition, but in many respects, things are just beginning."
Microsoft's strategy behind Windows Phone 7, he added, centers on three tenets: smart design, integrated experiences and an optimized ecosystem. "The problem is that smartphones are just app launchers; they're a grid of icons," Lees said. "We figured there's got to be a better way than going app by app by app, so two years ago we fundamentally reset our strategy."
But the big question is whether developers themselves will gravitate toward the platform. According to reports, Microsoft has been offering to pay developers of popular iPhone applications to port their wares over to Windows Phone 7, something the company has declined to directly confirm. At TechEd, Microsoft made an effort to push the platform onto more business-centric designers.
On July 12, Microsoft released its Windows Phone Developer Tools Beta, making the tools available from this site.
"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."
Microsoft doubtlessly hopes developers will take that one to heart.