I never owned a Windows Mobile device and currently use a Blackberry. I am developer by profession and following the mobile space with interest for the last couple of years. According to Steve Ballmer in a mass consumer device market (100 million units per year such as TV, PC) it is hard for any single company to dominate the market. Though with sales of 55 million iPods, Apple dominated the PMP category it would be hard for it or anyone else to do so in the much higher volume cell phone category. The data suggests that this clearly is the case. There will be room for several players and the question is all about market share in the fast growing smart phone market. Ninety seven percent of the smart phone market share is held by five major players Symbian, Blackberry, iPhone OS, Android, Windows Mobile and the rest holding the remaining three. With HP buying Palm we canâ€™t write off webOS yet. Off the five WinMo is losing market share hand over fist and Microsoft hopes to reverse the trend with WP7. There is criticism that WP7 is too late to the market to arrest the decline which I like to differ with. It has some key differentiators that I believe would appeal to many and provide a choice.
Â· While there is no denying fact that Apps are at the heart of all these operating systems WP7 is slightly differentiating by providing better integration across the Apps, people’s hub for example
Â· Office Hub. The demos that have been shown so far give an indication that this is an area that Microsoft will excel compared to the competition. Microsoft has a partnership with Nokia and I wonâ€™t be surprised if the experience is replicated there.
Â· Xbox Live integration. Microsoft is only promising some turn based games initially and I am sure they will expand the experience further for V2. Apple is the only other competitor which can match this feature in the near future.
Â· With Zune integration every WP7 phone would be a Zune phone and the Zune client software and Zune Pass are well regarded. Again other than Appleâ€™s iTunes there is no match for this.
Microsoft made some hard decisions which in my opinion will pay off in the long run
Â· No third party layers. I know many readers like the choice and at first this sounds unfair to company like HTC which invested in Sense UI on WinMo. However with Microsoft owning up to the delivery of future OS updates, this distribution model (similar to iPhone) would be better as compared to Android or current WinMo.
Â· A detailed hardware spec. sheet from having to have a 5 MP+ camera to three buttons on the front. While this may seem imposing, I feel this is good for two reasons. First by making the experience the same (e.g. you no longer have to worry whether the WP7 phone by any device manufacturer would have a FM tuner or not) it boils down to consumers choosing a phone from multiple hardware vendors based on the form factor, looks (assuming they decide to buy a WP7 phone). It will also makes life easy for the developers to write apps as they know what to expect as the least common factor and provide uniform app experience.
Â· Support for one resolution at launch (and just one more resolution later). By having to support one and at most two makes app developers life easy and more productive.
Â· Incomplete feature/API set for launch. (Read no programmable shaders, no cut and paste, no true multitasking). Microsoft articulated that when faced with the choice of completing features vs. robust implementation due to time constraints, they choose the latter and cut features. Based on my experience working with clients/end users this is a great choice. We all know the BSOD jokes and having a robust reliable platform is very important for providing an excellent user experience. I am pretty sure these missing things will be available in the later versions as the platform matures in the next couple of years.
Â· Limiting XBL development to the chosen few. While developers can develop games for the platform one needs to partner with Microsoft for XBL based games. Though there are no published guidelines I expect this to be limited to the established game developers, which I hope will bring high quality games and experience. Microsoft hopes to sign up users in significant numbers and I can understand the emphasis on quality.
Â· No backward compatibility. With the strides that Silverlight made during the last two years there is a little surprise that Microsoft is using the technology. So while it is easier for Microsoft to move forward with a reset it requires developers to rework their Apps. Though there is no clear road map I expect the Silverlight platform to mature to the same level as the other platform. The tools help you to manage/build Apps on both PC and mobile, which was an intended side benefit.
The last point remains a key challenge for Microsoft. Here is something I like to quote Charles Petzold (who is working a new book for WP7 development) verbatim
â€œIâ€™m no market analyst. Iâ€™m just a programmer. Donâ€™t ask me if I think the Windows Phone 7 Series will be a commercial success. Market forces are a complete mystery to me. I donâ€™t know form factors. I canâ€™t judge if the phone is the right size, or well proportioned, or anything else. The visuals look good to me, but I donâ€™t trust my instincts about visual design. I donâ€™t know if the phone is slick enough for the cool kids and mainstream enough for everyone else.
But as a programmer I can tell you this: coding for Windows Phone 7 Series is a total blast!â€
Having played around with the platform the past few weeks I totally agree with his statement highlighted in bold. I expect WP7 to do much better at launch (compared to WinMo) and continue to build a broader base of Apps over the course of next few years as it gains market share. WP7 is Microsoftâ€™s last chance to regain some old glory and it has a good shot of accomplishing that. At this point all it has to do to execute well for a great launch this holiday.
As I mentioned in the beginning I believe there will be multiple players battling for the market share and Microsoft should do well with its WP7 offering. If I were to make a guess it should hit the daily sales rate of 60000 units a day before the end of its first year of launch. I continue to watch this space with interest as the market share changes hands and a clear leader might emerge in few years from now. Will that be Microsoft is something that remains to be seen?