Microsoft’s has been struggling for several years to unhook their mobile strategy from their previous “Windows Mobile” initiative, and effectively reinvent their footprint in this space. This week, they took what I hope is just a first step down a new mobile path with the launch of Windows Phone 7.
Unlike Apple’s iPhone or most of the Android phones I’ve seen, Windows Phone 7 is not an “App Centric” device. It presents an interface built around ‘information tiles’ that provide a composite/mosaic view of the things that are going on around you. The following video offers a good overview of this design:
While I applaud Microsoft for actually trying to forge their own path in this space, I do have several concerns about the approach they have taken:
- Easy access to applications is an important aspect of mobile computing. In the mobile world, applications are replacing generalized search for many uses, and easy access to both productivity and entertainment tools is important to many people. In its current ‘first release’ version, Windows Phone 7 seems to provide a less direct way for people to access its applications – a real limitation in my opinion.
- Having used the iPad since it first came on the market, I can attest to the importance of the tablet form factor to mobile productivity. While I have no doubt that Microsoft understands this as well as anybody, I am not sure they are willing to abandon their Windows based focused in going after this market. I have yet to hear any mention of a “Windows Slate 7″ version of this platform in the works, which concerns me. The mobile and full size computing experiences are fundamentally distinct, and Microsoft’s entire mobile strategy should be built around a single mobile-centric OS platform – not a stripped down Windows hybrid. We’ll need to see where Microsoft and it’s hardware partners go with this.
- As Apple has shown, success in mobile requires not just great software and hardware, but the evolution of an entire ecosystem to support it. This is not something Microsoft can simply farm out to their hardware partners. They need to own it and focus on it. Unfortunately, this is not an area that Microsoft hasn’t been strong in historically, and I haven’t gotten a clear picture of their plan for developing this.
I am looking forward to seeing how Microsoft evolves this platform. There are clearly some well thought out aspects to Windows Phone 7 that are not (yet) available on competing platforms, and also some parts that seem to have received a lot less attention. That said, you really can’t judge what the ultimate impact of Phone 7 may be based on what we are seeing now. What will matter is how quickly Microsoft evolves the platform over the next year, and the strength of the ecosystem they are able to build around it.
For Microsoft’s long term prospects, this is far more important than the release of Windows 7. The success or failure of the Windows Phone 7 platform will define the impact Microsoft gets to have on the next major generation of personal computing.