A few features will be conspicuously absent from Microsoft’s upcoming Windows Phone 7 Series platform. These include copy and paste functions, full multitasking, and support for user-replaceable memory cards.
WinPho7 will also require that all apps be installed from the Windows Phone marketplace.
In developing the next generation for its smartphone platform, Microsoft needed a new approach — Windows Mobile devices have been losing ground to the iPhone, and Android, and critics said the company’s WinMo 6.5 update did little to liven up the Windows Mobile landscape.
That led to Redmond delay the launch of version 7 of its platform — now dubbed “Windows Phone 7 Series” — repeatedly until it came up with a different approach. WinPho7 is “different from what we’ve done in the phone space before, and it’s different from other phones,” said Charlie Kindel, who’s in charge of Microsoft’s Windows Phone developer strategy.
WinPho7 has an entirely new user interface and has been designed to take on rivals that have seen explosive growth in recent years among the consumer set.
Is Less Really More?
“Microsoft’s trying to push a more friendly experience compared to Windows Mobile 6.5, where it tried to put as many features into the device as possible, and the operating system didn’t really have a friendly user interface,” Chris Hazelton, a research director at The 451 Group, told TechNewsWorld.
Part of that more friendly experience is offering a device that has a reasonably long battery life. This might be why Microsoft decided not to offer third-party multitasking.
Cut-and-paste was a feature that iPhone lacked when it first hit the market in 2007, though other smartphones at the time carried the feature. Since then, it’s implemented cut-and-paste through a software update. Now it appears Microsoft’s platform will be the one lacking the function. However, it’s not exactly a critical feature, said Al Hilwa, a program director at IDC. “While this feature may be a public relations hot button, it’s not really a big deal,” he told TechNewsWorld. “I’ve used cut and paste once in four months on my iPhone.”
The trick is to know what to leave out. “Microsoft needs to get the checklist right in the hyper-competitive smartphone market,” Hilwa pointed out. “Achieving a level of parity with the iPhone is an important milestone, but Apple isn’t standing still, and by the time Windows Phone 7 devices ship, Apple may have created additional differentiation, and so would the other players.”
WinPho7 devices are scheduled to hit the market beginning around September, but Apple traditionally updates its iPhone line in June with new hardware and software.
What About Multitasking?
One feature both the iPhone and WinPho7 lack is full multitasking. Only a small handful of user-controlled processes, like music playback, are able to run in the background. Apple might add strong multitasking capabilities to the iPhone feature list in June, but it appears WinPho7 will feature as little multitasking when it hits the market as the iPhone does today.
However, that lack of multitasking may not be a problem, either. “Multitasking has to be throttled down to make devices usable,” Hilwa explained. “That makes for better battery life but, more importantly, it prevents applications from stomping all over one another and creating complexities in the user interface.”
The key is to have just the right amount of multitasking enabled and to be conservative about how many multitasking features are enabled, Hilwa said.
The Drawbacks of Conservatism
Being cautious about enabling features has a downside — — it could leave WinPho7 devices miles behind the competition.
“I’m hoping we won’t end up seeing feature phones running a smartphone operating system,” The 451 Group’s Hazelton remarked.
“Windows Phone 7 still needs a lot of features to make sure it can compete with devices coming out over the next three months — RIM is pushing out new devices, and Apple will have a new device in June,” Hazelton said.
Whether or not WinPho7 will be profitable for Microsoft is an issue that’s still open to question. “The key to making money is smartphone applications,” IDC’s Hilwa said.
The problem is, WinPho7 can’t run apps written for Windows Mobile, and this could slow it down.
Some developers who have created apps for WinMo phones are already upset with Microsoft because they won’t be able to leverage their existing work to build apps for WinPho7, and rewriting will cost them time and money.
This could cost Redmond in the long run. “The smartphone applications market may be a multi-billion market in short order, and Microsoft needs to figure out how to monetize it better,” Hilwa said.