Monday, October 18, 2010

Windows Phone 7 Will Flop

Opinion: After all, it's Microsoft

THE CONVENTIONAL WISDOM in the IT industry press expresses cautious optimism about the prospects for Microsoft's latest mobile operating system, Windows Phone 7 (WP7).

But I believe it's going to fall flat on its face, and I'll outline here three major reasons why I think so. I also suspect that there are some other factors that are going to work against WP7 too, but these are the main problems that I see now.

First, WP7 is handicapped by the legacy of the Windows Mobile line of operating systems for mobile phones put out by Microsoft over the past ten years. Based upon the fairly awful Windows CE software platform initially developed for Pocket PC gadgets, Windows Mobile never stood out or attracted a base of satisfied customers on either feature phones or smartphones.

It is also telling that the Vole renamed WP7 in a desperate and probably vain attempt to distance it from the clear design, execution and marketing disaster that was Windows Mobile.

Windows Mobile's market share has steadily declined over the years, to the point that it's in fifth place behind the competing Symbian, Blackberry, Android and Iphone operating systems. A year ago Windows Mobile had less than 20 per cent of the mobile phone market in the US and about 5 per cent worldwide, but it's likely a fair estimate that it now has less than 10 per cent of the US market and far less than 5 per cent globally.

A whole generation of mobile phone users have already rejected Windows Mobile and that's a history of bad memories that's bound to weigh heavily against WP7 in user attitudes. Having had a bad experience before with Windows Mobile, or known someone who did, punters are going to be skeptical of WP7 right from the outset.

Second, the smartphone specifications that Microsoft laid down for its devices aren't especially attractive in any way, but instead are depressingly ordinary and in some respects are lower-end than those of the decent competing smartphones.

Apple's Iphone 4, with its 3.5-inch 960x640, 326ppi 'retina' display, clearly has a sharper, more attractive screen than the WP7 phones' 800x480 displays that come in varying sizes ranging from 3.6-inch to 4.3-inch. Depending on the WP7 smartphone's screen size, the Iphone 4 has roughly 25 per cent to 50 per cent higher resolution. That means that an Iphone 4 screen looks just as clear and sharp at 12 inches distance as a WP7 handset's does at 15 to 18 inches. It also has a whopping 60 per cent more display area.

Even the Motorola Droid smartphone has a higher resolution display, at 854x480, than a WP7 handset, and other smartphones that run the Android OS, such as the Samsung Galaxy S, have equivalent 800x480 displays.

Similarly, the 1GHz Snapdragon chip specified for WP7 devices is no faster than the ARM Cortex A8 processor in the Galaxy S, and will surely be surpassed soon by the next generation of ARM CPUs that will come out in newer Android smartphones.

In most other respects, the WP7 device specifications are unremarkable, with a capacitive multi-touch screen, 3G and WiFi connectivity, an accelerometer, a proximity sensor, GPS and a 5MP or 8MP camera, much like most Android smartphones. The INQUIRER has been told that some WP7 smartphones will have external microSD storage cards but that some will have only internal flash storage that can't be changed by the user. It is certainly a baffling move by the Vole and its partners and can only be a mark against the handsets.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, Microsoft seems to have released WP7 in an unfinished state. It has tried to excuse this by claiming that this latest version of its mobile OS is "a complete reboot" of its mobile strategy and explaining that features - including some formerly present in Windows Mobile - will only be rolled out when they reach high enough quality.

We think the Vole means by this that its developers haven't managed to code these features yet, so like many of Microsoft's initial products this is merely a partial first implementation and the company is perfectly glad to flog it to all those gullible enough to buy it, while it keeps working to produce the fully completed version of the product.

The features that WP7 lacks in its initial release reportedly include a file manager, copy and paste functions, full multitasking, Adobe Flash and Silverlight plug-ins in the web browser, and support for tethering, IPsec virtual private network (VPN) security, video calling and Bluetooth file transfers. These are simply startling omissions, arguably, which are likely to put off a lot of potential customers.

Without these features WP7 smartphones will compare poorly against the Iphone 4 and smartphones running Android that now or soon will support copy and paste, full multitasking, and at least some or all of the rest. Why will anyone want to buy a crippled smartphone?

One can only surmise that the Vole was so desperate to build a product to sell into the mobile market to replace its cratering Windows Mobile that it rushed out WP7 in a partially completed form just to get something, anything out the door.

It's hard to overstate how badly Microsoft seems to have botched WP7 and how much further damage this is likely to do to its reputation and future sales in the mobile marketplace.

From wasting years of development on its earlier and failed 'Photon' initiative through failing to envision a bold enough strategy, all the way to settling for uninspiring hardware specifications and falling short during its software implementation, Microsoft seems to have done everything wrong with WP7.

Well, maybe not everything. It did manage to spend reportedly $400 million on marketing and advertising, get a fair amount of press and make a splash. ยต


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