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Summary:

Having spent time with Windows Phone 7 and hearing from executives, I think if Microsoft executes well — and that’s a big if considering this is a first release — Windows Phone 7 could bite into the growth of Android and regain significant ground in the smartphone space.

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Android is the darling of the mobile world right now and has grown to be the best-selling platform in the U.S. in recent sales.

Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 is still waiting to go on sale starting Nov. 8 after a showy launch yesterday in New York. The new platform has a long way to go in a hyper-competitive market, and there’s no guarantee Microsoft is going to be successful in taking down Android, Apple’s iOS or even Research In Motion’s BlackBerry OS.

Having spent time with the devices and hearing from executives at the launch event yesterday, I think if Microsoft executes well — and that’s a big if considering this is a first release with plenty of potential bugs to deal with — Windows Phone 7 could bite into the growth of Android and regain significant ground in the smartphone space. It could also stifle RIM’s and Apple’s efforts but I think Microsoft has the best shot at hurting Android’s momentum.

Here’s why:

Android loyalty is strong, but it isn’t set in stone. Aside from iPhone owners (80 percent), Android users are the most likely to say they’ll buy another device (70 percent) with the same OS, according to Nielsen. However, there’s a fair number of Android users (14 percent) who say they would switch to the iPhone for their next purchase, and 16 percent who say they would be open to buying a different device with another OS.

While Android’s loyalty numbers are strong, much of its strength comes from its availability in a number of form factors, prices that are often cheaper than an iPhone, and support on all four major U.S. carriers. Basically, it’s the best non-iPhone available on whatever carrier people have, and that’s where it’s really taken off. Yes, there are people who love the openness of Android or enjoy tinkering with the devices, or maybe they just prefer an alternative to Apple. But for many people, Android is the best runner-up to the iPhone.

Pretty soon however, Android will have competition for the title of the best non-Apple smartphone available on all carriers. Windows Phone 7 is launching on AT&T and T-Mobile, and is slated to go to Verizon and Sprint next year, avoiding the mistake of the Palm Pre which took too long to move to other carriers.

Android will still have a loyal base, but it’s a largely a collection of new converts. There’s no guarante they won’t jump ship when their contract expires, especially when they see devices that compare favorably. Prospective Android buyers may also reconsider when they take a look at WP7. That’s because…

Windows Phone 7 provides a better user experience. It starts with the quality control enforced by Microsoft. There’s more consistency from device to device, both in the interface and the layout of buttons. On Android devices, there are multiple skins and UIs available, and even the button layout changes between devices and manufacturers. Also, because Microsoft will be able to push out software updates over the air, each phone will get updated at the same time. On Android, it’s anyone’s guess when your particular model will get an update, because carriers control the update process for all Android phones aside from the Nexus One.

The interface also feels more intuitive and slick. While Android often seems like a copy of iOS with some added functionality through a menu button, WP7 really feels unique and engaging in a very good way. The panoramic navigation feels fresh and fun. Android, by contrast, often seems to involve one more button press than I’d like.

The Windows Phone 7 is by no means a revolutionary platform, but it provides the most wow and uniqueness since the iPhone appeared. Its overall experience makes Android feel a touch unpolished at times.

Games on Windows Phone 7 will look much better than Android games. I’ve played a few games on WP7 devices, and they look and play better than anything on Android. It helps that touch input is first-rate on WP7 phones, but it goes back to the XNA developer tools, which are familiar to many game developers.

Microsoft, with its Xbox 360 business, is well positioned to lure serious game developers over to Windows Phone 7. Android, on the hand, hasn’t had a great track record getting game developer support. EA and Gameloft are on board, but for its size, the platform hasn’t been a huge priority yet for game developers. Even Angry Birds developer Rovio released a full version for webOS before it launched a lite beta version on Android.

Games matter, and it’s partly the reason why the iPhone and the iPod touch have been so successful. Games have been the largest category in the iTunes App Store for a while now.

Windows Phone 7 will likely have a better app story overall. The apps on WP7 look great so far. Yes, it’s a limited view, but even in the fast-paced world of smartphones, the third-party apps on WP7 look very modern. There will be many more apps in Google’s Android Market for some time, but WP7 titles should be high-quality, partly because Microsoft is paying some developers for their work.

