Microsoft's mobile ambitions ride on new Windows Phone 7 handsets
Network World - As Microsoft preps for Monday's public unveiling of the first devices featuring Windows Phone 7 -- its latest effort to assert mobile-industry leadership -- CEO Steve Ballmer has made clear what will define success for this radically redesigned operating system.
"Job one here will be selling a lot of phones, and if we sell a lot of phones, good things are going to happen," he told the Wall Street Journal.
In the U.S., you can expect at least a handful of phone models, with different prices and form factors, on the two main GSM cellular networks: AT&T and T-Mobile (it's not clear when T-Mobile will start selling the phones). The publicly announced Windows Phone handset makers include Dell, HTC, LG and Samsung, the latter three with strong commitments to Google Android handsets. All handsets will comply with a foundation hardware specification -- CPU, memory and so on -- designed to ensure that every Windows Phone device will perform consistently and well.
Photos and documents purporting to be of the new phones have been surfacing, all showing roughly similar devices: big-screen touch phones, with the trademark trio of Windows Phone 7 buttons at the bottom. But expect a much more diverse group of devices, in terms of size, weight, and design, targeted at different groups of users.
Given Windows Phone 7's built-in cluster (or "hub" in Microsoft parlance) of Microsoft Office applications, a native Microsoft SharePoint client and nearly complete implementation of Exchange ActiveSync for linking the phone to corporate Exchange Servers, the new handsets are likely to find ready acceptance in the enterprise market. (See: "The top 6 enterprise issues for Windows Phone 7")
'Disaster,' 'doomed,' 'a step back'
Plenty of people fervently believe that by Ballmer's yardstick, Windows phones will fall well short of success, ending up like Microsoft's ill-fated Kin phones, which were based on different software and lasted just two months on the market earlier this year, or Palm's webOS phones, which despite good reviews failed to spark consumer interest.
Windows Phone 7 already has been declared a "disaster," and a "doomed" enterprise with a failed business model. It's a "step back" according to some number of developers and users of the older, and now incompatible, Windows Mobile OS.
Analyst firm Gartner forecasts about 12.6 million Windows Phone handsets sold in 2010, jumping to 21.3 million next year, but market share climbing from just 4.7% to 5.2%, and dropping back to 3.9% in 2014. IDC is more optimistic, forecasting a 9.8% share in 2014.
But Microsoft has so far fulfilled its two top priorities, which Ballmer repeated in the same Journal interview, and it's worth quoting at length: "In the time frame since the last significant release [of the older Windows Mobile OS] certainly the industry has moved, the technology has moved, the hardware has moved. We said 'we've got to move forward, not shoot for yesterday. We've got to shoot ahead in a way that's delightful to users, accessible to developers, and prioritize everything else we do around those [two] elements.' "
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