image Ever since watching the release event for Windows Phone 7 Series we’ve been internally discussing what this all means. And the more I think about it, the more I see this as a huge leap forward for the platform. I know that some people are already upset that there aren’t going to be UI replacements and it seems like there’s limited backwards compatibility, but you know what? It doesn’t matter. And I say that with a Fuze running constantly cooked software that I love to use and yet I’d give it up in a heartbeat. Why? Well let’s think about the phones we’re using. Yes, it has a super sexy and new 6.5.5 core running with Sense 2.5 with landscape support. But what’s that all come down to? The core itself is MS. The UI is Sense. That’s an HTC addition. Photos are viewed using HTC Album. The web browser default is set to Opera, but I sometimes fire up Skyfire if I want to go to a real heavy site. Facebook integration is again a part of Sense, as is Twitter. Sure there are alternative like Twikini to get Tweets and there’s a stand alone FB app (which MS actually did develop) but then there’s no integration into your contacts that way.  The ability to flick to scroll first came from HTC, not MS. Even the onscreen keyboard most of us rely on is from HTC. Music is played by Media Player but of course, I have Core Player for some music and videos that WMP can’t handle. And a lot of you use Kimona or Resco for your music and streaming needs. SMS is part of HTC messaging. The phone dialer is HTC’s dialer. And my location features (like weather updates) are courtesy of Google’s location awareness. Now of course you can sub in any number of replacement apps and if you have a Samsung, Sony, or Toshiba phone then instead of Sense you’ll have their UI and their photo viewer. But you see where this is going, right? The core is Microsoft but the experience is not.

See as Windows Mobile went from a business oriented phone to a consumer phone the MS software was outpaced but the core was still good, it had native Exchange support and lots of legacy app support, so manufacturers ran with it and even though they were hardware manufacturers they were hiring software developers. And ultimately that’s how the current WM experience has come to where it is. WM in its current state is built on third party software and software created by hardware manufacturers.

Enter Windows Phone 7 Series. What are we looking at here? The UI is all Zune. All of your social networking comes right into the core of the OS. You’ll find all of your Facebook, Twitter and anything else you want right in your People hub. Your photos and movies are straight Zune. Web browser is IE rendering in desktop mode. Location awareness is thanks to the Windows API connected through Bing. Mapping and searches, all Bing. Messaging is Outlook as is calendar. Keyboard is an enhanced Zune keyboard with autocorrection reworked. Syncing is Activesync at its core but Zune at its face. And of course sprinkle in some XBox Live for good measure. Aahh, now you see where we’re headed. This is all MS. Microsoft is taking ownership of their platform. This is a fundamental shift for them and returns them to the position they should have always been in. They are a software company and they should be the face of their products. This means that hardware manufacturers gets to be manufacturers again. Of course there’s still going to be software tweaking, enhancements and customization from the manufacturer but before they had to do all of that and develop a UI. And MS has stated that they will work with manufacturers to help optimize the experience and develop the end products together.

Ultimately you’ll get the flavor phone you want. If you want a keyboard there will, 100%, be WP7 phones with keyboards. And some will be massive at 4” and some will be a lot smaller. You’ll still get the device that best fits you, but you’ll know the experience that you’ll get on that phone. Some will have extra sensors, larger cameras, faster processors, etc. And you get the one you want still. But more importantly you should get the latest hardware a lot faster now. The reason is simple: manufacturers will know that the software will be ready to go once they build the hardware and know that they have the OS developer (and their support and team) to help get optimized devices into the market. So when that new 1.5ghz chip is handed over to manufacturers they can be ready to drop it in and send it out. And this gives MS a nice niche. Manufactures return to what they do best and software engineers return to what they do best.

Compare this to Android. Yes, you can just drop the OS in but everyone is adding their flavor, like Moto Blur. The ecosystem becomes convoluted as the hardware manufacturers try to change their software to differentiate themselves and in the end that means that the end user experience from Android to Android is a moving target. That’s how MS got to where it is and this is why they are changing course now.

