The Too Early To Tell List
Microsoft's Windows Phone 7: The Winners and Losers
It's official. Microsoft has finally announced Windows Phone 7, although much of what they announced has been a pretty well-known fact for some time now. Much of the announcement event centered on showing just how radical a change Windows Phone 7 is from previous Windows Phone devices-and indeed it is. It's far sleeker, friendlier to users, and shows almost no sign of being a Windows derivative like the previous versions did.
But will this be enough to make it a success? I won't get into all the nits of hardware and software, as this has been done in great detail in other reports. However, I see a number of winners and losers in this announcement (and some too close to call at this time).
First, the winners list:
Microsoft has specified the hardware that all manufacturers of Windows Phone 7 devices must have as a minimum. It has specified that the processor must be the Snapdragon 1GHz chip from Qualcomm. If Windows Phone 7 does well, Qualcomm stands to sell tens of millions of its Snapdragon chips and cement its substantial lead in powering the smartphone (and, potentially, tablet) markets. This is particularly detrimental to NVidia, whose Tegra chips (a competitor to Snapdragon) powered the now-defunct Kin devices and had a shot at being the engine for Windows Phone 7.
2. Xbox gamers
Since one of the primary ways to get any content on the Windows Phone 7 device is through using the XNA, any gamers developing for Xbox have a direct and easy path to the Windows Phone 7 devices. And with direct connections via Xbox Live, this should be a boon to game companies and gamers, although this segment of the market is too small to directly fuel the success of Windows Phone 7 all on its own.
More Winners in Microsofts Windows Phone 7 Announcement
More winners in Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 announcement
3. Facebook aficionados
With a direct connection and updating of Facebook (and Windows Live and, presumably, others coming), Windows Phone 7 offers a great way to stay in touch for the socially-centric crowd. This is not unique to Windows Phone 7, with Android and iPhone also offering such connectivity. What is unique is the background push/synch technology that Microsoft is making available to keep the user up-to-date across multiple user accounts and systems.
4. Silverlight programmers
Silverlight is the preferred mechanism for getting content onto the Windows Phone 7 devices. Unlike previous versions of Windows phones, software vendors cannot program at the operating system level and implement their own user interface or application environment. Microsoft has done this to maintain consistent experience and performance on the platform, which is a good thing but will impact a number of application providers.
Users will gain a single UI and single implementation of the operating system across all platforms. This should allow Microsoft to enforce a minimum usability and performance capability-something it was never able to do in previous versions, with drastically different (and often negative) consequences. Users will now know what to expect and not have to face multiple, distinct versions of Windows-powered phones.
The Losers in Microsofts Windows Phone 7 Announcement
The losers in Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 announcement
There are also some losers as a result of the Windows Phone 7 announcement:
1. Non-Silverlight coders
With a reliance on Silverlight, if developers are accustomed to C programming and lower-level languages, they will be very hard-pressed to move their products to the new Windows Phone 7 interfaces. Visual Studio does provide a path (through .Net Framework), but this is only convenient if they are already using this tool and not something such as Eclipse.
Microsoft is committed to Silverlight. And this means that Flash content (and Flash Player) will not likely be supported by Windows Phone 7 any time soon.
HTC, who, with its Sense user environment, made the Windows Mobile experience acceptable to users and differentiated their product from the crowd. HTC (or any other vendor) can no longer do this, as Microsoft has shut down any attempts by OEMs to provide their own UI on top of the operating system.
Enterprises, especially those with specialized applications built to the Windows Mobile platform. It will be hard for applications to be ported unless they are already Silverlight-compatible or built in standard .Net mobile protocols. The majority of enterprise applications are not.
ISVs, who have to adopt yet another programming standard (Silverlight, XNA or .Net for Windows Phone 7). This means they either need to support one more optional programming model on top of the others they may have already chosen (for example, Android, iPhone or BlackBerry) or not play on Windows Phone 7. It's likely most of the smaller players will not initially port their code to Windows Phone 7-at least not until the success of the platform is proven (a chicken-and-egg scenario, since more applications means higher probability of success for Windows Phone 7).
6. OEMs and carriers
OEMs and carriers, who will find it harder to customize the devices now that Microsoft has clamped down on heavy customization. The central entry point to Windows Phone 7 is hubs, and Microsoft is the only one that can add new hubs or services that run in background (for example, synching and push e-mail). Differentiation among hardware vendors will, therefore, be in things such as screen sizes, memory, additional add-on tiles, high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI), cameras, keyboard, etc., but the user experience will essential remain the same on all devices.
The Too Early To Tell List
The too early to tell list
There are also those in the "too early to tell" list, including:
Consumers now have so many choices that they may be too confused in picking a smartphone and just go with what's popular. Microsoft will be required to undertake a massive consumer education campaign if it wants to stand a chance of differentiating itself from iPhone and Android-which have far greater market presence.
2. Business users
Business users are the core of the previous Windows Mobile constituency, but many have defected over the past year. It is unclear whether Microsoft can win them back or even keep the existing, albeit significantly diminished, base of enterprise users-even though the business hub on Windows Phone 7 looks compelling (provided you are an Exchange/Outlook user).
The bottom line
All in all, Microsoft has come up with an interesting new product, one that is completely (and necessarily) different from previous Windows Mobile devices. It remains to be seen how it will do at winning new users in an increasingly competitive market. Will Windows Phone 7 do well or be another Kin disaster? It is too early to tell but we should know by early next year. In any event, this is Microsoft's last chance to be a major player in the smartphone market.
Jack E. Gold is the founder and Principal Analyst at J. Gold Associates, an IT analyst firm based in Northborough, Mass., covering the many aspects of business and consumer computing and emerging technologies. Jack is a former VP of research services at the META Group. He has over 35 years experience in the computer and electronics industries. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.