Windows Phone 7 Strong Enough to Challenge Android, iPhone

I don’t make a lot of predictions, but here’s one: Windows Phone 7 will succeed, and it will force everyone else to rethink the way they design phone software. How do I know? This week we received two Android devices to review, and next to Microsoft’s shiny new OS they look boring. More important, when I talked to five people of varying ages who had seen what Windows Phone 7 could do, all said they would consider buying one–and none of them currently own smart phones. Given that only 17 percent of Americans tote a smart phone now, that’s great news for a company that was pronounced dead in the mobile race not long ago.

The primary reason Windows Phone 7 has a shot at gaining serious traction is that it makes a very strong first impression, based on my hands-on time with the first devices launching next month. While the stock version of Android has the sex appeal of a scientific calculator, and the iPhone’s interface has remained fairly static for the past few years (it’s not easy being iconic), Microsoft’s new entry looks more modern, dynamic, and, well, alive. Microsoft likes to say that the animated Live Tiles on the home screen help you glance at important info and get back to what you were doing. That’s true, but they’re also entertaining. For example, when you pin a favorite contact to the home screen, the tile alternates between the person’s picture and their latest Facebook update.

Little touches such as this abound, which is critical to capturing the attention of shoppers who have found smart phones intimidating. In other words, it’s not enough to make smart phones intuitive in 2010. You need to make them fun, and Windows Phone 7 does just that. Take Xbox Live. The games so far look gorgeous, and I know that people will get a kick out of tricking out their 3D avatars. In the Pictures app, the last photo you took peeks out at you from the left edge of the screen when you’re taking a shot, reminding you that your photo roll is a swipe away. When you’re conducting a Bing search, you’ll automatically see the name of your city in the upper right corner, a visual cue that the engine is ready to perform a local search. Even something as seemingly mundane as Outlook has visual personality in Windows Phone 7. When you send a message it shrinks and flies off the screen.

All of the above ingredients point the way toward a promising launch on AT&T and T-Mobile this fall, with HTC, LG, Samsung, and Dell making the hardware. (Sprint and Verizon Wireless will sell Windows Phone 7 devices early next year.) In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this OS quickly eclipse BlackBerry, at least in terms of mind share. The phones will be more powerful and the software slicker than anything in RIM’s camp.

However, Microsoft still faces serious competition from Android—not because Google’s OS is necessarily superior but because of the avalanche of devices hitting stores at lower prices. This holiday you’ll be able to pick up a solid Android phone for less than $50, and all of the Windows Phone 7 handsets will cost $199 to start. At the same time, Google isn’t exactly standing still on the interface front, having hired away Palm’s Matias Duarte in the spring to be Android’s user experience director.

The biggest question facing Microsoft is how quickly it can ramp up the number of compelling apps. Although there are plenty of recognizable names backing Windows Phone 7, including EA, Slacker, and Netflix, rumors say the Marketplace will launch with as many as 2,000 apps, a far cry from the 90,000 available on Android and the more than 250,000 apps for iOS. Microsoft will need to convince developers that Windows Phone 7 is fertile ground for their limited resources, which won’t be an easy task at a time when Android continues to gain momentum and the iPhone is reportedly making its way to Verizon Wireless.

Despite these obstacles, Windows Phone 7 is a strong contender in the smart phone war. Microsoft might not be able to woo those who have their minds set on Android or iPhone, but it has the potential to grow its share of the mobile pie by expanding the market beyond those upgrading their Curves and first-generation Droids. In fact, the OS is so polished that it will force Apple and Google to step up their own games, which is good for everyone.

Editor-in-chief Mark Spoonauer directs LAPTOP’s online and print editorial content and has been covering mobile and wireless technology for over a decade. Each week Mark’s SpoonFed column provides his insights and analysis of the biggest mobile trends and news. You can also follow him on Twitter.

AUTHOR BIO
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
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  1. dave weinberger Says:

    wow thats a great and risky prediction!

  2. Greg Says:

    Windows Phone 7 will actually fail. Here’s why.

    The reasons for liking Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 area all shallow. Pretty interface. Animated OS features. Initial games titles.

    Yeah, that is all important for capturing the attention of shoppers. However, Windows Phone 7 fails in the broader scheme of things, and fails because of shortcomings with the OS.

    The majority of the failings arise from Microsoft’s haste to get this onto the market. If Microsoft had 2 more years it could have done a better job. As it stands, Windows Phone 7 is missing critical features. Copy/Paste would be at the top of the list, however other missing features abound, such as Bluetooth file exchange, tethering, or any reasonable multitasking.

    App developers are having difficulties because it uses a different coding language, and the interfaces for developers are not complete. App developers will be unable to make the complex apps you find in Android or iPhone. This is a serious shortcoming that is not immediately obvious to anyone looking at the phone, except that their favorite app won’t exist, or will exist in a less functional form.

    Given this, Windows Phone 7 will fail in the market. The world can’t stand still for 2 years to allow Microsoft to catch up.

