Leaked Road Map Offers Glimpse of Future Windows Phones

A road map for the future development of the Windows Phone OS has apparently been leaked. The new information comes in the wake of a recent flurry of criticism over Windows Phone’s performance in the smartphone market.

The road map, published by the VMPowerUser blog, is purportedly accurate as of October 2011.

If that’s true, it could alleviate some critics’ concerns regarding the way Microsoft has been marketing Windows Phone.

However, the road map is too vague to tell anyone much, Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld.

“For each version [of the OS] there will be improvements, so this [road map] really only gives you the code names and target release dates,” Enderle pointed out. “Since these dates tend to be fluid, there isn’t really much you can sink your teeth into here.”

What’s in the Road Map

The published road map lists four versions of the Windows Phone OS, two of which have already arrived.

The first is WinPho7, with general availability (GA) listed for Q4, 2010. Next is Mango, with GA listed for Q4, 2011. Microsoft has followed the outlines of these two phases so far.

Next will come Tango, slated for Q2, 2012. It will be for products with the best prices — in other words, low-priced, budget-minded handsets.

Finally, there’s Apollo, scheduled for Q4, 2012. Microsoft’s goal by that time will be to sharpen its competitive edge and increase overall volume. The road map seems to also indicate that Apollo will be for “superphones” and will be targeted strongly at business users.

Microsoft spokesperson Lacretia Taylor declined to comment on the road map for this story.

The Possible Import

It appears that Microsoft plans to target lower-end smartphones with Tango and re-engage business with Apollo, though Enderle has his doubts about the effectiveness of that approach.

“With smartphones, the key cost is the service, not the device, so lowering the cost of the phone probably won’t do that much,” Enderle pointed out. Further, “Business already likes Windows Phone just fine, the problem is, the users aren’t demanding it.”

That lack of user demand means Microsoft is failing to catch the wave of the consumerization of IT, which is driving sales of mobile devices.

Choking in the Market?

To date, Windows Phone devices have underperformed in the global smartphone market.

Worldwide sales of mobile devices totaled more than 440 million units in Q3, 2011, according to Gartner. A strong marketing push from both Nokia and its partner Microsoft to flog the new Lumia smartphone, which runs Windows Phone, should bring some improvement soon, but a true turnaround won’t take place until the second half of 2012, Gartner predicts.

The second half of 2012 is when “Tango” and “Apollo” will kick in, according to the leaked road map.

Former Microsoft GM Charlie Kindel attributes the poor performance of Windows Phone devices to Microsoft’s approach.

Microsoft’s restrictions on carriers and device manufacturer leads them to place less emphasis on WinPho devices, Kindel stated. Google, on the other hand, gives manufacturers and carriers a free hand to do what they want with Android devices, which accounts for that OS’ tremendous popularity in the market.

However, those with long memories will recall that Microsoft had previously adopted Google’s approach with Windows Mobile, the predecessor to Windows Phone, leading to complaints that the OS was fragmented and there was no continuity between devices from different manufacturers.

Those complaints left Windows Mobile 6 dead in the water, and Microsoft decided to redesign WinPho from scratch and maintain control over both the hardware and the OS as a result.

Addressing Complaints About WinPho

Microsoft “has given Nokia a lot of leeway with regard to [Windows Phone], and if that works, it might relax its restrictions elsewhere,” Enderle pointed out.

However, Redmond needs to revise its approach to Windows Phone, Enderle suggested.

“They are losing money on this, and Steve Ballmer has been unwilling to loosen the purse strings to assure success,” Enderle said. “If he spent about a third [as much] on this platform as he’s spending on Bing, he’d likely have far greater success.”

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