Not too long back, Microsoft announced no less than ten phones running its latest mobile OS- Windows Phone 7. Half of these were from HTC itself, showing that no love has been lost between these two companies. Dell, too, plans on going main stream in the mobile department with its Venue Pro (with the much more interesting codename lightning). But after the failure that was the Kin series and posts all around the blogosphere pinning very little hope on the OS, will Windows Phone 7 propel Microsoft back into the game like Windows 7, its desktop counterpart, did? Or will it end up becoming yet another Vista for MS?
It’s amazing how much an OS can change in half an iteration. Compare WP7 with Windows Mobile 6.5 – and we are not just talking about the UI here; we are talking about everything, from the user experience, to the file system (or the lack thereof) to the change in features – and you will realize Windows Phone 7 is no longer the kid brother to its desktop version. It’s a completely different species.
So when making the comprehensive change, who did Microsoft have in mind? Hippie youngsters, like they so clearly targeted with their Kin ads? Enterprise users, who will respect anything with a Windows branding? Or the average Joe, who will love the unique UI?
There are features like integration with Zune and XBOX Live, which make it seem targeted at youngsters. There are utility apps like Office which make it seem targeted at the enterprise consumer. The social media integration makes it seem focused on teenagers. While the simplistic UI would be most loved by your grandpa who never really understood the shiny icons on phones anyway.
At first glance, it’s not clearly evident who Microsoft really wants to sell phones to. There are two quick ways to find out – the ad and the phones.
That’s the official ad for Windows Phone 7, the OS. The ad for different phones will, of course, be made by the manufacturers, and will be different for each phone. But this ad, made for the OS itself, goes a long way in showing who the OS is meant for. It’s for anyone who wants to get their work done as quickly as they can, and with as little hassle as they can.
“Designed to get you in, and out, and back to life.”
That is their entire message. But that still doesn’t tell us much. Who does Microsoft really, really, want to buy their phones?
Looking at the phones is yet another way to find out the target audience. Four of the phones have a slide out QWERTY keyboard. As a rule of thumb, those phones are intended for people who do a lot of heavy messaging/e-mailing. Unfortunately, that includes both teenagers and enterprise users. So we are still in the dark about the target audience. The rest of the phones, including the HTC Mondrian, with its intriguing slide-out speaker, all seem to be intended for media-consumption.
In essence, WP7 is targeted at everyone.
Android and iOS are the two biggest names that pop up when we talk of mobile OSes. But the elephant in the room – Symbian OS – is a lot more important here, considering Microsoft is looking at a worldwide launch rather than a US-only launch. The launch of WP7 phones will clash with that of the four big Symbian^3 phones. Do not underestimate Symbian in this case. It has brand loyalty associated with it. You cannot expect your average consumer to walk into a retail store and immediately recognize a WP7 phone. Symbian phones, on the other hand, have a trust factor associated with them (right now, we are taking Symbian and Nokia phones to mean the same things, considering Nokia is the only manufacturer to be selling Symbian^3 phones so far). And then there’s the not too minor question of logistics. It’s important to have a wide distribution network if you expect consumers to see your phones everywhere. That’s how Nokia achieves most of its marketing – their phones are ubiquitous. Suffice to say that no company can match Nokia’s distribution network. Dell barely has a distribution network to speak of. HTC doesn’t have a good enough network either in Nokia’s biggest markets. The only company that will come close to placing their wares in every nook and cranny is Samsung. The lack of a distribution network as big as that of Nokia will be one of the biggest downfalls for WP7 phones.
Low expectations and not-too-positive reviews
The lack of certain features on the phone is astounding. Copy-and-paste was an understood omission with the first iteration of iOS. But with WP7, an OS family that has traditionally been associated with enterprise users, the lack of the feature is surprising. The lack of multi-tasking and tethering, neither of them a minor feature, is also extremely shocking and disappointing. Some would call it planned obsolescence, we call it worrying omissions. There’s also no file system to speak of, which means your app list can get unmanageably long. And there’s no Flash or Silverlight support in the web browser. Striking omissions, all of these. One feature that definitely won’t be fixed in future upgrades is the fact that you simply cannot plug in your memory card into your laptop as you normally do to transfer data. The computer will simply fail to recognize it. Coming to think of it, you can’t even replace a memory card without a hard reset.
So, will they sell?
There’s a final nail in the coffin for WP7 – Microsoft’s insistence that manufacturers meet certain minimum hardware requirements. This will mean that all WP7 phones will be pretty high end. Contrast this to Nokia’s approach of pushing Symbian down to the lowest hardware levels it can. Even Android is proceeding down the ranks. This might end up making WP7 phones niche, much like iOS, because not everyone will be able to afford such expensive phones.
We predict that WP7 will rapidly become a strong contender to iOS in terms of market share. However, it will have a tough time managing the rapid growth rate of Android. And let’s not even talk about competition in terms of market share with Symbian yet.
At the moment, the only thing in favor of WP7 seems to be its unique UI. That is the only thing Microsoft has to bank upon at the moment. The lack of features might put many experience smartphone users off. But with future upgrades, WP7 might just succeed in the long run.