Microsoft is trying to catch up, but it shows they’re taking the apps business seriously, which means we should see more than the 18 apps that launched with the Palm Pre. Microsoft said developers have already downloaded the developer tools more than 500,000 times. I tried out apps like IMDb, Fandango, Netflix and eBay, all of which are available on Android, except for Netflix, which is likely coming soon. The Android apps are clean and utilize tabs or buttons similar to the iPhone. The WP7 apps looked more dynamic, with bigger icons and the ability to swipe left and right for more menus. If developers make use of the tools Microsoft is offering, they’ll create programs that invite more usage and also feel part of a family of WP7 apps. Microsoft says developers will be able to make apps in a shorter amount of time because their tools are so good.

It’s a big question whether app developers will support Windows Phone 7. Microsoft, for its part, overhauled the Windows Marketplace for Mobile to make it more friendly to customers and developers. It has a web store where you can buy apps from a desktop browser, something we’re still waiting for from Google. Microsoft seems committed to making sure there are actual paying transactions happening in its store, which doesn’t always seem like the case with Android. Developers who might be deterred by Windows Phone 7′s small market share may be convinced to sell in Marketplace because it’s more designed to move product.

Microsoft will spend money on Windows Phone 7 marketing. Expect to see a lot of marketing for Windows Phone 7. I talked to an exec who said Microsoft will be pushing the new platform, but he wouldn’t outline the marketing spend. At least one analyst has estimated Microsoft will spend $400 million on the WP7 launch.

Google participates in marketing with its carrier partners, but it doesn’t run its own ads. What you see are the oddly robotic-obsessed Droid Does campaign ads that hype a particular line-up from one carrier, such as Verizon Wireless. There’s no cohesive Android marketing campaign that spans all the devices.

Microsoft has the opportunity to tell a story, much like Apple does with the iPhone. It’s building a narrative around phones running its platform, as you can see in the first ads, which tout Windows Phone 7 as “a phone that can save us from our phones.” Say what you want about the ads, but they’re part of a cohesive message that extends to all the phones. At least they are better than the Palm Pre’s bizarre New Age ads.

You can be sure Microsoft will do a lot of promotion around its phones and the way they tie back into its popular assets like Xbox Live, Bing and Microsoft Office. The lack of a single marketing campaign for Android hasn’t hurt sales, but I think the Microsoft ads will get people comparing, and they’re going to find a lot to like.

Windows Phone 7 still has plenty of work to do. Don’t get me wrong; I think Windows still has its work cut out for it. Copy and paste isn’t scheduled to arrive until early 2011, and multi-tasking is still a no-show. There are still bugs, like the inability to run certain apps in landscape view. And then there’s the huge task of generating momentum in a market defined by the iPhone, BlackBerry and Android devices.

Looking at the market, I see the iPhone continuing a steady march because it’s still the best overall experience. With a Verizon Wireless model likely to come early next year, sales should continue on an upward climb. RIM is already losing market share, and WP7 could contribute to that. But it’s Android that has really benefited as the platform for people who are interested in an iPhone but don’t want to switch to AT&T or object to Apple for some reason. Windows Phone 7 has the ability to swoop in and vie for that iPhone competitor spot. The makings are there. Let’s see if Microsoft makes good on this opportunity.

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  1. A better user experience? Have you actually used it? It looks worse from every video I’ve seen. Tons of side scrolling needed just to get a few links off to things here and there. It seems very poorly thought out to me and un-utilitarian.

    I’d like some more back-up to the claims of “better user experience” than simply regurgitating what you’ve heard from a Microsoft spokesperson.

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    1. WP7 does not at all provide a better user experience.

      In fact, Android is much better thought out in almost all aspects of the OS, like notification handling, content management, application switching and so on…

      Android allows everything to be done in much less time, with less taps and swipes (and yes, that means much less “stop and stare” than with WP7!).

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      1. I agree. There seems to be some extra unneeded actions in WP7. Also I bet tyat trasition between the home screen to apps is going to become frustrating really quickly. It takes like a 1 second each time you try to get into app, and that’s just the transition.

