Microsoft has made its final roll of the dice in the global smartphone market by launching its latest mobile operating system around the world, with the hope that it will rival iPhone and Android devices.
Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer took the wraps off nine mobile phones powered by Windows Phone 7 (WP7) at an event at a loft in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood. Analysts say that this could be its last chance to muscle in on the smartphone wars, which have been dominated by Apple and Google. Ballmer said more than 60 mobile operators around the world will offer the devices, made by South Korea’s Samsung and LG Electronics, Taiwan’s HTC and Dell, the US computer giant, in more than 30 countries.
Simple Navigation: The Windows Phone 7 marks a complete break from its past efforts – and the suppression of internal politics in favour of the common people. According to IDC Australia analyst Mark Novosel: “Windows Phone 7 has a clean, simple and elegant UI which reduces unnecessary clutter and aims to simplify navigation and operation of the device.”
A Long Journey Ahead: Microsoft is having to sprint to catch up on the lead it has surrendered in the past three years first to Apple and then to Google’s Android platform. Its rivals have grabbed roughly a third of the rapidly expanding market for devices that can connect to the internet while their user is on the move, as well as making phone calls. According to Gartner, Windows Mobile is lagging behind its competitors in market share. Its 5 per cent share of the worldwide market as at the second quarter of this year is far smaller than Nokia’s Symbian (41.2 per cent), Google’s Android (17.2 per cent), BlackBerry (18.2 per cent) and Apple’s iOS (14.2 per cent). Ovum principal analyst Tony Cripps said there was a huge amount riding on Windows Phone 7 and failure could lead Microsoft to pull out of the smartphone race altogether.
The Customer is King: Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief executive, said that he had “been looking forward to this day for some time” as he unveiled a range of phones using the system in the US. He said that the development of the software behind the Windows Phone 7 – reckoned by analysts to have cost the company more than a billion dollars, and to have a $400m (£250m) marketing budget attached – had been driven by the necessity to be “modern in its design principles, in the way that people use modern internet services, and we’ve taken a very different tack at the same time”. The latest mobile interface aimed to integrate phonebooks, social networks and other information around “hubs” of people. Ballmer said: “We had an internal mantra that the customer is king … Give them the ability to do everything on their mobile phone but easier and faster. Less stop and stare, more glance and glare.”
Focused on Usability: Almost every mobile phone can accomplish basic tasks such as email, taking photos and browsing social networking sites but with Windows Phone 7, Microsoft has focused on usability. Users can completely customize the main screen of the mobile phone with their own tiles, providing one-touch access to emails, SMS messages, particular websites, the calendar and specific contacts, mobile applications and mobile games.
Xbox Live Games: The mobile phone platform hooks up with Microsoft’s Xbox Live online gaming network and there will 50 Xbox Live games tailored to mobile phones available at launch, including Crackdown 2 and Halo Waypoint. Some analysts are skeptical that the tie-in with the Xbox will be enough to lure gamers to the mobile phones.
Latest Mobile Phones: Over the next two months five Windows Phone 7 handsets will be available from HTC, LG and Samsung. The handsets, the first of which will be launched next week, include the HTC 7 Mozart and HTC 7 Trophy (includes a 3.8-inch screen, 1GHz processor, 8GB of internal memory, a 5-megapixel camera and 720p HD video recording), the LG Optimus 7 which will be launched on Tuesday and Optimus 7 Q and the Samsung Omnia 7 (which offers a 4-inch screen, 5-megapixel camera and 1GHz processor). The HTC Mozart 7 has a 3.7-inch touchscreen display, 8GB of internal memory and a 8-megapixel camera, while the Optimus 7Q has a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, 3.5-inch touchscreen, 5-megapixel camera, 16GB of memory and 720p HD video recording.
Smartphone’s Business: Microsoft has lagged in the mobile phone market for years. Windows Mobile, its previous incarnation, was popular among businesses for its ability to connect with enterprise email and calendaring systems. But then the Canadian company Research In Motion (RIM) ate into that field with its BlackBerry offerings, while Nokia took the broad share of the global smartphone market. But the world really changed in June 2007 when Apple launched the iPhone, with its unlimited internet connectivity, and then Google produced Android, which mimicked many of the iPhone’s strengths and could be built by many handset makers, undercutting Microsoft’s business model. “We have built a different kind of a phone,” Ballmer said. “We set out to build a phone that was thoroughly modern.” WP7 is Microsoft’s first significant update to its mobile operating system in 18 months and its release comes on the heels of the disastrous launch of a “Kin” line of phones, which were pulled from stores after just two months.
Collaborate on PowerPoint Presentation: The new focus on consumers in Windows Phone reflects a realization that they will be a key driver of smartphone sales growth. “The enterprise [customer] is still important, but we’re looking to appeal to the consumer as well,” said Ashley Highfield, Microsoft UK’s managing director. “Consumers are actually just as much business people as they are entertainment seekers. This is for both those areas. We do have connections to [Microsoft's corporate email system] Outlook and address book and [enterprise collaboration tool] SharePoint. You can, if you want, collaborate on a PowerPoint presentation with someone who’s back in the office on your phone.”
Will WP 7 Profit Microsoft? Microsoft may still not profit as handsomely as Nokia, RIM and Apple, all of which create both the software and the hardware in their products – and for which the physical product is the most profitable part. While Google makes money from its Android platform by driving searches via its own platform and selling mobile ads, Microsoft is both charging handset makers a fee to license Windows Phone 7 and seeking search and ad revenues. The profits from those activities, though, may not be as impressive as those seen by Apple, in particular, which is estimated to have taken 39% of the mobile phone industry’s total profits in the first half of 2010 by selling only 17m iPhone sets.
Microsoft’s App Store: Microsoft is also looking to encourage the development of an “app store” like those offered by Apple, Android and Nokia, which have all poured millions of pounds into encouraging developers to write small “apps” that can be downloaded and used on their mobile phones. But for the companies that developed the thousands of mobile applications for the previous generation of Windows Mobile phones, the bad news is that they will now have to rewrite them entirely.