The Internet is awash with people gleefully stating how Windows Phone 7 will fail. “It’s hardly sold anything, Android sells more in a day than WP7 does in 6 months” or “WP7 doesn’t have many features, it can’t compete” and “WinMo sucked, WP7 is no better”. Let’s not forget though that WP7 is a brand new OS, it isn’t WinMo with a new skin. It’s a whole new operating system built from the ground up with a different mindset to its predecessor.
Yes, WP7 is lacking many important features, some of which I mentioned in my previous Symbian article. However, let’s not forget how feature-lacking iOS was when it was first released, and the same is true of Android. Sure, WP7 has been released years later so should have learnt from those mistakes, but it’s equally true that when Apple released the iPhone the Nokia N95 was doing much more. The difference was in presentation, and that’s the ground Microsoft is currently treading. WP7 offers a new way of doing things, a fresh UI and gestures to get around the device. The features will be added as time goes on.
Does Windows Phone 7 have a chance of success? I think so, for a few reasons. Android is getting most of the attention these days but not everyone is happy with it and many users have openly said they only got it because they didn’t want an iPhone. What does that leave the consumer with? Symbian is vastly improved to what it was two years ago but not many people are aware of the changes. So despite the hyperbole, the market wants and needs another operating system.
The first thing that will help WP7 succeed is Nokia. Those in North America can’t appreciate the enormity of this company and the huge impact it can have on WP7 sales; with a global presence so large it makes other manufacturers pale in comparison, networks and operators will be quick to take the handsets on – especially as it won’t be Symbian. AT&T is already working hard to promote WP7 as a great OS and Nokia will only help with this. Shifting tens of millions of handsets each quarter, Nokia’s presence cannot be underestimated. A quick look around forums and tech blogs and you’ll see people often agree that Nokia’s hardware is top-notch but they don’t want Symbian. Fair enough, and what that means is Nokia will gain new users with new software, and Microsoft will help Nokia get more presence in the US and Canada while Nokia will get WP7 into areas of the world that haven’t even seen an iPhone or Android device. Moreover, Nokia’s Canadian CEO is giving the company a kick-start it sorely needs; so much innovation goes on in Nokia’s labs that the public never gets to see, and the new management is getting things done faster than ever before. Plus, with Symbian and Maemo 5 being the two most feature packed OSs on the market and Nokia’s deal with Microsoft allowing them to make software changes and additions, we could well see WP7 offering more than anything else.
The second thing is the recent awareness of ecosystems. With Windows having almost 90% of the PC marketshare it’s no exaggeration to say that the vast majority of computer users are on Windows. When WinMo was Microsoft’s mobile phone platform smartphones weren’t what they are, especially regarding how many people used them or what they used them for. With the Internet, social media and content media now much more commonplace and integrated with phones, people are using them much differently. For new users looking to buy their first smartphone, it will be very tempting to use the same one that’s on the PC at home – brand familiarity or loyalty. One of the first things I did when I received my Windows Phone 7 device was install a couple of apps that let me manage Zune on the laptop, so I could plug the computer into the television using HDMI and control either my music, photos or videos from the couch using my phone as a remote control. The main draw for me, though, was Office and SkyDrive integration. As a writer my work is all on Office, and rather than use third-party Word applications I can now open, view, compose and save documents in the same format as I do on the computer. I still use Dropbox to access them in different locations, but the Mango update is bringing SkyDrive integration into Office on WP7. For business users, having Outlook and Office on the phone is indispensable, and while we’ve all managed with other phones there’s nothing like familiarity or the ease of transfer when using the same programs as you use elsewhere. This is a big weapon in Microsoft’s arsenal that no other OS has.
Next on the list is the fact that phones have become more than about making calls to keep in touch but fully fledged communication powerhouses, where we keep in touch using MSN and other IM clients, Facebook, emails and Skype. One of the things I have loved about my Nokia N900 since the day I opened it is the Skype integration (and MSN, Facebook chat integration), with contacts being added to the address book and all IM communication going to the messaging inbox. In fact part of the reason I still haven’t moved on from the N900 as a primary phone is because of this integration, but Microsoft are taking the mantle and moving on with it. Now owning Skype Microsoft will not just be adding Skype to WP7, but also the Xbox so it can be used on the gaming console, PC and phone. So long as they don’t try to integrate it into Live Messenger and make that experience even more painful that it already is, it’s golden. Not only will Skype be integrated as Facebook currently is (and Twitter is going to be) but if you have, say, John Smith in your phone book and on Facebook and Skype, you will seamlessly be able to communicate with him from one thread in the messaging app. So rather than have a text from John, a Facebook chat IM from John and a Skype IM each taking up one slot in the inbox, it’ll all go under one thread. This makes communication much more fluid and less to think about – no more opening a Facebook app to get to it or trying to remember whether he gave you that important address on Skype or a text message; with everything stored in one place, it’s all a breeze. This is another thing only Windows Phone is offering, and with communication in all forms being the prime function of a phone, it’s something of a Gatling gun in Microsoft’s arsenal.
The other thing that will really set WP7 apart is Nokia Maps. Although WP7 already uses Navteq, the same as Nokia, it’s Nokia’s mapping app that sets it apart from the rest. With an all-in-one app that lets you search for somewhere then walk or drive to it with free turn by turn navigation, check-in to a location across all your favourite social media sites at once, Expedia and Trip Advisor built-in as well as Lonely Plant and a Here and Now guide to show you what’s around you, it’s in a class of its own. Currently the iPhone has nothing comparable, still relying on Google Maps mobile app which can give directions but only as a red line on a map or in a list – neither of which are too safe while driving. Android offers turn by turn navigation but without all the extra functionality of Nokia Maps.
Most of all, though, WP7 is fresh. Despite being released four years ago the iPhone has hardly changed – the screen has been updated, folders and wallpapers were finally implemented, along with copy/paste and MMS. But not much else has happened, the software looks and feels pretty much exactly the same as it did four years ago, right down to those inexcusably bad notifications. It’s getting a bit long in the tooth now. And the simple fact remains that although the iPhone doesn’t permit real multitasking and doesn’t have widgets, the battery life is remarkably poor. Android is developing rapidly and going from strength to strength but it doesn’t escape that fact of life that it isn’t for everyone. Windows Phone 7 is a welcome addition to the market, it’s gained much developer interest, support from carriers, and now it has the world’s biggest handset manufacturer to get it in shops around the world.
Watch this space.