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      2. Please say “fewer” taps, not “less”…that drives me crazy!!!

        However, I totally agree with your comment.

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      3. Do you have evidence suggesting the WP7 isn’t as fast and requires more taps? Didn’t think so.

        Apple and Android should fear WP7! MS has deep pockets too and won’t quit until they get back in the game.

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    2. P.S. Many folks over at Engadget agree with this comment…simple tasks in “Windows Phone 7″ appear to require way too many taps and too much scrolling for what would be a simple swipe or press in Android or iOS or WebOS on the Palm Pre.

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    3. To say it’s a better user experience or not is a bit premature. These devices have yet to be even out in consumer hands.

      I’ve had my hands on an Android Incredible and Droid X and both are fantastic devices. But from what I gathered from playing with them was a splintered UI. It’s appeared to me like the applications all didn’t fit well together. They looked different and inconsistent. From what I gathered from Windows Phone 7 is that the inconsistency is less because of a better integrated experience. I’m not an Android user, but from playing around on a couple devices that’s the impression I got.

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      1. Splintered user interface? I can’t say I’ve noticed that with my Nexus One. Different Apps do look different. But that’s because they’re not the same. They’re built to do different things by different people. The WP7 app collection is going to be very boring if every developer sticks to Microsoft’s mould.

        Personally I get the impression Microsoft are still trying to copy Apple. The trouble is Apple’s approach requires a restricted hardware platform. One handset built by one manufacturer for everybody. But Microsoft don’t want that. Microsoft want to dominate all of the handsets.

        Google on the other hand aren’t building a mobile phone platform at all. They’re building an advertising platform. Or rather extending one. For Google to continue to expand in a meaningful way, the Internet and World Wide Web must go mobile.

        Android isn’t about user experience or restrictive sleek UIs. It’s purpose is to help manufacturers to build handsets capable of delivering rich web based content at a fraction of the normal cost.

        @Rob: Microsoft’s pockets aren’t as deep as you’ve been led to believe. In the last year or two Microsoft has taken on debt for the first time, it’s been steadily making more and more US redundancies and moving US jobs to Asia, it’s been cutting loss-making projects like there’s no tomorrow, it’s partners have had to postpone the release of new products because Windows 7 is just too fat for sleek low cost tablets, it’s got it’s self involved in what seems to be a never ending string of law suits, Windows Vista was an expensive flop, Windows 7 seem totally dependant on bundled pre-install sales, Azure seems to suffer more down time than any other “cloud” platform, Microsoft have lost so much ground in the mobile space it’s resorted to suing handset makers who refuse to bundle WP7, Zune in all it’s iterations was a flop and never made it out of North America, senior executives continue to jump ship and Ballmers head appears to be destined for the chopping block. Least of all because the share price has hardly budged in a decade.

        Frankly it’s just not looking good for Microsoft right now.

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  2. Haven’t MS tried to push Zune HD MP3 player with the same marketing prowess to beat iPod? I wonder where is Zune HD now?

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    1. Microsoft’s marketing prowess is infamous.

      Who else would celebrate Windows Phone 7 by staging a funeral?

      And those advertisements!!! There are even some parodies of them already:

      It was mildly amusing

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      1. Apple had a funeral for OS 9 at the launch of OS X.

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  3. this is the first article really knows about the big picture. others just repeat what everybody say. as i said before, andoid as a mobile platform will disappear in a matter of 1 year. iphone will be there for sometime, but it will decline in term of shares, its sales will still be up because the market still growing. RIM is the last one to be worried, simple, enterprises are slow in moving.

    the article didn’t mention that the market is growing, and fast. WP7 doen’t need to conversion to grow.

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    1. rofl “1 year”… so much for knowing about the “big picture”. All you said was just a bunch of clueless opinions.

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    2. Six months on and counting. Android activations are out stripping anything any of the other players can muster. And now there’s a proper tablet version too.

      I’m going out on a limb here and predicting your prediction is grossly off target.

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  4. Bias, some of that 400 million must have went into your pockets….

