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Windows Phone 7 Series analysis vs iPhone, Android & BlackBerry (update: now with video!)

Windows Phone has been struggling in recent years.  Facing an onslaught from Apple, Google and RIM, many would say that the OS formerly known as Windows Mobile has not even been competing in the current marketplace.  Rumors have been flying around about Microsoft starting from scratch with Windows Phone 7 Series and that’s exactly what they’ve done.  And they’ve done it well.

Microsoft launched Windows Phone 7 Series today at Mobile World Congress to an audience hoping for Redmond to finally bring it in the mobile market.  Ballmer’s troops didn’t disappoint, incorporating the Zune HD’s spectacular modernist interface, Xbox Live gaming and of course Office functionality into one platform.  The reaction has been hugely positive so far, which is great for consumer choice, but what does the launch mean for the major players in the firing line such as iPhone, Android and BlackBerry?

New interface or same old Windows?

The Windows Phone 7 Series (WP7 from now on) interface we’ve seen today looks fresh and modern but I’ve been watching it develop in my living for the last few years.  It’s actually called Metro and we’ve seen its ancestry first in Windows Media Center, followed more recently by the more widely covered Zune HD.  I’m glad that Microsoft chose to follow-up these releases with Metro’s integration into WP7 as it’s a beautiful user experience and as Steve Jobs and the iPhone have taught us, the experience is critical.

So how does the interface shape up to its competitors?  Frankly it crushes all of them.  As we saw with the Zune HD which looked good compared to the iPod’s interface, WP7 raises the bar in the smartphone space.  This is not a failing of Apple, as the iPhone OS was designed a few years ago and was groundbreaking itself in 2007.  However, I expect Apple might now revisit the iPhone to bring a smarter look & feel as almost three years have passed since its release.

If WP7 trumps the iPhone’s interface then it kind of goes without saying that Android and in particular BlackBerry are made to look further behind the pinnacle than they perhaps were yesterday.  Android of course is still emerging and has a good energetic foundation upon which to bring its game to a peak.  I feel RIM however is most at risk, specifically because it has gained so much corporate market share from Windows Phone which might now return back to Microsoft.

Full disclosure: I use a BlackBerry Bold every day and it’s great, I also write for BerryReporter.  However RIM’s OS is a swish home screen covering solid but antiquated looking internal text driven menus, with a sub-standard internet browser.  RIM needs to do work urgently to improve its user experience to thwart an loss of the market share it has been winning from Windows Phone.

Social networking

Facebook and Windows Live are integrated directly into WP7, unlike its competitors which tend to use separate apps to present this information.  The benefit of direct integration is that status updates are pushed straight into WP7’s Peoplehub, so when you look up a contact you see their latest photos and news…without actually having to do anything.  That’s super-cool convergence, after all why should a contacts screen be limited to displaying static information about your contacts?

On the downside, if you’re a MySpace, Bebo, Friendster etc user then we’ll have to wait and see if those get integrated in the same way.  This is where the app model of the other players comes in handy.  That’s not to say WP7 won’t have similar functionality available through apps, after all Windows Phone has historically had a colossal app selection.  I guess the point is that once you’ve seen the Facebook and Windows Live WP7 integration into People, having social networking in a ringfenced app seems limiting.  Microsoft has completely changed the game here.

Zune

We were all hoping for Zune integration in WP7 and it came in a big way.  WP7 basically has the Zune HD’s operating system inside and syncs music, videos and photos via Zune’s desktop application.  Integration of the Zune Marketplace was also shown, so it looks like there will be a way to buy media directly from the phone.

The main challenge here is of course the iPhone and iTunes.  As iTunes approaches it’s ten billionth song download it is clearly a formidable market leader.  Many argue that the Zune experience is superior but iTunes owns the all-important consumer mindshare in this market.

Xbox Live on your phone

Apple showed the world that mobile gaming is not just the preserve of Sony and Nintendo and there have been some impressive releases for the iPhone.  Gaming exists on Android and BlackBerry as well, but no other platform can compete with Xbox Live.

Xbox Live will be integrated directly into WP7; trust me, this is a huge development for mobile platforms.  That means your Xbox Live avatar, history and potentially offshoots of popular games such as Halo will be on WP7.  That is massively compelling for Xbox owners, especially since games could be designed to interact with titles you already play on Xbox Live to unlock new content for example.  All WP7 phones will have buttons too, so gaming is likely to be a better experience than the iPhone which relies solely upon touch and accelerometer interactions.

Email and corporate

RIM has gained market share from Windows Phone to become the premier corporate messaging device for good reason; BlackBerry is a secure and generally reliable platform.  We’ll have to see if much of the critical BlackBerry functionality such as encryption and remote wiping has been implemented in WP7.  If it has been then I’d have to say it spells bad news for RIM.  While corporate investment in a smartphone platform is often a medium to long-term investment decision, WP7 is likely to answer the work-life smartphone questions which iPhone and BlackBerry have failed to answer so far.  Android does provide a good balanced solution for companies which use Gmail however.

Enterprises tend to be wary of the iPhone because of security and concerns around a lack of a transparent roadmap for the platform.  Meanwhile consumers so far have not been convinced by the touchscreen BlackBerry Storm or Storm 2, which brought a tweaked BlackBerry OS instead of a fresh iPhone-challenging interface.  WP7 could be the answer to the work-life phone question, with Exchange/Outlook integration, Zune, Xbox, social networking and of course Office.

Since WP7 has been a fresh start, all applications have to be written from scratch.  So there are new Word, Excel and Powerpoint apps.  More important is the Cloud integration with Sharepoint.  I haven’t seen demos of these yet and I’m sure right now Microsoft wants to present the platform as a great example of convergence, as Windows Phone had previously been associated with corporate productivity.  We’ll have to wait to see how Office for WP7 shapes up against the likes of Documents To Go and other mobile suites.

A Tablet in the 7 Series range?

Here’s a parting thought…We’ve now seen this interface in small devices and large touch screen PCs on Media Center.  What’s the betting a tablet is next?  In military speak I believe the phrase is “confidence is high, I repeat, confidence is high”.

You can view the full hands-on demo in the video above here.

Neil Berman

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Feb 15, 2010 - Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobile, Video Features | , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Very useful (and authentic) information. I have been using Windows mobile (6.5) since last 6 months; its really useful and provides everything that a small business owner needs.

    Comment by Sagar | Aug 7, 2010 | Reply


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