  3. Jon Says:

    I have a WP7 phone. Really??? Really??? As someone that’s involved in both the management and tech side of things for creating mobile solutions, I can easily compare and contrast all of the iPhone/Android/BB/WP7 devices. After having hands-on tried to fully use it for a while, sorry, no way.

    Windows Phone 7 really does look awesome and feels that way for the first 15 minutes. It ends immediately after that.

    If the initial difference in their UI is enough to attract new users, wonderful for MS and their phone partners.

    “I know that people will get a kick out of tricking out their 3D avatars.” This is a pretty narrow audience.

    The review speaks of someone that’s simply “played with” this phone and not actually put it to real use for any amount of time.

    The UI certainly is different, it’s nice, but that’s as far as it goes.

    This might force Android to update it’s look/feel a bit, but it holds nothing to the feel of the iPhone which is simply far easier to use.

    Windows Phone 7 will succeed at gaining a very small piece of the mobile market.

  4. Brian Says:

    I’m in agreement with. Well. Pretty much everyone, in saying this phone will be at best an as-run. I don’t think copy/paste is a killer feature, but it really is great to have it. But that’s not why MS will flop with WinPhone, especially since they’re adding it in “at some point in the future.”

    No, why MS will lose this one is trust. I cut my teeth and my first decade plus worth of tech-related paychecks on Microsoft technologies. In the past decade however, much of the money I’ve earned was on NON-Microsoft tech work. I’m doing more and building more on the shoulders Linux and other open source foundations, than I am with MS. I used to have to explain why it would be better (cost, reliability, performance) to build on a non-Microsoft base. Now I have to explain the opposite. I don’t see this trend reversing very quickly. I still do some WinMo development (we use a lot of Symbol mc9090′s) but that is ONLY because we already have them. We have no upgrade path. Secretly we’re all dreaming of the day Motorola takes the form factor and sticks a Snapdragon in it, with Android as the OS. Give a Droid a handle and a scanning red eye for barcodes and we’ll squeal like little girls at recess.

    Microsoft will keep throwing money at WinPhone while people continue to look at it with a side eye. I’m sure Microsoft is going all-in, and will try to stay the course. The problem is too many got burned too many times with Microsoft over the years, and while reluctant to change, by and large people are testing the waters and finding the temperature in Cupertino and Mountain View is a lot nicer than Redmond. It’s a shame, WinPhone is probably not that bad of an OS. It’s just 4 years too late.

    People are reluctant to change platforms typically because of lack of familiarity with something “different.” In this case, I think it’s more that people are going to be reluctant to change (back to MS) because of that familiarity.

  5. Mark Says:

    Real users who try Windows Phone 7 will love it. It’s a fast and stylish mobile OS. Office, Xbox Live, hubs and live tiles are just some of the things you can’t get from other phones. Infuential Apple journalists have praised WP7. Getting an Apple journalist to praise Microsoft is like getting blood from a stone.

  6. Jon M Says:

    I think Windows 7 will succeed over here in the UK for the following factors – Xbox gaming-type experience, Outlook and MS Office integration for playing with docs and emails on the move, novel UI, and from a company that everyone knows about for better or worse. Add to this that it looks like a Windows phone contract may well cost £20-25 pounds a month less than a similar iPhone contract, that will appeal to a lot of people. Not everyone wants to spend £50+ on a phone contract – what’s the point? Copy and paste is due in early next year I hear. My mobile contract is up for renewal next March, when some of the flaws will be ironed out, and I’ll be looking seriously at what MS get up to, although Nokia/Android/Palm may have brought out new devices with an improved OS by then too.

    Also Microsoft have made their phones available across several networks (unlike Palm who took too long and were tied into single carrier contracts) which means they will maximise the potential to reach consumers using different devices, this will mean that a lot of people will potentially buy the product, which will be an incentive for developers to create those apparently important apps (I’m not sure having 200,000 apps really means a lot to be honest, imagine if you went into a shop and there were 40,000 games/programmes for your console/PC – wouldn’t that be enough?)

    According to reports Android is swish and developing all the time so worth keeping an eye on, having said that given the content Microsoft has already installed on it’s phone together with the positive press I think they will quickly develop a user base and be successful.

  7. Michael Says:

    “The reasons for liking Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 area all shallow. Pretty interface. Animated OS features. Initial games titles.”

    WP7 will not fail. Why? Because ‘shallow’ describes 95% of the consumer population. They want a pretty interface. They want animated OS features. And they want games, and the quality launch titles will more than jump-start development for WP7 (as opposed to the lackluster initial line-up for Android, and even iOS).

    The average consumer can’t tell the difference between app-switching and true multitasking. Copy/paste will be enabled in future firmware updates.

    iPhone did not achieve its market share because it had copy/paste, multitasking, tethering or any of the other features that the small but vocal tech geek population constantly whines about. Its success came purely from the fact that it was the most novel-looking phone on the market. iOS has fallen behind with its UI, while WP7 introduces a much sexier look to the new generation of smartphones.

