Windows Phone 7 is Too Little, Too Late

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When people in the ’50s dreamed about what the future was going to be like they imagined flying cars, meals in pill form and widespread space travel. What they didn’t imagine was the idea that someone could pull a candy bar-sized piece of plastic out of their pocket and immediately access the sum of human knowledge. Everyone, I’m pretty sure we live in the future.

Over the past three years, the smartphone has completely changed the communications landscape. Eager to compete for a larger chunk of the smartphone market, Microsoft will finally be releasing the seventh iteration of their mobile phone operating system, creatively named Windows Phone 7 on Nov. 8 in the United States. Is it enough to compete with Apple’s iPhone or Google’s Android?

In a single word: no. In two different words, not yet. Windows Phone 7 is too little and too late to make any big waves in the current smartphone pool. Compared to the momentum of the iPhone and Android, Microsoft has been floundering for a very long time and, while Windows Phone 7 is definitely a step forward, it’s not as big of a step as Microsoft needs to become competitive now.

First off, WP7 is coming way too late in the game. iOS has been around since 2007 and has gone through four major upgrades. Android was introduced in late 2008 and has also gone through four major updates. While these two operating systems have been fixing flaws in their code, polishing their user interface and introducing new features, Microsoft has been sitting on their hands with only one major update to their Windows Mobile 6 platform since early 2007 and a misguided attempt to be hip with their now defunct Kin line of feature-phones. If you don’t remember the Kin, it’s okay. The Kin line was discontinued after six weeks and folded into WP7. By the time WP7 was announced, Microsoft’s only existence in the smartphone market was a limited operating system that wasn’t made for current capacitive touchscreen, fast-processor phones. Windows Mobile was stuck in the era of the Palm Pilot.

Windows Phone 7 is an entirely new project, which presents a double-edged sword. It wisely breaks from the tired stylus-based Windows Mobile platform and introduces a new and better touch-based, end-user focused operating system. However, due to its rushed development, the first manufacturer versions of WP7 was released only eight months after the latest version of Windows Mobile 6.55. There are bound to be some bugs. WP7 1.0 worked perfectly fine during Microsoft’s Demo but you can bet that there’ll be issues in the real world, especially compared to iOS 4.1 and Android 2.2.

Microsoft also lacks the organization to fully support WP7 which is ironic since Microsoft is literally the largest software company in the world. But, for smartphones, it’s the third-party support that is most important and Microsoft is introducing an entirely new platform, which isn’t even backwards compatible with any of the applications written for Windows Mobile 6.5. They’re up against Apple’s App Store, which has over 250,000 apps, and Google’s Android Market, which has over 80,000 apps.

Apple, with 56 percent of the market, and Google, with 25 percent of the market, currently dominate smartphone world. This makes developing for WP7 a liability for the smaller software houses. It’s unlikely that WP7 will draw the amount of developers needed to compete with Apple and Google anytime soon.

But, I’ll admit, if there’s any company that has the resources to succeed against these odds, it’s Microsoft (and they’re already doing some things right.) Taking a page out of Apple’s playbook, Microsoft is strictly enforcing minimum hardware requirements on the companies manufacturing the phones what will be using their operating system. Because of this, the Windows Phone 7 experience will remain largely consistent over dozens of different devices, which is a problem that Google has had when manufacturers put Android on phones not equipped to handle it.

Microsoft is also partnering with almost every major carrier, giving them the exposure they need to attempt to grab a large user base. Windows Phone 7 phones will be available from T-Mobile, AT&T and Sprint on launch day. Noticeably missing is Verizon who has been having great success with its Droid line of phones.

Is Windows Phone 7 going to be a problem for Apple and Google? No, probably not — but it might be in a few years. It is definitely a step in the right direction for Microsoft. While Apple and Google don’t have to worry yet, they might want to keep their eyes on Microsoft to see what happens next. More competition can only make things better, right? Let’s hope so.

Charles Lam is a fourth-year women’s studies major. He can be reached at cnlam@uci.edu.

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