Windows Phone 7: It’s Now or Never
“In the short run, people gotta want these phones. I think they’re going to look pretty good. That’s the most important thing. If we start the popularity chain, and start kind of the buzz around these things, we’ll be able to make some money off of them.”
– Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer
With the launch of Windows Phone 7 today, Microsoft is taking another shot at a market even its CEO, Steve Ballmer, concedes it stumbled in. “We were ahead of this game and now we find ourselves No. 5 in the market,” he said during our D8 conference in June. “We missed a whole cycle.”
Badly, too–as this exchange at the company’s 2009 Public Sector CIO Summit painfully illustrates.
Questioner: With platforms like the Google phone and iPhone coming out, it’s really tough to continue to stand behind Windows Mobile when our employees are bringing these consumer devices into our environments,” the questioner explained. And in your presentation you put Windows Mobile right in the center there, but it was a phone that doesn’t work in America and an operating system that you haven’t released. I’m wondering what your commitment is to continuing to get newer versions of the operating system in our hands so that we don’t have to fight this battle on the ground.”
Steve Ballmer: We have a significant release coming this year. Not the full release we wanted to have this year but we have a significant release coming this year with Windows Mobile 6.5….We still don’t get some of the things that people want on the highest-end phones. Those will come on Windows Mobile 7 next year. Certainly I’m not, um–there’s opportunities for us to accelerate our execution in this area, and we’ve done a lot of work to really make sure we have a team that’s going to be able to accelerate. With that said, we did sell more Windows Mobile devices last year than Apple did iPhones–just an important factoid to have. Blackberry was a little bit ahead, and Google was nowhere to be seen, except in Silicon Valley, I’m sure. But we’ll do our best to help you with that challenge.”
But Microsoft’s “best” at that point wasn’t nearly enough.
Intended as a stopgap, Windows Mobile 6.5 ended up being another damning monument to Microsoft’s failure to innovate in mobile and the ugly strategic misstep that made it an afterthought in a market that had already lapped it once and was well on its way to lapping it a second time. Just last week Verizon (VZ) President and COO Lowell McAdam dismissed Microsoft as a player in the mobile market. “We like our relationship with Microsoft,” he told News.com. “But clearly in the U.S. there are three major mobile operating systems: RIM, Google, and Apple….Microsoft is not at the forefront of our mind.”
If Windows Phone 7 doesn’t put it there, Microsoft (MSFT) might as well hand its fast-diminishing portion of the smartphone market to Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOG) and RIM (RIMM), because they’ll take it soon enough.
But that’s not likely to happen. Because from what I’ve seen, Windows Phone 7 is as slick an OS as has ever come out of Microsoft–easily enough to keep the company in the mobile game, assuming it hasn’t lost it already.
For one thing, WP7 is not simply a rejiggering of Windows Mobile 6.5, it’s an entirely new OS. For another, its interface is unique enough to differentiate it in an already crowded market. It’s smart, too–perhaps even smart enough to give it a leg up on some rivals. Its hubs and tiles GUI, which aggregates applications and content according to subject and delivers real-time information to the home screen without the need for user involvement, is elegant and intuitive.
Add to this a media experience basically identical to Zune HD, very smart social media management, seamless Xbox live and SharePoint/Office integration and high minimum hardware requirements for OEMs and you’ve got a pretty compelling OS–even if it doesn’t yet support cut-and-paste and true multitasking (the company tells me those are coming). The challenge for Microsoft will be to convince a market that saw Windows Mobile made a laughing stock by iOS, Android and webOS, that Windows Phone 7 isn’t just more of the same.
That shouldn’t be too hard given the nearly half-billion dollars in marketing the company is rumored to be throwing at it (check out one of the first ads below) and the quality of the OS itself.
My colleague Peter Kafka will be covering the New York City launch of Windows Phone 7 later this morning. Join him here at 6:30 am PT/9:30 am ET for live coverage.