Just ahead of next week's MIX10 conference, where Microsoft will (hopefully) unveil further details and information about its upcoming Windows Phone 7 Series platform, I thought about what Microsoft needs to make Windows Phone 7 a successful platform. Is it about multitasking or the ability to upgrade today's Windows Mobile 6.5 phones? No, at the end of the day, I came to the conclusion that it is about apps, apps and apps again. Why apps? Well, doesn't matter how good or bad Windows Phone 7 is out of the box - today's mobile phone and smartphone users expect something more from its device than just the 10 to 20 years old GSM services like voice, SMS and MMS.
It's quite obvious that Windows Phone 7 will also support E-Mail, web browsing and mapping features, in addition to a good bunch of other services like media playback and games integration but that's not enough anymore!
I'm using GSM phones for over 17 years now and when I started with my first mobile phone, we hadn't had voicemail, SMS or web browsing features but GSM was about voice calls only. And until the late 90s, this was good enough. Later we got web (in the beginning it was called WAP) and E-Mail support and a mobile phone was as connected to the Internet as possible. However, these days connected services are even more important - think about Twitter, Facebook or Foursquare, just to mention a few - and new platforms, without support for these connected services, will definitely fail - doesn't matter how good and highly integrated the platform itself is.
Just recently, I had the pleasure to Beta-test two smartphones which came without app stores and therefore I wasn't able to enhance device experience with any apps or connected services I'm used to use these days. And for sure - both devices were quite appealing but after 24 hours I made my mind that they were somewhat useless for me. For sure I was able to sync my contacts and calendars with both smartphones, I got my E-Mails and SMS messages and I was able to surf the web wireless. I was able to do everything I dreamed about 10 years ago but I wasn't able to use a single Web 2.0 service the way I'm used to use it these days - through connected apps! No Twitter except using the mobile web interface, no Facebook except using the mobile web interface and no Foursquare except using the mobile web interface - again just to mention a few. Don't get me wrong, mobile web interfaces are great but in any case I prefer dedicated apps for all these services. This experience was a real eye-opener for me and I thought that this could be the worse-case experience a new Windows Phone 7 Series user might face.
You get a great brand new device, with a brand new operating system which perfectly does what it was designed for but as soon as you want to go out of its wallet garden, you notice that there's no door, no window to walk through. That's definitely the biggest concern I have with Windows Phone 7 Series!
I had the chance to see it several times during the recent months and I still admit that I'm pretty fascinated. I really like what I've seen/what I was able to use but as soon as I've tried to leave the system I was lost. Sure, at the moment Windows Phone 7 is still in development and therefore I don't want to blame anybody for anything. Microsoft can't be engaged with developers today since the platform is still brand new but it clearly showes that Microsoft has to engage with smart developers - as soon as possible. The Windows Phone 7 Series Facebook integration is gorgeous but what is it good for if you don't use Facebook but Twitter, MySpace or one of the local social community services (like we have the VZ-Network or Xing here in Germany)? What if you don't want to buy your music and videos from Zune but from Amazon? What if you can't play Xbox 360 games and don't have a gamers tag because you either don't play games or still have a first generation Xbox? In this case, the brand new Windows Phone 7 smartphone would become a feature-rich mobile phone which allows you to do all the basic GSM stuff but nothing more.
In my humble opinion, and I'm sure Microsoft will try its best during next weeks MIX10, Microsoft has to put all its efforts to convince developers to develop for the Windows Phone 7 platform to make sure the platform has an application head-start from the moment it goes on sale end of this year. If there is a single lack of available applications, it will be hard for Microsoft to convince users to either upgrade from today's Windows Mobile or switch from any other smartphone platform to Windows Phone 7 because for the customer it wouldn't be an upgrade at all but a downgrade. Why should a user give up on something he/she is already using on other platforms. And this is a pretty wide area since we are talking about such hot topics like social community services, media support as well as on- and off-board navigation!
Again, at the moment I'm quite faithful that Microsoft will be able to manage all this but for me this is definitely a key that Windows Phone 7 will become a successful Windows Phone restart for Microsoft. The competition is definitely too strong and too successful that customers will forgive such a false start.
Cheers ~ Arne