One other note is that this platform doesn’t hinder manufactures. Fundamentally, the hardware for Android, WP7 and other platforms (Symbian, Bada, whatever) are pretty much the same. That lets the manufacturer again focus on hardware and as the market demands one OS over another they can push that OS out the door and WM7 may, thanks to the support MS provides, be a relatively inexpensive device to build. So what you may see is the same form factor with WP7 and Android and the market (yup you guys) will decide who the winner is, just like you have done with Windows and Linux.

You see, this is a lot more like the good old PC. You can pick your Dell, HP, Fujitsu, Toshiba…you pick the one with the specs that meet your needs. You know the software experience that you’ll get from any of these devices. And yes, there are some software differences between what’s preloaded but ultimately you likely picked your PC because of the hardware and pricing.  And it’s worth mentioning that on a PC MS just hands over the software to manufacturers and the minimum specs and level of hand holding MS does on the PC side is minimal. Like it or not, that means you can get a monster $2,000+ PC or a $200 PC. On the phone side you can expect similar differentiation between manufacturers of WP7, but of course the minimum specs will be fairly robust so there won’t be a ‘netbook’ quality phone. The manufacturers that hit the key hardware peaks the fastest will be the winners and ultimately those will be the phones we stand in line to be the first to own.

So yes, I love my phone. It’s almost never more than 5’ away from me. But with that said I’m ready to turn it in for WP7. Will I miss my current software? Well I’m hopeful that a lot of it will be updated to run on WP7 (and we really don’t know the entire compatibility story yet) but most of the software that we buy is no longer needed. We don’t need a new UI, another way to stream music, another photo viewer…all of these apps are taken care of. The software manufacturers that we all know and love aren’t going to leave us. They’ll be kicking out a series of new apps that we can’t even conceive of using augmented reality with location based awareness and embracing OpenGL ES 2.

There’s plenty we don’t know about WP7 but what we do know is that MS is taking their product back, making it their own and fundamentally changing the relationship between hardware manufacturers and software developers so they can both concentrate on what they do best and ultimately we’re the winners.

So, how right or wrong am I?

8 COMMENTS

  1. I’d have to say right on many points. My Fuze was my first Windows Mobile phone, and I got it late last year, and I love it for what it is. Windows Phone 7 Series is really a leap and departure from what we already know about Windows Mobile, but as you said almost all the Windows Mobile phones require a UI change, and the UI additions are genenrally from the manufactures thus creating a very inconsistent UI from Windows Mobile Phone to Windows Mobile Phone. I think it’s great Microsoft is finally adding in all the things that are essential for the user, and later on allowing UI changes, but I think UI changes later on will be much more superficial since most of the essentials are already included in the OS itself. Maybe the reason they didn’t do this in the first place with earlier updates of Windows Mobile, or maybe the same reason they held back on releasing Windows Phone 7 Series is all the flack they got from monopolizing their own systems (for example the thing with EU antitrust with web browsers), and now that consumers are showing they don’t mind as long as everything is included in the first place that it’s fine to go ahead and include everything in.

  2. I agree with most of what you said, though I think about HTC in this instance. Originally they were just a hardware maker, but because the experience users had with windows mobile was lacking, they changed their game to both hardware and software.
    I can’t believe that a company who has done so much in the software department is just going to say “Oh thanks MS for saving us from having to keep 50 developers around to write the TF3D interface.”
    I’m really curious to see what the first HTC phones with WP7S will be.
    I have been using WM since 2000 (PPC back then) and have stepped away for iPhone, Palm and Blackberry at different times and have always come back to windows mobile because of the customization availability. I’ll admit that I’ve become flash happy with my last two HTC phones, always wanted the latest and greatest software.
    But I do believe and hope this new direction will come to fruition. I’m very glad to see MS take this bold step with the platform I will definitely be waiting in line to get the first device available.

