5 Good Questions About Windows Phone 7

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The Internet has been alive with "reviews" of a developer's sample of a Samsung smartphone running Windows Mobile 7 (aka Windows Phone 7 or WinMob7 or WM7), Microsoft's latest mobile operating system. Most reports have generally been positive, but none of them will mean much in the real world filled with recession-afflicted consumers making delicate dollar-dispersement decisions. The answers to five questions will determine if WM7 will succeed or fail.

    1. Do We Need Another Mobile OS?

    When you're about to make a two-year commitment to a phone, there's comfort in both familiarity and reputation. iPhone, Android and Blackberry are familiar, enjoy high critical praise and word-of-mouth, and so all are an easy, safe choice. WM7 may be radically different and clever in comparison, but radically different and clever doesn't mean better. WM7 has to be substantially and demonstrably better to overcome the other easier, no risk choices — and none of the early reviews, as laudatory as they may be, are claiming WM7 is substantially better than its three established OS rivals, merely different and clever.

    2. Do You Trust A Microsoft Cellphone?

    We trusted BlackBerry because users established it as a reason to trust it. We trusted Apple's iPhone because we knew Apple's rep for giving great hardware/software integration. We trusted Google because we knew it only wanted to make the software, which it seems to be good at. Its attempt at hardware, the Nexus One, got rapturous reviews but no one else was interested, which has not affected sales of other Android phones.

    Microsoft, however, starts off with a Sea-Land cargo container full of negative mobile baggage, thanks to sticking way too long with the anachronistic Windows Mobile 6 and the recent high-profile failure with the Kin phones, which ran a confusing early version of WM7. As such, buying a WM7 phone could seem like remarrying your ex-spouse. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice… you get the idea.

    3. Is Microsoft Too Late?

    Apple's marketing onslaught has nonetheless failed to unseat the established BlackBerry (so far) in sales, and the recent onslaught of Android phones has taken only a tiny bite out of iPhone's four-year mindset dominance. If you hated your boring BlackBerry, you leapt to an iPhone as soon as your company okayed the switch. If you abhorred Apple and AT&T, you opted for Android.

    Now look at Palm. It had an established reputation in the mobile space, but still couldn't make a dent with an OS critics adored. Why? For one thing, there was no natural hate/alternative constituency that remained. What is WM7's? And if WM7 had beaten Android to market, the subhead for this paragraph — this whole tome — would be "Is Google Too Late?".

    4. Who's This Phone For?

    WM7 phones will offer Office 2010 and Microsoft Exchange, attractive for business types. WM7 phones will offer Zune music system and Xbox for gamers, both targeting a younger, more freewheeling demographic. It's not that business execs don't play games or listen to music, or that gamers don't word process, spreadsheet or present —' even RIM realized all work and no play made BlackBerry a dull phone.

    Even so, BlackBerry is seen as a business-centric device with entertainment options, iPhone and Android entertainment-centric devices with business options. It looks as if Microsoft is touting WM7 for both executives and gamers. But if you aim at everyone, you risk hitting no one.

    5. Is WM7 Too Radical?

    WM7's crowded tile design has a bombastic, claustrophobic Chinese puzzle-like look-and-feel and a function-first gestalt compared to the airy icon arrangement and application-centric approach of iPhone, Android and Blackberry. Love it or hate it, WM7 will take some getting used to — but will anyone want to expend that kind of effort just to use a phone?