Windows Phone 7 Takes Its Cue From the iPhone

33 Comments

If I were to describe the attributes of a smartphone platform to you, could you guess which platform it is? Let’s try it and see. Here’s your first clue: Applications for it can only be installed through one specific app store. Since everyone has an app store these days, I’ll give you another hint. This phone family doesn’t support storage expansion through small memory cards. That should rule out a few contenders, but let’s take it one step further. The operating system doesn’t allow third-party applications to run in the background, but does allow notifications for these apps to make up for it. Think you know now? If you answered Apple’s iPhone, then you’re technically correct, but there’s a surprising answer that’s equally correct.

The phone I am talking about is not an iPhone (s aapl), but the new Microsoft Windows Phone (s msft).

The very same Apple attributes are causing some iPhone critics to say “I hate it” are, as Sacha Segan of PC Magazine notes, the same attributes that Microsoft is embracing. On the one hand, it’s difficult to argue with Apple’s success. The total control of hardware and software allows the Cupertino company to offer a consistent end-user experience — something that can’t be said of Microsoft’s current Windows Mobile handsets. With Windows Phone 7 however, Microsoft is taking over the overall experience in a very Apple-like way. In order to illustrate the similarities between Apple’s iPhone and Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 approaches let’s look a look at some key attributes among the current and planned smartphone platforms:

Only two platforms share the exact same set of attributes: Apple’s and Microsoft’s.

Some of these new Microsoft approaches are surprising. For example, software for Windows Mobile 7 devices can only be installed directly from a Microsoft-controlled marketplace. That marketplace opened only four months ago and it wasn’t an exclusive storefront — at launch time, Microsoft still allowed third-party developers and stores to operate on their own. Some of these e-tailers — Handango, PocketGear and others come to mind — are what helped Windows Mobile growth to begin with, so they can’t be happy about this. Sure they can still support Windows Mobile handsets, but the future is with Windows Phone 7. Colin over at GigaOM agrees, saying, “It’s a move that’s sure to destroy some of the developer goodwill Microsoft has worked so hard to build up in recent weeks.”

Microsoft is also implementing a third-party app multitasking ban and using a push notification system to mitigate the limitation. Critics and fans of Windows Mobile alike have railed against Apple for only allowing certain native apps to run in the background — one of the strengths of the current Microsoft platform, not to mention something that all other major mobile platforms support. It’s something I enjoy with my Google Nexus one — far more than I expected to after nearly three years of iPhone ownership. Kiss it goodbye if you’re planning to use the newest Microsoft phones when they arrive before year-end. Ironically, as smartphone hardware matures, it’s rumored that Apple’s next iPhone OS version will bring multitasking to the table. If Apple has figured out a method to efficiently manage memory and multiple tasks without unduly taxing a phone battery, will Microsoft follow suit again?

Windows Phone 7 reportedly won’t support memory card storage, either. If you buy a phone with 16 GB of memory and need more room, you’ll be forced to do what iPhone owners do — either remove certain files to make more space or upgrade to a device with greater capacity. This lack of a storage upgrade is a terrible limitation, on any smartphone. Consumers are buying more digital media and creating vast amounts of digital content. And as our smartphones become used more like pocketable computers, we should be able to expand them like we do with computers. It’s not an expensive or difficult process to purchase a higher capacity memory card and place it in a phone if the device supports memory expansion. The hardest part is moving your data from one memory card to another, but with the right tools, even that’s a simple process. I think Microsoft is throwing away a key advantage over the iPhone here and I hope it considers changing this policy before Windows Phone 7 devices arrive.

On the plus side, I do think Microsoft has taken a strong, middle-ground approach with hardware requirements. Microsoft previously announced that it will specify minimum hardware requirements for the three Windows Phone 7 chassis designs. So handset makers and carriers can customize or differentiate devices as they see fit, provided they build upon minimum specifications. That ensures a measurable standard in terms of phone performance and user experience. Apple takes it one step further by designing and dictating the hardware models. Since Microsoft doesn’t build any of the phones that run its operating system, it’s doing what it can to offer a positive experience while allowing for choice in design.

Although this it isn’t an alleged Zune Phone, the new Windows Phone 7 works with content from the Zune Marketplace. Songs, videos, podcasts and more are available for download and purchase from a centralized shop, just like Apple offers with iTunes. Both devices work with media standards like MP3s, but some store purchases could be tied to the device platform. Yes, the iTunes store went DRM-free for music, but what happens when you buy a movie? You’re only going to watch that movie on Apple hardware. Microsoft has an advantage here in that the Zune store is bit more open — but just barely. Content is playable across Microsoft’s mobile devices, Xbox 360 and PCs that run the Windows operating system.

All in all, I’ve been impressed by the Windows Phone 7 software demos and new user interface. It’s exactly what Microsoft needs to revive its flagging smartphone market share. Much of what I see brings the new platform to a level of parity with what’s already out there and the competitors are unlikely to stand still. So we’ll have to take stock of the mobile platforms again when the new Windows Phone 7 devices arrive to see how well Microsoft is or isn’t doing as compared to its peers. For now, it looks like the game of “catch-up” is on in a big way — and sometimes the best way to catch-up is to emulate the success of others.

Given these developments, I’m curious if Windows Mobile fans are turned off by the strategy. Do you see differences between the Microsoft and Apple approach? If you don’t like the closed Apple ecosystem, will you embrace a similar one offered by Microsoft? And might the more controlling and closed nature of both Apple and Microsoft move you towards a more open platform like Android?