  3. I wonder though, do hardware companies that make phones want to be just manufacturing commodities, or do they want to demonstrate added value that comes from software? My guess is that HTC wants to continue developing Sense and having it on their phones because it is what makes an HTC phone an HTC phone. So Android will be the operating system of choice for HTC brand phones.

  4. @ Frank – I think this is going to mark a change for them. HTC has to bring the best ahrdware to the table and then add something on top of that. Largely because of XDA, HTC has been so wildly popular. But Samsung, for example, has had some underated phones. Essentailly the same chipsets for the most part and they have AMOLED screens (nicer than HTC is using) and on top of that Samsung has added Swype to their Omnia 2 as well as bundling a bunch of apps and utilities (including a video editor). With the HD2 HTC is doing the samething – bundling a Blockbuster app, Slacker and the full Transformers. See, finally you need to bring a better package together, just like my PC.
    I have an all-in-one PC for one reason – form factor. This now gets translated to phones. Gve me the best package and you win. Sense is fine but it really drags WM to a halt at times and I’ve disabled it when I want to play games and when I can’t deal with my phone slowing to a halt. See, when that happens I say that my phone is slow. It’s not my phone – it’s the massive UI application that’s running at all times. I think MS is really taking ownership and that means that HTC will adjust its game as well. As nice as Sense looks, it’s only so hyped because te default UI for 6.5 is so bad. If that changes with WP7 then I think HTC adapts as well. And, like I said, I think Android is going to have their own issue with their products being too different from one another and it causes market confusion. We get that they are all the same aside from a UI, but you and I are reading mobility blogs…most people are reading People.com :) They simpy don’t know that it’s just a skin and in the lnog run I think Android hits the current WM dilemna and this whole thing goes full circle. That’s my two cents at least. I guess time will tell. Oh and MS never said that you can’t have a shortcut to launch an app like Sense….that may still coexist in some form but of course there would need to be some play to make the experience mke more sense. I think isntead HTC will aim to customize the backgrounds of WP7 with their weather app for example…small things like that within the OS that make it feel a little like HTC while still being MS’s…

  5. i agree with david k, HTC will still make their own ui’s for the phones, they will just be different (maybe). either way, just because MS is coming with their own UI they never said other companies werent going to be able to put their own UI in, just that MS would be working in close partnership with these companies, which probably means that HTC will come out with a new UI similiar to MS’s (everything live and on the “front page” for you) so we will still be able to choose between ui’s its just the look and feel of the ui’s is going to be drastically improved.

  6. Postulating that Windows Phone 7 Series will be a “leap forward” strains the bounds of fact and credulity and sounds like a line scripted by Microsoft’s PR department. The phone’s name is as convoluted as Microsoft’s inexplicably tangled and unfocused mobile strategy. No copy or paste or multi-tasking functions in a smartphone that MS has supposedly working full steam ahead on for years, and is going to be released in late 2010?

    There is no compelling reason for any consumer to buy this phone, with the iPhone and Droid (and to a lesser extent, WebOS) leading the pack with well-received products loaded with usable features. The MS brand name is not a consumer magnet to anyone except IT department heads and MS fanboys, who will undoubtedly drool over the phone when it is eventually released. However, the average consumer has no reason to buy a MS phone, and won’t, regardless of how much advertising and marketing dollars MS budgets for this thing.

    Ballmer is still wedded to an outdated mindset of selling mobile licenses, like the desktop Windows OS. He is so risk-averse with respect to hardware, he can’t do what is necessary for MS to get in the game — come out with a phone featuring its own hardware. Thus, the marriage of MS’s mediocre software to manufacturer’s slightly less mediocre hardware, yielding the predictable results we have come to expect from such a marriage — warts, hiccups, lousy user experiences, and general lack of functionality.

  7. @Guy Jones-Do you even know what the “average consumer” uses their phone for? Do you know the range and quality of apps that is going to be available at launch or shortly after launch for WP7? How about the beauty and power of the handsets that are coming this fall for WP7? These are the questions that need to be answered before anything else is considered.