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    1. Funny how the only possible way anyone could have something nice to say about Microsoft is if they’re a paid Microsoft shill. That argument is so played out. So who’s paying for YOUR bias? Are you shilling for Apple or for Google?

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  5. My Window Mobile 6 receives only one or two security updates from Microsoft. Never new functionality. Microsoft wants my money and wants me to buy new phone just like Apple.

    Android gets OS, Mail, Maps, Goggles, Places, … updates all the time – FOR FREE.

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    1. If it is FREE that means the product is YOU.

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  6. It will bite into Android… but it won’t hurt Android much. The real losers will be iOS, Blackberry and all the others.

    Oh and by the way, Android provides a much better user experience for various reasons:

    1) File system access: Since WP7 does not feature a user folder that all apps have access to, every WP7 app will need to bring its own method for syncing content to the phone… which will result in a HUGE mess.

    And how do you download a file from the web, e.g. a PDF, for later reading, when there’s no user folder?

    Oftentimes, emailing files to oneself will be the only workaround. In 2010… really?

    2)Switching between recently used applications: On Android, you long press the home button and get a list of recently used apps. WP7 does not have such a feature. It only lets you go back to the app you’ve been using befor, but never lets you go forward. This will be really, really annoying.

    3)Notification handling: Yes, WP7 does that a lot better than iOS, but it doesn’t even come close to Android. Without any doubt, Android’s notification area is the most elegant and powerful solution for dealing with notifications.

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    1. “Switching between recently used applications:….”

      Have you used this in Android? Task switching in Android is anything but. It shows most recently used apps not apps that are actively running and it shows them arbitrarily. Some times you press the button and it reflects the most recently used apps some times it doesn’t. A Blackberry running 4.1 does this better than Android.

      Talk about inconsistency it wasn’t till recent update Droid X could communicate to our Exchange Server. Don’t think Windows Phones would ever have that problem.

      There is a gaping quality and consistency issue among all Android phones. If it weren’t for the cool me too apps Android wouldn’t have the great marketshare that it does.
      I think there is some cognative disdence here with Android as there are glarring deffiencies in the OS but people say they love their Android phone because they don’t want to seem to be a neophyte who can’t handle modding their phone.

      Microsoft definetly has an oppurtunity here the question is will the quality be better than Android? It needs to be out of the box functional if it’s not they’ll be a marginal player.

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      1. I’ve had an HTC Hero running Android for six months, and I’ve NEVER seen the inconsistency you’re talking with regard to task-switching. It ALWAYS shows the last six apps accessed…period.

        Also, if we want to get technical, there’s really no such thing as a “currently running” app in a unix-like system like Android…tasks that don’t have “focus” just leave a pointer to the last instruction they executed. There are, however, things like “services” and “daemons”…but now we’re getting in the weeds.

        The bottom line is nearly all programmers have admitted that Android does TRUE multi-tasking and task-switching, whereas iOS is sort of a halfway multitasking OS. Even with iOS 4, only certain tasks can be switched to/from, etc.

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      2. Please learn basic English or learn how to type (Android can help you with the latter!).

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      3. @Bill

        Unfortunately, for you without modding your Hero you won’t enjoy Froyo which allows you to show the last 8 apps accessed …inconsistently. A crusty old blackberry from 4.1 vintage can do this without any problem.

        Depending on how you invoke the process daemons are typically background processes, applications are interactive and happen in the foreground.

        You just contradicted yourself.

        “Also, if we want to get technical, there’s really no such thing as a “currently running” app in a unix-like system like Android…tasks that don’t have “focus” just leave a pointer to the last instruction they executed.”

        “The bottom line is nearly all programmers have admitted that Android does TRUE multi-tasking and task-switching, whereas iOS is sort of a halfway multitasking OS.”

        Why don’t you try this little experiment for me.

        1. Setup the alarm clock to go off with your favorite mp3.

        2.Once it goes off, from your computer or another cell phone send a text message to your cell phone.

        3. Now that you have a text message alert try turning off your alarm

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    2. “It will bite into Android… but it won’t hurt Android much. The real losers will be iOS, Blackberry and all the others.”

