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It’s here! Windows Phone 7: Microsoft's new mobile operating system

Windows Phone 7 has just hit the streets, and with this launch Microsoft makes its latest brave foray into the smartphone operating system market. And the questions on everyones' lips: What does it mean to the mobile game? And what will happen from here on in?

Microsoft has been developing mobile operating systems for many years, however its recent efforts have been widely described as lacking. Windows Phone 7 is Microsoft’s highly anticipated effort into making up this lost ground, and initial reactions have been universally positive.Windows Phone 7

Make no mistake: Microsoft has got its work cut out for it. Windows Phone 7 is entering a competitive marketplace, dominated by Apple’s iPhone and, increasingly, the Android platform from Google. Industry commentators have lamented Microsoft’s ability to develop a compelling smartphone experience for several years; it has lost valuable ground – and mindshare – when compared to its competitors. Indeed, Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer has admitted that the company missed “an entire development cycle” with its mobile platform.

With the evolution of the smartphone came an evolution in expectations: consumers and business users alike now expect their smartphones to feature multi-touch displays, a wide range of software applications, and a seamless experience when it comes to finding and purchasing software.

With Windows Phone 7, Microsoft has retained its traditional “software platform” approach to attacking this market. Unlike Apple, for example, which controls both the hardware and software experiences, Microsoft is working with multiple hardware providers. Companies such as Dell, Samsung, HTC and LG are all releasing Windows Phone 7 devices. This is a familiar approach for Microsoft, who has shirked – aside from the failed Kin – from creating the smartphone hardware itself. The company tries to specify robust guidelines for the devices and their behaviour in order to create consistency across its partners’ hardware designs. For users, this should provide the best of both worlds: a consistent and familiar experience across devices, while giving hardware providers the opportunity to innovate. This mix has worked successfully for Microsoft in the past, and is essentially the same approach Google is taking with Android; the assumption being that more devices will result in more customers and greater market share.

Where Microsoft has innovated is in its core software. The fluid user interface, the “tiled” approach to accessing applications and receiving notifications and updates, and the linkages to other parts of the Microsoft ecosystem – including Office, Zune and Xbox – are genuinely innovative and represent alternative ways of accessing applications and media. Indications are that there will be several thousand applications available in the coming months, and by leveraging the large development community, recognised development tools and familiar programming languages, Microsoft is almost guaranteed getting support from developers and software companies alike.

A marathon, not a sprint

In several years’ time we could look upon the release of Windows Phone 7 as a watershed moment in the history of Microsoft – and the wider industry.

With Gartner estimating mobile phones will overtake PCs as the dominant web access device worldwide by 2013, there is a significant opportunity for Microsoft, Apple, Google, RIM (makers of the Blackberry) and others to grow the market and carve out their own spaces; unlike the operating system space, this is unlikely to be a “winner takes all” model.

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There is also an acknowledgement that people are used to computing on the go – these powerful devices provide capabilities unheard of a few years ago, and allow people to work and play whenever and wherever they are. Rather than use a PC or laptop, people are going to use their mobile device to access email, social networks and software applications.

This creates both challenges and opportunities for Microsoft. On the one hand, the success of mobile devices could impact its traditional operating system business. On the other, with the arrival of Windows Phone 7, it appears well-placed to secure a respectable part of the mobility space. At the end of the day, success will come down to software – the experience of using the operating system, and the applications that will be available for it, both in terms of their quality and quantity.

With a strong development story, and an enthusiastic partner network, Microsoft is well positioned to drive results. And with a variety of hardware partners in place already, the signs are good that there will be a range of interesting and innovative devices on offer – now and in the future.

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Posted by: Tim Howell, Marketing Manager | 29 October 2010

Tags: Mobile, Windows Phone 7

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