INSIDE MOBILE: Microsoft Windows Phone 7: If At First You Don't Succeed

 
 
By J. Gerry Purdy  |  Posted 2010-10-20
 
 
 

INSIDE MOBILE: Microsoft Windows Phone 7: If At First You Don't Succeed


You have to hand it to Microsoft. They have certainly fulfilled the old saying, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." Microsoft has had a number of previous attempts to build a successful operating system for the mobile market with WinPad, Windows Mobile and Win CE. These efforts-simply because they were from Microsoft-generated some market presence, but nowhere near the market share achieved by major players such as RIM (BlackBerry), Apple (iPhone) and Google (Android).

I thought it was poignant when Rob Tiffany, Mobility Architect for Windows Phone 7 (WP7), told me at CTIA that Microsoft went back to the drawing board to develop a new mobile operating system from the ground up. Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, introduced WP7 on Monday, October 11, 2010 at a press conference in New York.

The reviews on WP7 have generally been positive. I appeared on Brian Sullivan's show on Fox Business to explain why I thought Microsoft would succeed with WP7, especially in the enterprise space.

One of the most important changes that WP7 provides over past Windows Mobile efforts is a re-architecture of the user interface. Microsoft abandoned the desktop metaphor of the Start menu driving a list of applications. While that was acceptable on the desktop, it wasn't well received in the mobile environment.

UI and Other Technical Innovations of WP7


UI and other technical innovations of WP7

There are a number of UI and technical innovations that WP7 brings to the mobile market, including:

New platform: WP7 is not an enhancement to previous Windows mobile efforts. It's developed from the "ground up"-no more forcing people to go through the Windows Start menu. It was designed to provide users with easy access to the information they want and need.

Active tiles: Users can decide what's important to them and allocate tiles to give them the information they need (for example, a tile for messaging, a tile for social, a tile for news, etc.). Click here to take a look at a sample Start screen on a WP7 phone. It shows a number of active tiles that are user-defined to make the initial images on the phone's Start screen comfortable and personal to the user.

Panoramas: With panoramas, you swipe left and right to get more information. This is a new user paradigm (much like flip/scroll has become in the iPhone and Android for looking through lists by swiping up and down). Panoramas allow you to swipe left and right-a very cool concept. Click here to take a look at a wide panorama on the WP7.

Notice that the phone image at the top can sweep to the right to cover all the information about a topic and then sweep back to the left. This allows applications to present a lot of information that appears the way the eye looks at the world-in a panoramic fashion. Vertical scrolling is good for lists whereas panoramas are good for showing more of one kind of information (such as a photo, image or set of items in a group).

Applications: Microsoft has created solid development tools to make it easy for consumer and enterprise developers to build exciting applications (for example, extending Xbox for gaming, etc.) and then publish them in the Windows Phone Marketplace.

WP7 Phone Manufacturers: Samsung, HTC, LG and Dell


WP7 phone manufacturers: Samsung, HTC, LG and Dell

WP7 phones will be produced by Samsung, HTC, LG and Dell. I suspect that Motorola may follow along as well in 2011. WP7 phones will be distributed through AT&T Mobility and T-Mobile in the United States at first, and then via Verizon and Sprint in 2011. Some WP7 phones will have integrated keyboards and others will be touch-screen only.

For example, the Samsung Omnia 7 incorporates a Super active-matrix organic light-emitting diode (AMOLED) screen, a 4-inch display, 5-MP camera with high-definition video, and support of Xbox Live gaming and media content.

Microsoft has implemented multiple processes in the first rendition of WP7, which allows each application to switch back and forth. Some developers may need full-scale multitasking for background operation, which Microsoft will likely support at some future time. They store the last place the user was in an application and then restore it back when the application is relaunched (to give the feel of being multitasking). But Microsoft wanted to make sure the first version was solid and, therefore, they deferred true multitasking to a later version.

WP7 for Both Consumers and Enterprise Users


WP7 for both consumers and enterprise users

Microsoft has made WP7 work well for both consumers and enterprise. Consumers get a good user experience right out of the box that they can then personalize with Live Tiles. Consumers will also get a streaming music service based on Microsoft's Zune efforts.

I believe that WP7 will be received well in the enterprise for a number of reasons, including:

Microsoft Office: Right out of the box, WP7 will support the opening and editing of Word, Excel and PowerPoint files in a mobile edition of MS Office.