    Couple that with the much higher quality gaming line-up/Xbox Live integration, and you’re looking at a screaming success because that caters to the majority of the consumer population. If Microsoft plays the market right and continues to garner third-party developer support, then iOS and Android are in for a hell of a fight.

  8. Tom Says:

    My prediction is that Windows Phone 7 will more or less succeed, though the emphasis should probably be on “less”. The smartphone market has enough room for three players.

  9. Jette Says:

    Many app developers are actually loving the smooth OS of the Windows Phone 7 more than Android because it’s more rigid. QA testing for Android is difficult because there are no minimum hardware specs and all these nuances. If we get a bug in one, it’s difficult to test, because you have be device specific. Whereas Microsoft makes that fragmentation more contained, it you’ve developed in once, it may run slower, but any bug won’t be device specific.”

    But, there have been mixed reviews from different developers. More reviews here: http://www.mutualmobile.com/2010/mutual-mobile-gearing-up-for-windows-phone-7/

  10. Market Watcher Says:

    At current declaring WP7 failure or success is nothing more than a guess (or personal wish). No one knows if Copy/Paste will or will not be a deal breaker.

    If we try to answer some basic questions, merely guess about WP7 penetration to the market
    1. What percentage of users use C&P on smartphones?
    – I guess not much, so, it should not be the deal breaker.
    – As a owner of the product I want to have all features required/not required for me – deal breaker
    – What percentage of users actually care to the details of finding if their phone supports C&P or not ?
    – Out of those, what percentage trusts MS and will buy product based on promises made by Microsoft ?

    2. Laptop tethering
    – What percentage of smartphone owner owns a laptop ? (probably 100%)
    – What percentage of those have heard of tethering ?
    – Out of those, how many uses it actively / occasionally ?
    – Out of those users, how many thinks it will be a deal breaker ?

    3. Bluetooth file exchange are missing
    – Do I need this ? YES absolutely necessary and it is a must have feature (then go buy feature phone, all feature phone supports this ;) )
    – What percentage of users uses this ? (90% +)
    – Who said WP7 will not support this? Like other non-supporting features, does Microsoft officially confirmed that this will not be supported? NO it is just a rumor. Then wait for the release to see if this is just of rumor or is it actually doesn’t support this.

    ——-

    4. User interface
    – What percentage of people thinks tiles are pretty?
    – What percentage has already used this metro UI with Zune HD?
    – What is the reason people thinks it is beautiful or ugly?
    – What percentage thinks, even if ugly what % thinks it is more useful than iOS or Andriod UIs?

    5. Contact arrangements and Social network integration
    – Do I prefer FB and Phone contacts at one place?
    – What percentage of smartphone users uses FB?
    – Out of those, what percentage uses it on their smartphones?
    – Out of those, how many follow it actively on their cells?
    – How different is it from other social network integrated phones?

    6. XBox integration
    – Do you own a XBox?
    – How often do you play with XBox?
    – What percentage of current XBox users use an Android or iPhone?
    – What percentage of them use more time on XBox than playing on the mobiles?

    7. Zune
    – What is current market share of Zune HD?
    – What percentage of (potential) smartphone users thinks Zune pass is a good idea?
    – What percentage of users had experience with Zune software?
    – Out of those what percentage thinks Zune software UI is better to navigate than iTunes?

    If you know answers of all these questions you probably can tell WP7 will be a success or a failure. Otherwise start putting ‘I think’ or ‘Probably’ in front of your comments.

  11. Keith Patton Says:

    Just a note that Microsoft have already said copy and paste will be in early 2011 with the first update. There will be at least 2,000 apps in the marketplace on launch, a great start. I am a Microsoft developer and didn’t think I would give my iPhone up but after developing a few launch apps (and what a breeze Silverlight is after iPhone dev!) I am totally happy in switching.

    There are shortcomings but I think the WP7 experience overall is much more expansive and satisfying that boxed in nature of the iphone and android.

    I haven’t met anyone who has had a device who hasn’t loved it after a few days of playing around. It is new, it is unproven, but it’s great to see Microsoft innovating in this area and they at least deserve some credit for that. I hope the platform succeeds.

    The article points out only 17% of US phone users are smartphone users. It’s way too early in the game to count anyone out. I think there is room for MS. Apple are constrained by their price points, Android will be constrained by the lack of control. I think Microsoft have a real chance of driving down the middle.

  12. Mamacita42 Says:

    I believe WP7 will succeed because of all the reasons given by the author. I am a proud owner of an Evo and my husband the Epic. We were so happy and excited when we purchased our phones a couple of months ago. We both saw demos of the the WP7 on the Dell Venue Pro and afterwards when we picked up our Androids we both looked at each other and thought “Our phones sure looked tired now”….We both are anxiously waiting for Wp7 to arrive and will have our Evo and Epic on Ebay!!!! Please know I very much appreciate Android and all that it is able to do and I also understand that WP7 will be lacking features I currently have BUT I am willing to grow with WP7….we like it that much!

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