Windows Phone 7: Something Familiar is New Again.

Steve Balmer unveiled the much anticipated Windows Phone 7 on Monday October 11th. The devices won’t hit the market until November 8 but we were able to see a full preview of the handsets and their capabilities. The focus of WP7 is less on the ‘app’ experience and more on the ‘OS’ experience. Powered by windows ’tiles’, the user is presented with a customizable grid of tiles on the home screen allowing them to quickly look at a twitter feed, a facebook profile, news, weather and more. Microsoft is rolling the dice with this strategy straying from the widely popular app platform that Apple and Google can attribute much of their success. It seems as though Microsoft is attempting to bridge the gap between iOS apps and Android Widgets.

The hardware specs of the handhelds are pretty run of the mill with devices coming from the usual suspects, LG, HTC etc. Processors are all 1Ghz Snap Dragon and on board memory ranges from 8 – 16 gig. On board storage is becoming a secondary consideration with music and video streaming services.

Users with a zune pass can store their library of music up in the cloud for easy access on a multitude of devices including WP7 and Xbox 360.  The music interface is very reminiscent of a zune media player. Perhaps Microsoft finally answered the zune fan boy community with their request for a zune phone.

Balmer stressed during the event that Microsoft wants the user to be ‘delighted’ and to have a feeling of ‘it’s mine’ when using Windows Phone 7. Whether it be searching for a restaurant, booking movie tickets or even talking on the phone, the user should feel ‘delighted’. That is all well and nice but where are the apps. I got the distinct impression that Microsoft was trying to convince us that apps shouldn’t be what makes for a great phone. There are some close ties to the Kin in that respect with the notion of a ‘Social Phone’ tightly integrated with facebook, twitter and your contacts. WP7 is by no means a feature phone as was the Kin, but it does have a long way to go before it can compete with the diversity and usability of iPhone and Android phones.

The most notable feature missing from WP7 is the ability to cut and paste. One would think that when presented with the option of launching a phone before the holiday season and including cut and paste, the latter goes out the window. What you can expect to get on your brand new Windows Phone 7 is tight social network integration with your existing contacts, a snappy bing maps interface with street level directions, a keyboard with smart type recognition as well as auto suggest. There will only be a handfull of apps available at launch time including IMDB movie review and information.

The most exciting feature of WP7 is Xbox live integration. There will be 63 titles available as of launch day including: Sims 3, Need for Speed, Riot Rocket and Harvest. WP7 gives users the ability to challenge other gamers and tie your scores into your Xbox Live account. This quite possibly could be what attracts existing Xbox customers to WP7 and away from the iPhone’s lack luster game center.

Google, Apple and Microsoft Scrap it out for Mobile Dominance

No one can question the meteoric success of of Android. Gaining nearly 20% market share this year in a highly competitive industry, is no small feat. But where are the other players? We saw the operating system race escalate between Apple and Microsoft throughout most of the 90s and 2000s. Microsoft states it’s claim as victorious, but were they really? And at what cost? Quality?  If we look strictly at numbers of units sold and market share then, yes they won. But Apple never wanted to sell the most computers, they wanted to stay true to quality and customer satisfaction. As we see the competition heat up in the tablet market we will continue to see how Android has bridged the gab between offering a highly stable mobile OS on a multitude of quality devices.

We are entering uncharted territory with a tablet race. The popularity of the iPad has amazed many critics over the past 6 months. No one thought that Apple would be on track to sell 5 million units by the year’s end. Once again Apple convinced people, through their marketing juggernaut, that they needed something that they didn’t before. What Apple did right:

  • Slick design, with a marketing campaign revolving around the slogan “you already know how to use it” appealing to new users and essentially removing any thought of a learning curve.
  • An enormous App store offering iPad specific apps that take advantage of larger screen real estate.
  • People just want to touch the thing, it has sex appeal.

Where Android will make significant strides is by once again offering users a choice as they did with smart phones. Android will be available in many different form factors and price points. Manufacturers will offer tablets both in Windows Mobile 7 as well as  Android. Android will do better because:

  • Manufactures don’t have to licence the Android OS from Google allowing them to sell their product at a discount. Developers of Windows based Tablets will need to pay royalties to Microsoft.
  • The Market place is already an established and popular vehicle for installing apps on all Android devices. Microsoft does not have an app store yet.
  • Android has momentum and a reputation for quality.

The tablet race is about to blow up in big kind of way in the coming months and Android is in a position to do very well. There is no questioning the staying power of Apple with its iPhone and iPad products but consumers want choice at a reasonable price point. Android offers both. A recent study indicated that 27 million online consumers intend to purchase a tablet. Will you be one of them?