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

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The hubs are arguably quite large groupings, such as "People" and "Pictures," which Microsoft says are "built on specific themes reflecting activities that matter most to people." There are six such groupings, with the other four being Games, Music+Video, Marketplace and Office.

Gold said Microsoft controls those six hubs, while what goes under or within each hub is somewhat under the user's control. "It's not a bad way to organize, provided there are counterpoints," he said. And whether those hubs function as a way to get on with one's life (as the ad suggests) smoothly or quickly is debatable, he said.

Other analysts were worried that the Office hub is just one of six, even though it is where office workers who are most familiar with Microsoft software might do most of their work. "Microsoft's targeting of the consumer market instead of its traditional business customer base may hamper growth," analysts at Technology Business Research wrote in a recent note. "The consumer market is already flooded with popular operating systems ... leaving little space for new entrants."

One commenter on Computerworld's review of Windows Phone 7, CG, seemed to sum up the dilemma for workers using a consumer-focused phone, when he said, "I've always been a Windows fan mainly because the Office software suite. Anxiously waiting to get in touch with WP7."

Sales of WP7 phones started in Europe on Oct. 21, with some carriers reporting quick sellouts. However, some analysts dismissed those early reports because the initial supply could have been small.

Gold said it is still too early to judge user reaction to the interface, and online forums so far seem to have focused on some missing elements, such as cut-and-paste functionality and app multitasking, instead of the overall hub-and-tile concept.

Europe was a logical place to start the sales, because Microsoft mobile has traditionally been stronger in Europe, Gold said. Even if sales go very well, however, Gartner and IDC are both projecting that Windows Phone 7 will, at best, hold less than 10% of the global smartphone operating system market in the next few years, putting it in fourth or fifth place.

"Microsoft will be happy to get 10% of the market," Gold said. "But this is really their last chance at being credible in the mobile OS space."

Since the U.S. is the home of Microsoft, sales on Monday will likely matter more than elsewhere. Microsoft is taking the "Really?" TV ad theme to greater extremes, with free concert tickets for Katy Perry and Maroon 5 and a giveaway of a free WP7 phone as a part of a campaign to highlight "bad phone behavior," a spokeswoman said. People are allowed to post a personal "head in phone" story to the Really tab on the Windows Phone Facebook page to enter the contest.

If that isn't enough promotion of the "Really?" theme, Microsoft is kicking off a "WP7 Really?! Rally Road Trip" with skateboarder Rob Dyrdek and actress Minka Kelly. Dyrdek and Kelly are "challenging people to change their relationship with their mobile phones," the spokeswoman added.

AT&T on Monday will begin selling the LQ Quantum, HTC Surround and Samsung Focus. Also that day, T-Mobile will start selling the HTC HD7. Dell will offer the Venue Pro, although its general availability has not yet been announced.

Other WP7 phones being sold outside of the U.S. are the HTC Mozart, HTC 7 Pro, HTC 7 Trophy, LG Optimus 7 and Samsung Omnia 7. In all, Microsoft and various carriers announced 10 WP7 phones, with nine being sold starting in in 2010.

When the Web site Betanews polled readers last month about which WP7 phone would be the most popular, Samsung's Focus received the most interest, followed closely by the HD7.

Video chat with the Focus' front-facing camera is the kind of feature that "will make most of today's smartphones obsolete in 6-9 months," said survey participant Joel Brache.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at  @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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