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Summary:

Microsoft will reportedly provide every employee with a Windows Phone 7 handset, which works out to an instant user base of 90,000. This internal beta-testing approach can work well, as evidenced by Google’s Nexus One, but can Microsoft act fast enough to use it effectively?

Microsoft will reportedly provide every one of its employees with a Windows Phone 7 handset, which works out to an instant user base of 90,000.

Microsoft-watcher Mary Jo Foley caught the tweet of the news yesterday and added a little snark of her own, saying “90k down… just under 30 million to go” — a loose reference how far behind Microsoft is in the smartphone market where it once was a leader. Ed Bott thinks the free phones are a “secret weapon” to help Microsoft developers seed applications — so when consumers buy the new phones, they have useful software to use on day one. There’s merit in Ed’s point, but I think the bigger questions may be how quickly can Microsoft adjust to user feedback, and how many employees will keep using the devices over the long haul?

We’ve seen such “dog-fooding” strategies before, the most recent and notable being the Google Nexus One, which was used by Google employees for weeks prior to the handset launch. Allowing the rank and file to use new products helps provide quick and actionable internal feedback. And for a company like Google that practices a “launch early and iterate often” mantra, internal product testing on a large scale can turn a good product into a great one. But if I had to pick a company that’s been completely contrary to Google’s speed, especially in terms of smartphones, it would be Microsoft.

Although prior updates to Windows Mobile were often hampered by carrier testing and influence, I can’t recall one single update that Microsoft offered to its smartphone platform in what I’d describe as a quick timeframe. A perfect example is Windows Mobile 6.1; it was mainly a minor sub-version, but it wasn’t even announced until 14 months after Windows Mobile 6 launched in February of 2007. Such lengthy timeframes between updates used to be the norm, but now that strategy simply won’t work. Google and, to a lesser degree, Apple are iterating mobile platform changes in terms of a few months and sometimes weeks, not years.

It will also be worth knowing what percentage of Microsoft employees still use the free handset a few months after launch. For some, the device is sure to be an upgrade over their current phone, so they may stick with Windows Phone 7 for better or worse. I’ll be very interested to see if those with a current handset from a competitor such as Google, Apple, Nokia or Research In Motion hang on to their Microsoft device. We’ll probably never have those detailed numbers, but like Mary Jo, I’ll be watching for the signs in Twitter.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub req’d): Mobile OSes Are No Longer Just About Mobile

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  1. Deranged Shaman Thursday, July 22, 2010

    Great post, I think its a great idea. And after hearing rumors of at&t ordering 8 million plus devices windows phone 7 will be a force to me reckoned with in the smartphone market.

  2. Microsoft is probably the most unpopular company in the mobile business.

    Even seeding 90,000 employees with handsets isn’t very much. Even Samsung managed to ship 1 million Bada handsets in the first month of sale. Microsoft won’t achieve that with Windows Phone 7.

    Those Microsoft employees will soon become frustrated by the many shortcomings of Windows Phone 7. Where’s my Twitter? Why is there no VoIP? Where’s Google? Why doesn’t the phone’s compass work? Can’t I use a different browser apart from IE?

    1. I seriously hope you’re kidding.

      If you kept current with the news, you’d know that not only is Microsoft going to give each and every one of their employees a WP7 device, pretty much everyone in their developer program (thousands of people) will get one as well.

      Those numbers are BEFORE their manufacturing & marketing push to carriers and end users.

      Twitter will be on the phone.. I mean really. Maybe not as an integrated application (what base OS has integrated twitter anyway? you have to download an app on Android and iPhone..) but definitely as one of at least 100 apps in the marketplace.

      VOIP will be on there. Probably a first-party Skype application or Fring. Google I’m sure will release a dedicated app or 10 in the marketplace (Microsoft won’t block the apps, they just won’t hard code it in the OS itself.)

      As far as browsers, older Windows phones have had access to browsers like Skyfire, Opera Mini, etc. There definitely will be other options.

      Seriously, don’t make ridiculous comments that have no basis in reality.

  3. Hamranhansenhansen Thursday, July 22, 2010

    No. They should have done company-wide development of Windows Phone 7 and shipped it in late 2008. That would already have been late. At this point, a phone with no native apps, no HTML5 apps, no multitasking, and no Copy/Paste is a feature phone. But they are going to try to sell these phones as smartphones. So what they have is KIN 3, a feature phone with the cost of a smartphone. Why would a user pay the same price as an iPhone for a Windows Phone 7? iPhone even has better Exchange features.

  4. Hamranhansenhansen Thursday, July 22, 2010

    Apple also gives all of its employees iPhones, and Google has given all of its employees Nexus One, so how big of an advantage is this, really?

    Ed Bott thinks the free phones are a “secret weapon”
    to help Microsoft developers seed applications

    Zune HD was that. Nobody made any apps. Apple’s iPod touch is widely used as a cheap developer platform.

    Google and, to a lesser degree, Apple are iterating
    mobile platform changes in terms of a few months
    and sometimes weeks, not years.

    Apple actually releases more versions and deploys them to devices much faster than Google. Apple updates the entire community, while Google goes through carriers, which slows things down considerably. There have only been 7 versions of Android over 2 years and the latest one has not even shipped on a phone yet, and 50% still run Android v1.x. There have been between 15-20 iOS releases over 3 years, and the latest version already runs on over 50% of the community in spite of the fact it is less than a month old.

    Windows Mobile v6.0 shipped before the original iPhone, and iPhone 4 meets the largely-unchanged Windows Mobile v6.5 in the market. That is all we need to know.

    Microsoft is also years and years behind Apple in PC’s, which move at a much slower pace. How Microsoft is going to get up to speed, nobody can say.

    1. Currently, 58% of Android phones are on 2.1.
      Apples iteration relates as often to closing jailbreaking opportunities as it does actually adding worthwhile aspects to the OS. Let’s not forget either that it was probably some 10 revisions before something as simple as copy + paste was introduced and the remainder until we actually got multitasking. To their credit, it was the same number of revisions before th 3G stopped running well.

  5. Jorge Menendez Friday, July 23, 2010

    Um, I’m fairly sure the Msft employees aren’t getting phones until after the public launch. So, it’s not really beta testing or dogfooding, though it is a good way to seed the market.

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