Monday, October 11, 2010

Microsoft introduces Windows Phone 7 and partners' smartphones

Earlier today, Microsoft formally introduced Windows Phone 7 in New York, along with ten new compatible smartphones (nine at launch, the tenth in early 2011) to be offered by sixty carriers in more than thirty countries. Each carrier will sell a different set of phones; AT&T, for example, will offer three models, one each from HTC, Samsung and LG, all priced at $199, while T-Mobile USA will offer one model each from Dell and HTC. (Engadget has a complete list of carriers and the phones they'll offer, and Gizmodo has pictures of all the phones.)

The early reviews for Windows Phone 7 have been very positive. The operating system is a clean break from Windows Mobile and has more in common with the Zune UI than it does with Windows. The phones vary considerably in price and features, but they all seem to perform well, even though Windows Phone 7 uses a lot of animation in its user interface.

Update: Well, some of the reviews aren't quite so good after all: PC Magazine reports that the LG Quantum's slide-out keyboard has a "bizarre" keyboard layout and a balky sliding mechanism. Of more concern is that Windows Phone 7 doesn't want to reconfigure its display properly when the phone is moved to landscape format. The LG Quantum's keyboard forces the phone to be used in landscape format, so unless Microsoft fixes the problem soon, the Quantum and similar phones will be virtually unusable.

As you might expect, there's already a fair amount of "too little, too late" sentiment about Windows Phone 7. Those feelings may ultimately be justified, but Microsoft has done an excellent job of bringing top-notch smartphone manufacturers on board. The big question remains third-party developers. Apple and Google both have tremendous support for their smartphone operating systems, and RIM's BlackBerry, while not as well accepted by the developer community, has an entrenched customer base. The third-party app announcements and demonstrations at the launch event today were nice but far from overwhelming.

Windows Phone 7 smartphones will ship so late this year that they probably won't make much market headway until next year. Developers that are already struggling to keep up with updates on the iOS and Android platform are likely to take a "wait and see" attitude on developing Windows Phone 7 apps; developers of the most popular iOS and Android games may be offered financial incentives by Microsoft to port their applications. There's no rush for them to staff up in advance if they can get Microsoft to pay for the effort.

In the long run, Windows Phone 7 is likely to have more impact on HP and Nokia than it does on Apple or Google. Most developers, given the choice between supporting Windows Phone 7 that runs on smartphones from four manufacturers, or supporting WebOS that runs only on HP's smartphones, are likely to prefer Microsoft's platform. And, at least in the U.S., Windows Phone 7 will be one more nail in Nokia's smartphone coffin.

There were two puzzling aspects of today's announcements: The first was Microsoft's statement that based on feedback from developers and early users, it would release a version of Windows Phone 7 that supports cut and paste in early 2011. You would think that Microsoft would have learned from Apple's experiences with the iPhone and would have incorporate cut and paste from day one.

The second was that Verizon, the largest mobile operator in the U.S., was completely absent from today's announcement. You may recall that Verizon was Microsoft's exclusive carrier partner for the Kin, its feature phone that was a complete marketing and business disaster for both companies. Kin's failure may explain why Verizon won't be selling Windows Phone 7 smartphones any time soon. However, Verizon may also be gearing up to carry the iPhone, as has been rumored by the Wall Street Journal and other sources, in which case it really doesn't need Windows Phone 7.
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