Is Windows Phone 7 really a threat to Android or the iPhone?


Maybe it's a slow news day. Maybe people want to find nice things to say about Microsoft's rather dismal recent history. But, for some reason or the other, people actually seem to be excited about Microsoft's launch of Windows Phone 7. Yawn.

How many times do we have to go through this? Whether Microsoft calls it Windows CE, Pocket PC or Windows Mobile, Microsoft has never done that well in the mobile device or smartphone space. The company's marketshare has been declining for years. Specifically, Windows Phone's slice of the market pie has been shrinking fast even before Android started grabbing so much of the smartphone business.

In a way, it's a shame. From what I can see of Windows Phone 7 in action, it doesn't look bad. But it's too little, too late.

Microsoft's earlier mobile systems were never able to grab many customers — or, more critically, developers. Today, almost everyone I know in the mobile space is working on either iPhone or Android applications. A handful are also working on MeeGo, HP's WebOS, Symbian or RIM's take on QNX embedded Unix. The world may be full of Windows developers, but there aren't that many Windows CE/Phone programmers.

Or, to quote Paul Reddick, CEO of Handmark, a mobile application developer for multiple phone operating systems: "Coming out of this economy, developers don't randomly build stuff. We really focus on 'is there going to be a meaningful addressable market.'" Exactly.

I could talk about how Android's more open approach is better than Microsoft and Apple's closed development gardens, but that's not what going to keep Windows Phone 7 from becoming important. Microsoft's real problem is that embedded programmers have a better chance of making real money from Android phones and the iPhone. In turn, without applications, no one is going to care about how nifty Windows Phone 7 is or isn't.

After Microsoft's Kin fiasco, how many developers are really going to invest their hours and future in another Windows mobile project? If Microsoft pays them directly, or their firm, they'll build applications for Windows Phone 7, but I think most of them are going to stick with writing for the already wildly successful Android and iPhone markets.

Programmers, like everyone else, need to make a living. I don't see how in 2010 most of them will be able to do that with Windows Phone 7.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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