By Randy Giusto- Microsoft today officially got back in the game and rolled out its long-awaited Windows Phone 7 mobile platform. At a New York City launch event (one was held in London too), Microsoft announced nine devices supporting Windows Phone 7.
The first phones, from HTC, LG, Samsung, and Dell will be available on either AT&T or T-Mobile while Verizon Wireless and Sprint will have devices next year.
AT&T will carry three Windows Phone 7 devices this fall, the Samsung Focus, the HTC Surround, and the LG Quantum. T-Mobile will carry the HTC HD7, and the Dell Venue Pro.
Sprint Nextel will have at least one Windows Phone 7 offering, an HTC model in 1H01. Verizon Wireless is expected to offer a Windows Phone 7 device sometime next year.
The event demo went relatively smoothly, and I was impressed by the integration of Windows Phone 7 with Office, Xbox Live, and Windows Mail, Exchange, and Gmail, along with photos and music. However, copy and paste isn’t available at launch, but will be given to customers for free in early 2011, for those that buy WP7 devices during the holidays. Also missing is local Outlook sync, which is really, really bad for small businesses.
While WP7 devices sport the reincarnation of the Zune Music System, I can’t help but wonder about the millions of iPod customers out there who’s main computer is a PC and not a Mac, and who use iTunes as their default music library. Although Microsoft has open APIs for Windows Phone 7, I can’t see Apple opening up a port to access one’s music library in iTunes on a Windows 7 device. Let’s see if an enterprising developer can write an app for that and if it gets by the app store police.
Still, on the surface, the Windows Phone 7 UI is intriguing, attractive, and richly integrated with search features, something Apple has not been able to pull off at the same level (I’m waiting for the SIRI technology to get backed into iOS, and soon, to go toe to toe with Microsoft and Google in this area). Plus EA is supporting the platform at launch and will have a host of games soon (The Sims was shown, but how about Madden?). AT&T U-Verse Mobile and Netflix are also there meaning that content shifting is another cool factor, although XFinity and FiOS are out, for now. WP7 devices have voice recognition software and GoVoice is a third party app for $3 in the Zune marketplace. But Google Voice is sorely missing!
While one mobile analyst has dubbed today as “The Empire Strikes Back,” alluding to a Star Wars movie title, Microsoft with Windows Mobile never really had the lion share of the smart phone market or installed base. So I ‘d prefer to tag it as the “The Attack of the Clones” since after all, it is the device OEMs that will support the platform with multiple devices if WP7 becomes successful. Someone tagged their article today “Not one WP7 phone to rule them all!,” which was cheesy since just like Android, WP7 is a platform to be supported by multiple device platforms. Even Apple doesn’t have just one phone SKU.
Still, while I was pleasantly surprised by the WP7 experience, and with strong enterprise services (Exchange, Office), music, photos, Facebook/social networks, and search and maps integration strong, the proof is in the lure of the APIs.
Microsoft needs mobile developers to start dedicating resources and writing apps. They need it badly. Right now, the developer community is very focused on iPhone, iPad, and Android. With so many iPad apps now out, maybe some developers can shift some resources to WP7. There are also BlackBerry developers out there looking for another enterprise platform to develop for, so WP7 could be a viable alternative. But the mindshare within the developer world is still with Apple and Google. If WP7 is to bridge both the enterprise and consumer worlds, it must do it with 3rd party apps. That is where the battle is going to be waged, no matter how good the devices are. The key will be Microsoft’s WP7 SDK, its terms, and its tools, and if developers can efficiently and quickly develop apps for the platform.
It takes time to develop for iPhone, and there is a lengthy App Store approval process, yet the platform has the highest mindshare. Android on the other hand is fairly easy to develop for and there is virtually no qualification, you just appear in the store. BlackBerry on the other hand has had emulator issues for years impacting development time and resources, but with OS 6 things have gotten a bit better.
The question is, from a development perspective, where will WP7 lie in the mix?
– Randy Giusto