Today Microsoft showed off the Windows Phone 7 update coming next fall, code-named Mango. It looks very nice, but there's one problem: Its "new" features have been available on Android, and in some cases the iPhone, for quite a long time. Will Microsoft ever become a leader, not a follower, in smartphones?
At the Mix developer show in Las Vegas, Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Windows Phone program management, showed off Mango and trumpeted its capabilities. Chief among them: the ability to allow applications to run in the background.
Android, of course, has been doing that for quite some time. The iPhone eventually followed Android's lead. And so sometime this fall, Windows Phone 7 will finally do it. That's called playing catch-up, and doing it very slowly, not leading the pack.
Belfiore also highlighted a barcode scanning app from Amazon that will let someone scan a barcode, and then be sent to Amazon to buy the product if Amazon has it.
That's been available via a variety of Android apps for a very long time as well. And the Android apps go far beyond those capabilities. They'll also head you to Web sites with reviews and information about the products. And Google Goggles, available for Android phones and the iPhone, does all that and more. Point your Android phone or iPhone at a landmark, for example, and Google Goggles will identify it and provide links to Web sites with more information. Point it at a menu item in a foreign language, and it will translate it.
Microsoft is going to have to do better with Windows Phone 7 than offer me-too technology out years after it's been introduced by competitors. By the time Mango finally hits Windows Phone 7, Android and the iPhone will be a generation or more ahead. To succeed, Microsoft needs to leapfrog its competitors, not play follow the leader.