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Summary:

Verizon Wireless will reportedly offer the HTC Trophy as its first Windows Phone 7 device. But this handset, like many of the others before it, simply meets the minimum requirements for Microsoft’s platform. Will partners advance the platform this year considering Nokia has exclusive customization abilities?

htc-trophy

Verizon Wireless will reportedly sell the HTC Trophy as its first smartphone running Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 platform. The carrier has made no official announcement yet, but leaked images of the Trophy running on Verizon’s 3G network have recently appeared on the PPC Geeks forum, and such pics coincide with previously announced plans that Verizon would offer the Trophy in early 2011. The Trophy would follow the HTC Arrive, coming soon to Sprint, as the second CDMA handset that uses Windows Phone 7. But both these new handsets are more of the same: simply minor adjustments to devices already launched on GSM networks in the past four months. Where are the fresh “new” Windows Phone 7 devices?

I had hoped the answer to that very question would come from the Mobile World Congress event earlier this month, but instead of new product announcements to help build momentum for the platform, conference attendees received a high-level update on the operating system in a keynote address from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. The next big opportunity for new Microsoft-powered handsets then is next month’s CTIA event in Orlando, Fla., but I’m wondering if that show too, will come and go with no significant hardware news. Although Windows Phone 7 devices only arrived four months ago, most of them — even the upcoming handsets for Sprint and Verizon customers — are based on components that were cutting edge about a year ago and generally look the same.

Take, for example, the specifications of the Trophy. While it hasn’t been announced as a Verizon handset yet, the device launched overseas last year and the hardware details are available directly from HTC and reviews from the time of its original launch: a Qualcomm QSD8250 Snapdragon 1 GHz CPU, 3.8-inch capacitive touchscreen running at 800×480 resolution, 5-megapixel camera with auto focus, and 8 GB of internal storage. In other words, aside from the operating system, the phone capabilities are extremely similar to those found in my Google Nexus One handset, a phone I bought nearly 14 months ago.

While HTC, Samsung, LG and Dell have all created the first wave of Windows Phone 7 handsets, and will surely continue building them, the initial batch are generally similar and somewhat uninspiring. Indeed, all of the designs meet the bare minimum hardware requirements specified by Microsoft and strive no further. That causes me to wonder even more about the recently announced partnership between Microsoft and Nokia. While many, including myself, long felt that Nokia’s strategy to use the Symbian platform was too much in flux and too slow to mature, Microsoft may have been specifically looking for a hardware partner with fresh, new designs.

To be sure, it’s going to take time for Nokia to design and build smartphones using Microsoft’s platform. Stephen Elop, Nokia’s CEO and a former Microsoft executive, has said the company hopes to have its first Windows Phone 7 device out before the end of 2011. That leaves plenty of time and opportunity for Microsoft’s other partners to offer new handsets that push the envelope beyond this first wave. But will they do so? Given that Microsoft has a huge new partner that’s allowed to customize the Windows Phone 7 user interface — something no other partner currently has — we may see very few, if any, new handsets from other hardware makers. It may be too difficult to differentiate devices from peers, especially when only one of those peers can modify the user experience.

This is a potential challenge for Microsoft I hadn’t thought of until recently: The company is spending money to attract third-party developers, but how is it enticing its hardware vendors to advance the platform? With preferential treatment given to Nokia, companies such as HTC, Samsung, LG and Dell have little incentive to compete against the world’s largest handset manufacturer. And if that’s the case, consumers could find that Windows Phone 7 offerings for 2011 are much the same as those from 2010, even as handsets on other platforms become dual-core powerhouses that double as home set-top boxes for HDTVs.

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  1. Sounds like risk mitigation. The market for WP7 phones is still unproven. WP7 enthusiasts on CDMA carriers will probably buy the first compatible phone available, even if it’s on last year’s hardware. On AT&T and T-Mobile, you have to turn out something exceptional to compete, but on Sprint and Verizon, there aren’t any other WP7 phones to beat. I don’t expect to see anything impressive on the hardware front for WP7 until Nokia makes its launch.

    1. Andre, I think you’re spot on: risk mitigation. And if that trend holds, it could mean few new WP7 handsets this year, which I think would be bad for the platform’s momentum. We’re already starting to see higher resolution (960×540) displays on Android phones and of course, the iPhone already trumps that. 4G radios, front facing cameras, etc…. are in new or coming soon devices and if WP7 hardware partners don’t add the same, the phones will look second rate.

  2. > But both of these new handsets are more of the same: simply minor adjustments to devices already launched on GSM networks in the past four months.

    So what? Last time I checked the iPhone 4 on Verizon is pretty much the same that launched EIGHT months ago, isn’t it?

    > Where are the fresh “new” Windows Phone 7 devices?

    Okay, let’s rephrase that: where is the fresh “new” iPhone for Verizon?

    I suppose you (and many others) didn’t ask the same question at the time, or?

    RT.

    1. I understand your point, but (and pardon the pun) you’re not comparing Apples to Apples. ;)

      Apple owns the entire ecosystem and is on a yearly refresh cycle for its handsets which it designs and builds by contract vendors. And Apple doesn’t build new handset models for different carriers, so a fresh “new” iPhone for Verizon was never likely.