    Pit the iPhone and Android w/o 3rd party apps vs WP7 w/o 3rd party apps. I can already say by looking at the specs and talking to actual reviewers of the test hardware recently that the multimedia aspect of WP7 is top notch. Combine that with the ability to socially interact and “stay connected” with your gaming world is definite pluses.

    Sure WP7 is missing some features but i’ve been keeping track and i’ve used copy and paste 2 times in the last month on my current WinMo phone. Both times it would have been simpler and easier to just be able to click on links instead of pasting the info into another program to do the same job.

    I’d strongly advise you to keep an open mind until after launch. Get through the Christmas holidays and see what the app and gaming offerings look like. I’ll be especially curious to see if any functionality will be implemented through OTA updates quickly.

  8. @Murani

    Generally speaking, I’d agree with your assessment that a “wait and see attitude” would be appropriate here. However, MS has simply tarried too long to get this thing to market. The delays will prove costly to the viability of WP7S as a platform that will gain widespread adoption. I concede that the WP7S phone itself may prove to be a well-designed device with some quality features. But, will that be enough to lure consumers at this juncture? Here’s my take: the “average” smartphone user uses their phone mainly for three things besides the phone itself: 1) web browing/e-mail/IM; 2) apps/games and 3) social networking. I suppose music and video watching could be a fourth category, but let’s put it aside, as it’s almost an afterthought these days after the aforementioned categories. The apps are clearly key to a device’s appeal, but so is function and overall “usability.”

    iOS clearly has the lead in terms of app offerings. With a user base already past the 100 million threshold, developers clearly have an economic incentive to continue to develop for the platform. And, the fact that only three devices run iOS makes writing the programs a pretty efficient process. Droid is doing well here too, as developers sense the momentum the platform is gathering and so jump onboard to take advantage. It’s a self-sustaining cycle — more device sales equals greater legitimacy and developer interest, which results in more apps created, which attracts more users and drives more sales.

    Now, WP7S is clearly at a disadvantage in the app race. MS knows this; hence the generous bounties offered to developers to come on board and write programs for launch. Some may take the bait. But, even assuming WP7S has a generous array of apps at launch, the question remains — what will WP7S offer the “average” consumer in terms of usability and features that makes a compelling case to reject the iPhone or Droid? At this late hour, WP7S needs to be head and shoulders above the competition — it needs to blow people away with its capabilities, so they’ll sit back and take notice and say “This was worth the wait.” And frankly, all the features that have been revealed (or lack thereof) indicate that this thing is about 2 years behind where a smartphone should be in late 2010. Will the browsing experience be better than iOS? Will it be easier to take photos and send them to friends? Will it have video conferencing that is better implemented than FaceTime? The answer is, in all probability, “no.” XBOX Live integration is nice, but for non-hardcore gamers, this feature will go unused. Usability has never been MS’s forte, and I don’t see anything changing here. Again — for the average user, there simply is no compelling case — no “knock your socks off” feature to justify a switch. We all know that robust raw hardware specs alone are not enough to compel purchasing of smartphones — it’s not like the desktop arena. In mobile, it’s the implementation of the features that matters, the ease of use, the overall user experience.

    As a separate issue, phone manufacturers are clearly seeing a golden opportunity to jump to Droid and kill two birds with one stone — cease paying licensing fees to MS, and cease being beholden to MS’s capricious mobile OS development, marred by managerial infighting and other distractions.

    Check out Galen Gruman’s assessment over at InfoWorld:
    http://www.infoworld.com/d/mobilize/windows-phone-7-dont-bother-disaster-211?page=0,0

    He’s harsher than even I might be in his shoes. I at least think MS may get 5% of the smartphone market with the phone. Then again, many of his criticisms seem rooted in some very fundamental issues of design and usability — areas that Microsoft has traditionally been weak in. WHen all is said and done, I welcome competition, because the consumers will benefit from choice and lower prices. The free market will have the final say. I’m curious to see how it turns out.

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