Will WP7 live up to Microsoft's 'Really' ads?

With first U.S. Windows Phones set for release Monday, Microsoft's interface promise of 'in and out and back to life' will be tested

AT&T and T-Mobile will start selling Windows Phone 7 smartphones on Nov. 8, a date Microsoft recently began promoting in clever, if questionable, TV ads labeled "Really?"

One of the ads (see video below) depicts various ways that existing cell phones are keeping people from living their lives normally, including one clip of a man dropping his phone in a urinal and fishing it out while another man looks on and asks, disgustedly, "Really?"

Others trip over or bump into strangers while jogging or walking at the same time they're talking on a cell phone.

A voice-over at the end of the ad notes that "it's time for a phone to save us from our phones." The voice-over adds that new Windows Phones are "designed to get you in and out and back to life." The written slogan: "Be here now."

Whether Windows Phone 7 handsets and the new user interface, with its hubs-and-tiles concept, can "really" get a user "in and out and back to life" all that skillfully or quickly will surely be debated once the phones are being sold.

Some analysts praised Microsoft for spending the money to promote the new phones with slick ads, but they also questioned how the hub-and-tile approach in WP7 will be received by typical consumers.

The hub-and-tile interface is different from the interfaces in Apple's iPhone and phones that use Google's Android operating system, but it's not all that different from their use of a series of icons on a home page, some analysts have noted.

Despite such questions, the phones and the software have generally received strong initial reviews.

Another interesting but confusing element of the "Really?" ads is how Microsoft and the first WP7 phones have focused so heavily on the consumer, when business users have been the company's traditional mobile customers.

"The ad is cute and attention-getting, and it's good news that Microsoft at least is advertising," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J.Gold Associates. He noted how the failed Microsoft Kin phones that were discontinued in June just weeks after being introduced weren't widely advertised.

"Microsoft is getting aggressive, and if they stand any chance of making any impact, they have to do a lot of advertising," Gold said. "There's a lot of noise in the market with all the smartphone players."

Still, Gold and some other critics weren't sure the "Really?" ad works on several levels. For one, Gold said that on a quick first viewing, the ad is confusing and seems to indicate that the WP7 phones are the ones that are causing the people in the scenarios to trip over, ignore and bump into one another.

But even when it becomes clear that the new WP7 phones are supposed to prevent users from ignoring life happening around them, Gold said that message is inconsistent with what most people really want from their smartphones.

"Most users who buy smartphones spend more time searching apps and other things," he said. "Most phone manufacturers want to suck you in and keep you on the phone a lot. At least the carriers do."

In that sense, Microsoft seems to be suggesting that WP7 won't even fulfill what buyers may really want from a smartphone.

Gold has used the new WP7 interface and generally likes it but questioned whether it will be appreciated by all that many users. "Microsoft is trying to organize your life for you with hubs and tiles, and a hub is really just a superfolder and a tile is a subfolder," he said.

"For organizing stuff, it's not a bad way to do it, but what if it doesn't fit somebody's lifestyle?" Gold asked. "The danger of those hubs is, what if they don't resonate with somebody's life?"

Microsoft's 'Really?' ad. (Click arrow button to play video. Adobe Flash is required. Some browsers may require two clicks to start the video.)

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