      In contrast, Microsoft doesn’t design devices, nor does it build or sell them. Instead, it licenses the Windows Phone 7 platform… just like it does to Dell, HP, Acer, etc… for Windows. Completely different approach and one that lends itself to various vendors with unique hardware, just like the Google Android platform. And there’s a new Android handset launch practically each week: because the platform is thriving. The lack of such new devices for Windows Phone 7 indicates that hardware vendors are still unsure of how successful the platform will be.

    2. Shoot… forgot to address your second point re: your supposition that I didn’t question the fresh “new” iPhone for Verizon.

      I pointed out in January that the first month might strong for Verizon iPhone sales, but that would likely be the best month until the next iPhone HW cycle, i.e.: this summer, because many folks will expect a new iPhone in June/July.

      http://gigaom.com/2011/01/11/verizon-iphone-mobile-market/

  3. I had to chuckle when you talked about the phones that can act as HDTVs when I know the Nokia N8 has HDMI out and USB OTG so you can stream lots of movies with it on an attached drive if you like. Imagine a dual-core Windows Phone device with all the bells and whistles that Nokia adds (pentaband 3G, FM-transmitter, Bluetooth 3.0) if they produce one this year it could be a real game-changer.

    1. Indeed, the N8 already offers this functionality — and with an even less powerful processor than the WP7 devices! I agree, there’s huge potential here for Nokia’s hardware expertise with Windows Phone 7, so I hope we see them out a handset sooner rather than later.

    2. I think that by the time they add current gen dual core chips to WP7 phones, we’ll see next-gen dual core or quad core chips in Android phones. The reason is pretty obvious. Android phone manufacturers can use the latest cutting edge hardware *as soon as it’s available* and then quickly get their devices to market.

      This can’t happen on the WP7 side. Microsoft has to make sure that WP7 works the same and well with certain type of hardware across all their partners’ devices. This takes a lot of time, and it limits the WP7 manufacturers to only using the hardware that Microsoft tested on.

      We already knew that Nokia’s product cycles were slow, but I don’t think using WP7 will make them release phones any faster. If Microsoft cares about the other manufacturers too, then Nokia will also have to wait till Microsoft is ready to deploy the latest version of the OS, which means Nokia will be slowed down even more.

      If Microsoft loses all the interest from the other manufacturers by the time Nokia launches their own devices, then Nokia will have to build the WP7 ecosystem from the ground up by itself, which will make it no different than the other companies using their own OS like HP and RIM. That means they will fight a huge uphill battle against the already established Android and iOS ecosystems.

    3. And that will put a holiday 2011, at best, Nokiasoft WP7 phone ahead of about 10 Android handsets that have that capability right now…..how ?

  4. New hardware is likely waiting for next-generation chipsets from Qualcomm with dual-core support, and none of them have really been announced in any public fashion yet. HTC is also in the same boat since their entire line-up is dependent on Qualcomm for its SoCs.

    So my best guess scenario is Q3/Q4 2011. This is one example of the double edge sword that exists from dictating hardware chipset support: if there are no new chipsets, there is no new hardware.

  5. WOW. Did that light bulb just go off? This isn’t just about the cozy arrangement MS made with Nokia. Although, that by itself may have been enough. It’s the notion that Microsoft, or anyone for that matter, can convince OEMs to accept walled garden spec control for the sake of….well to be honest I don’t know what the sake of it is supposed to be for. The biggie was suppose to be able to prevent fragmentation of the platform. Good luck with that. Like herding cats. Look at the PR mess they ended up with, with the Samsung mini update. And I bet there will be a repeat. Spec limitations, limit competition and innovation.

    OEMs want to have some latitude to differentiate themselves from their competition. How do you do that with WP7?. And then MS play favorites. If MS wants to control the platform, they have to Apple. Nokiasoft. One OEM. one OS. Hell of a gamble, but that die was cast when they decided on the WP7 UI.

    And here’s another problem coming down the pike. And it’s shared by Apple. UI fatigue. The WP7 does have a fresh look.
    Especially compared to the Apple Gridwall of app icons. But in the world of mobile devices, the half-life of a UI is about the length of time it takes to develop your next big OS update.

  6. I don’t care which OEM makes the device, as long as its got staying power (meaning OS updates are current to keep existing users devices current with newer devices and the hardware is high quality. If that means Nokia has to be the OEM to support that pocket of expectation, so be it. I’m sick of this crap. Samsung WP7 devices can’t even get the pre-update. Something needs to change sooner than later. Maybe Microsoft acquires Nokia … maybe hardware engineering (not just equipment) also gets spec’d by Microsoft so that the failed pre-update for Samsung devices does not occur again. This shouldn’t be the way things happen.

  7. I have been a fan of WP7 for awhile. i loved the hd7, however i couldn’t get one of my own. i am now up for upgrade, and i am getting a top tier phone. i thought about the hd7 but it’s not any more powerful than my current phone, the vibrant. i am looking into the dual core monsters, and am going to give the g2x a run. i really wish microsoft would get the ball rolling and try to keep their platform up to date against the competition.

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