How will Windows Phone 7 be successful?
Written by Harry Fairhead   
Friday, 19 August 2011

The biggest puzzler in the mobile development world at the moment is Windows Phone 7. The question is, of course, will it ever manage to gain any traction in the market and start to take on the mighty Android and the profitable iPhone?

In case you are wondering how bad the WP7 situation actually is consider the following table based on statistics collected by Gartner:

 

Worldwide Smartphone Sales to End Users by Operating System in 2Q11 (Thousands of Units)

Operating System

2Q11

Units

2Q11 Market Share (%)

2Q10

Units

2Q10 Market Share (%)

Android

46,775.9

43.4

10,652.7

17.2

Symbian

23,853.2

22.1

25,386.8

40.9

iOS

19,628.8

18.2

8,743.0

14.1

Research In Motion

12,652.3

11.7

11,628.8

18.7

Bada

2,055.8

1.9

577.0

0.9

Microsoft

1,723.8

1.6

3,058.8

4.9

Others

1,050.6

1.0

2,010.9

3.2

Total

107,740.4

100.0

62,058.1

100.0

Source: Gartner (August 2011)

 

Notice that Microsoft is behind even Bada, and how many are developing apps that that particular platform? So it has a long way to go but with Microsoft behind it the game isn't over yet.

The recent buyout of Motorola by Google has also changed the way things look. Now we have Apple sole manufacturer of the iPhone and developer of the OS. We have Microsoft developer of the OS and partnered with Nokia. We also have Google making Android phones and the OS. This could just push other hardware manufacturers into the arms of Microsoft, even if there is a special relationship between Nokia and Microsoft.

It raises the question:

if you were a hardware manufacturer which operating system would you want to put on your phones?

Microsoft has been very proactive in trying to push WP7 to both developers and end users, but at the moment the whole thing has a feel of being stalled while waiting for a decimal point upgrade aka Mango to solve all Microsoft's problems.

There is a tiny possibility lurking at the back of the programmer's mind that Mango might just leap from its launch event and change the landscape of the mobile world. Microsoft is well known for making it good on a second or third release, but then again it also has a lot of failures that it doesn't talk about any more.

Why should we care?

The strange thing about WP7 is that it is possibly more attractive to the programmer than to the end user. You can program it using good quality, high-level, tools and the programming model is very little different from the desktop. If you can create a .NET application then working with WP7 is little different - it is more of the same with some considerations about application life-cycle and battery life-cycle thrown in. I'm not suggesting that Android or iOS development is hard, but by comparison WP7 programming is trivial as long as you are working with a Windows development system.

In terms of freedom WP7 probably sits somewhere in the middle of the range. Apple over-controls the iPhone to the extent that developers should be worried. WP7 is controlled but arguably not as much and Android is a comparative free-for-all. You can argue about the relative merits of this situation, but essentially you have to pick Android if you want to create an app that you want to distribute to a few tens of people in a controlled fashion.

This might change in the near future as Microsoft keeps making noises about enterprise deployment and even a legal unlocking service - but for the moment WP7 is a relatively closed world. You have to pay $99 a year to manually install a private app to a relatively small number of phones - five at the moment. Apple works the same sort of scheme and it isn't an attractive proposition for the weekend programmer or corporate apps.

If Microsoft could get the corporate aspect of WP7 right it could make a big difference and allow it to be a huge success in an important niche market - enterprise mobile. This is all speculation of course and at the moment WP7 isn't an attractive platform for anything other than the traditional mass market app, validated, verified and sold though an app store. Why Microsoft insists on collecting $99 for five private app installations and doesn't make it possible to distribute restricted apps is a very good question, given the amount of money it is spending promoting WP7.

Even with these "openness" worries WP7 is arguably still more attractive to the programmer than the end user. Despite the amount of time, effort and imagination expended on the UI, the Metro interface doesn't look good. Of course this is a subjective opinion and perhaps others will be impressed by the idea that WP7 uses "live tiles and hubs" which makes the iOS and Android app-based approach outdated, but this difference isn't apparent by just looking at the interface.

What you see when you look at a WP7 phone is something clunky with square tiles that resembles a board to play a game on. It just doesn't look stylish. Feel free to disagree, but before you do, compare it to an iPhone main screen or even the familiar icon layout of Android. And make sure you focus on what it looks like rather than what it does.

The argument is that WP7 is "contacts" based rather than "app" based. The key to the interface is that you see the people you want to communicate with and their status rather than a screen full of apps. Contact based sounds sensible for a phone - after all that's what phones are all about. On the other hand there are users who are surprised to discover that their handset does make phones calls rather than just play games or browse the web.

The question is are users contact or app driven?

When you look at what Microsoft is doing to make the WP7 attractive to programmers and end users you have to admit that they are working hard but there are few moves that make a big enough difference to convince the sceptical that they have a chance of recovering the situation.

Then there is Nokia

It could just be that Nokia is the ace that Microsoft is holding. If you consider this for a moment then it is obvious that Nokia has much more riding on the success of WP7 than Microsoft does. If Microsoft fails it has egg on its face and it loses some cash that it can probably afford. If Nokia fails then it is most likely the end of the company.

A recent interview with Chris Weber, president of Nokia and head of North America operations, makes really interesting reading. It is Nokia that is making the big play about the different approach that WP7 UI uses and pushing the idea that it makes all the others "outdated". 

More importantly, Nokia seems to have a plan to make WP7 attractive. First it intends to work with carriers to sell phones direct to the consumer at subsidized rates, making WP7 as price competitive as possible.

Next it expects to create a phone for everyone - with many models spanning the range from high end to low - and plans to make sure that retail stores have lots to show customers.

To get customers to look at the phones it envisages an advertising campaign that continues the general idea that WP7 makes the others look old-fashioned and ill-conceived.

Business customers are also going to be targeted with information about how much more suited to serious tasks WP7 is - out of the box. It has good email and integration with Office 365 etc.

There is no mention of Nokia getting Microsoft to do the right thing with respect to enterprise applications by creating an enterprise app server, but Nokia intends working as closely as possible with Microsoft on the development of the operating system.

If you take the use of smart phones in business seriously then the fact that enterprise apps are key and that they need an infrastructure to support them is obvious - why Microsoft and Nokia seem oblivious to this fact is difficult to work out.

With Nokia to sort out the eco-system, Microsoft has a better chance of making up lost ground, but there are still some strange features of WP7 that need to be kept in mind:

  • Why is it that while Microsoft seems to be abandoning .NET/WPF and Silverlight in every other area, they are sticking to it for WP7? It is creating a development ghetto.
  • Why is there no native app API under WP7 - it's Silverlight/XNA or nothing.
  • Where are the slate or notebook systems that a WP7 application can be migrated to so as to make inroads into other potential markets. 

Stepping back from the current situation it seems that there is a lot that Microsoft could do to make WP7 seem more attractive to the developer and to the end user. It remains to be seen if Nokia is enough.

 

More Infomation:

Full Gartner survey results

Interview with Chris Weber, president of Nokia

Mobile platforms of the world!

Google buys Motorola Mobility


Last Updated ( Friday, 19 August 2011 )
 
 

   
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