      What logic is that based on? iPhone owners are overwhelmingly happy with their iPhones as a group. WP7 won’t be stripping any market share away from Apple, especially not while still deficient in basic things like copy and paste, multitasking and a thriving app store.

      Android is a bit harder to foresee. The platform has extremely high loyalty, but WP7 will be a test of whether that loyalty is because of a true love of the platform or a no-better-options situation. I think Android might get a bit of a pinch, but it’ll be a long while before WP7 can do any significant damage to their market share.

      RIM is going down. Hard. WP7 represents a “business” phone of equal caliber to anything RIM has to offer, without all the headache. I don’t want a WP7 phone but if I had to choose between that and a BlackBerry it’s no contest. Rest in peace, RIM.

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  7. Are they releasing Windows Mobile 7 with Flash or no?

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    1. No, but they are allowing Adobe to bring Flash to WP7 later.

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  8. I have one problem with Microsoft’s strategy.. By obsessing over standardized hardware specs and the overall look and feel, is MS throttling OEM’s ability to differentiate (HTC has no immediate plans to release Sense UI for WP7).. Is there any long term interest in partnering with MS considering licensing fees, inability to differentiate and lack of 3rd party apps?

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  9. As a long time user of the Windows Mobile platform and a developer of applications for it and other operating systems, I am very sad to see the hyped up content being pushed out regarding the new OS. I was hoping to see compatibility and upgradeability, device neutrality and an open development environment. Unfortunately, none of these things were considered, and instead they are trying to be also rans; which they already are and this OS is not going to change that fact. Treat the smartphone like a computer, which is what they are, the same way as the original implementation of windows was and market ownership grew from. Attach a phone to the computer. Pretty basic stuff, but instead, they feel it necessary to build phones that are unable to be upgraded, thus resulting in a shelf life of 6 months or less. If you want to spend half a grand every year keeping up with the latest OS, go ahead, but I am afraid that I can no longer support that business. This I am afraid is the last straw for me and I am sure others feel the same way. Their market has been the long standing folks who enjoyed the consistency and similarity between phones and OS versions who are now looking for upgrades to their current handsets. They aren’t coming and instead, we are going to be requested to fork over another 500 bucks to get the new OS. Sorry, not this time, and probably never again.

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  10. Why will Windows Phone 7 have a better app story? Where is the evidence for that? Microsoft are crashing out of the phone market and Windows Phone 7 has thus far failed to impress. Currently it doesn’t do anything new.

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    1. That’s a good point, actually. Microsoft must’ve paid most of those developers to create apps for them. How do you know the apps will keep on coming once Microsoft stops paying developers? The eco-system needs to grow by itself at some point, without Microsoft’s meddling.

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      1. I’ve been attending a Windows Phone User Group in the UK for the 3 months which has been well attended.

        Loads of great apps being demoed and nobody had been paid any cash by Microsoft. What the Microsoft guys have been doing is offering to support developers by putting on days where people could try their app on a prototype phone and things like that.

        This support and encouragement of the development community is fantastic, plus all the development tools are free for everyone to download and have a go with. This includes Visual Studio + Expression Blend. Expression Blend allows graphic designers to create some great designs, buttons, widgets etc for the UI. Microsoft’s Metro design guidelines given by Microsoft are just guidelines and I’ve already seen some awesome looking apps which don’t follow the Microsoft guidelines.

        So we’re not being paid just given a little support to get us up and running and there are some v. cool things being developed.

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      2. I’m not sure if MS are paying developers or not, but there is a lot of buz in the MS software delevoper community about WP7. This is mainly to do with the tools MS are putting out there to help developers. Any developer who has done any Silverlight, XNA or general .NET development will find their skills can be reused for phone development.

        I’m personally more excited about the development tools for WP7 than I am about the actual phone. There are a lot of MS developers and an . At least I think it is. Whether we’ll produce any thing good is another matter.

        My only worry with about the phone is that the browser is currently a cross between IE7 and IE8. I really hope they upgrade it to 9 in the near future.

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    2. “Windows Phone 7 has thus far failed to impress” – really? Read some of the reviews…overall sentiment is very positive. And once people start using them you will see some more real world reviews.

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