Outlook: Because Outlook is included as well, enterprise users who are already using Exchange or Outlook will get a friendly, familiar UI for e-mail.

OneNote: This is a note-taking application that has seen very little adoption in the desktop but may find a much larger following in WP7, especially when joined with sharing of notes from a meeting with co-workers.

Security: Microsoft has invested a great deal of effort "under the covers" to incorporate end-to-end security to make sure that enterprise IT professionals will be comfortable deploying WP7.

Enterprise Development: Microsoft has provided the same development tools that many enterprises have used to create mobile applications.

Personally, I would have preferred if Microsoft had made a further separation from Windows by calling the new platform Microsoft Phone (with different version numbers) so that they could then have Windows 7 (for desktop and laptops) and then Phone 7, without the reference to Windows (for phones).

WP7 in the Tablet Arena


WP7 in the tablet arena

As for the tablet arena, most firms are leveraging the personal UIs and environments from the mobile world for tablets. Apple has done this by using iOS from the iPhone with enhancements in the iPad (rather than using the Mac desktop operating system).

A number of tablets (including the Samsung Galaxy TAB) are using Google's Android mobile operating system. Thus, it seems likely to me that Microsoft will eventually develop a version of WP7 that they might dub Windows Tablet to support larger screens, gestures and the Windows Phone Marketplace application in the tablet arena.

WP7 and RIM

I think RIM should be somewhat worried with the introduction of WP7. The BlackBerry UI has not changed much in the past 10 years. BlackBerry devices are rock-solid and work well but don't provide the "sex appeal" provided in Apple's iOS or Google's Android. Also, Microsoft has great relationships with enterprise IT. They'll make it easy for enterprises to roll out WP7 instead of just BlackBerry phones. It will be interesting to see how RIM responds to WP7 over time.

Final thoughts

Overall, Microsoft is back in the game with WP7. I look forward to spending some time with a WP7 phone and getting some hands-on experience. In the end, it's the users and enterprises that vote with their pocketbook. But it seems highly likely that Microsoft will earn significant market share over the next few years as they evolve Windows Phone. Kudos to the Microsoft team for giving the mobile world another good user experience.

We'll look back on the mobile market 20 to 30 years from now and see how important it was to have had provided a number of different UIs, and then we'll see how customers declared what they liked the most.

J. Gerry Purdy, Ph.D. is Principal Analyst of Mobile & Wireless at MobileTrax LLC. As a nationally recognized industry authority, Dr. Purdy focuses on monitoring and analyzing emerging trends, technologies and market behavior in the mobile computing and wireless data communications industry in North America. Dr. Purdy is an "edge of network" analyst looking at devices, applications and services, as well as wireless connectivity to those devices. Dr. Purdy provides critical insights regarding mobile and wireless devices, wireless data communications and connection to the infrastructure that powers the data in the wireless handheld. He is author of the column Inside Mobile & Wireless that provides industry insights and is read by over 100,000 people a month.

Dr. Purdy continues to be affiliated with the venture capital industry as well. He currently is Managing Director at Yosemite Ventures. And he spent five years as a Venture Advisor for Diamondhead Ventures in Menlo Park where he identified, attracted and recommended investments in emerging companies in mobile and wireless. He has had a prior affiliation with East Peak Advisors and, subsequently, following their acquisition, with FBR Capital Markets. For more than 16 years, Dr. Purdy has been consulting, speaking, researching, networking, writing and developing state-of-the-art concepts that challenge people's mind-sets, as well as developing new ways of thinking and forecasting in the mobile computing and wireless data arenas. Often quoted, Dr. Purdy's ideas and opinions are followed closely by thought leaders in the mobile and wireless industry. He is author of three books as well.

Dr. Purdy currently is a member of the Program Advisory Board of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) which produces CES, one of the largest trade shows in the world. He is a frequent moderator at CTIA conferences and GSM Mobile World Congress. He also is a member of the Board of the Atlanta Wireless Technology Forum. Dr. Purdy has a B.S. degree in Engineering Physics from University of Tennessee, a M.S. degree in Computer Science from UCLA, and a Ph.D. in Computer Science and Exercise Physiology from Stanford University. He can be reached at gerry.purdy@mobiletrax.com.

Disclosure Statement: From time to time, I may have a direct or indirect equity position in a company that is mentioned in this column.  If that situation happens, then I'll disclose it at that time.

Rocket Fuel