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

33 Comments

Rich

“Yes, the iTunes store went DRM-free for music, but what happens when you buy a movie? You’re only going to watch that movie on Apple hardware. Microsoft has an advantage here in that the Zune store is bit more open — but just barely. Content is playable across Microsoft’s mobile devices, Xbox 360 and PCs that run the Windows operating system.”

This is incorrect. If you have the iTunes player on Windows, you can watch movies on a Windows PC, not just on Apple hardware. It’s also worth mentioning, that despite video having DRM, Apple introduced Home Sharing in iTunes 9. Home Sharing allows you to authorize up to 5 computers, Mac and Windows PC, to share DRM content. This feature doesn’t stream that content, but actually copies from one authorized computer to another. So, iTunes content is playable across Apple’s mobile devices, Apple TV, Macs, and Windows PCs. Unless I’m missing something, iTunes is a bit more open than the Zune Marketplace.

Kevin C. Tofel

This post was written two days prior to the Engadget article — and that one has multiple updated sections, although the specific updates aren’t pointed out. What specifically are the misleading statements?

Colin English

No multitasking? No cut-and-paste? No memory expansion? Apps only from the MS App store? What is going on here? MS seems to have decided to shoot itself in the foot just when the hype of Windows Phone 7 should be building UP.

Kal

These are absolutely the stupidest moves Microsoft could make. Why would I want to give up the functionality I presently have for an locked down, app store-driven, phone that doesn’t accept memory cards, and doesn’t have multitasking? It’s a huge step backwards and a major fail.

Microsoft has diminished this platform ever since 5.1, when they started abandoning handwriting. This could well be the thing that drives me to Blackberry, Android, or iPhone after 10 years of Pocket PC and/or WinMob use.

Danny

I like multitasking , no question that not having it is a drawback. However, they have said multiple times that they plan to eventually support multitasking – something you lamely don’t mention instead chalking up that decision to whether apple allows it or not – but are concerned with battery life in the first round. I have to say, given that the king of elegant multitasking – the Pre – has abysmal battery life it is hard to blame them.

However I don’t know that it is as cut and dried as the situation on the iphone or that their insistence that you won’t miss it is totally outrageous. For instance, one of the unheralded demos they showed was that you can select a photo in the photo browser and invoke a photo editing extension that is essentially “plugged in” to the gallery letting you tweak the photo, email or mms it and then land right back in the gallery if you’d like. The important point is that the native photo app allows extensions that will keep you from having to leave the app to get what you want done. It gives it a far more seamless feel than the iPhone’s (to me) wearying back-out/back-in navigation. I hope developers take advantage.

One the other hand the lack of cut/paste is psychotic.

Nick

From all that I have read about WPS7, I think my next phone is an Android. This is after 14+ years since the first iPaq. I will hang on to my Tilt2 w/ cooked ROM’s as long as I can, then … I have been dipping my toes in XDAndriod, being ported to the Tilt2, and looks to be very bright down the road.

MIke Cerm

When you cherry-pick which options to compare, Windows Phone 7 looks a lot like iPhone. However, unlike iPhone (Palm and Blackberry, too), there will be many devices from different manufacturer. In that regard, it’s more like Android.

Also, the Zune store is DRM-free. DRM is only used for subscription tracks (another point of differentiation: Microsoft offers music subscriptions).

Esteban Trabajos

I’m just counting the days until Android (or anyone else) gets mature enough so I can dump the iPhone. Don’t get me wrong. I love the iPhone compared to anything I had in the past but hate the limitations. Microsoft, have you heard about Wayne Gretzky going where the puck is GOING to be? Even you can do better than this!!

Jasen

As far as limitations of the Iphone are concerned, I believe you may be eating crow come June. I have used all OS’s excluding Blackberry and my other caveat was I pulled the plug on android at 1.6, but I still must say I have found the most happiness with my Palm Pre, especially after 1.4.

Yair Amon

It seems that Microsoft are still living in the old world when the only choice of customers was to choose windows and IE.
In the new smartphone world to rules of the game have been changed.
IPhone succeed because they were the first.
Android will succeed because they are open for all manufacturers, developers and stores.
Consumer have the right to choose their apps.
To my opinion – this approach will not bring windows mobile 7 very far.

Ray

Well, we I knew that Microsoft had to do something. But to embrace the ways of your enemy and dance on the grave of everything you’ve done before including your loyal customers that supported you for so long? Hmmm…

Basically Microsoft has temporarily exited the mobile phone market. Anyone buying a Microsoft phone currently on the market is buying a dead horse literally. All the talk about “classic” Windows Mobile is just that, an attempt to prevent demand from bottoming out completely.

What Microsoft is embracing is the “appliance” approach to smart phones. Basically owners will get what Microsoft says they should get, and deviations like XDA-Developer customizations will be quickly and severely suppressed. To put it simply, Microsoft doesn’t want to lose control of the platform again.

Apple didn’t pioneer this approach, Nokia tried but just couldn’t crack the U.S. market. Apple was the first to succeed. What Microsoft doesn’t seem to understand is that Apple had a built in advantage: the legion of iPod owners. The iPhone not only gave them that which until the introduction of the Touch, was the best iPod available, it meant they didn’t have to carry a separate cellphone. It’s doubtful the existing Zune owners will have the same impact.

For customers and developers, the question is do they want the relative convenience of a well regulated appliance or the sometimes frustrating experience of a general computing platform? For the latter, there’s Android, for the former, they could always get an iPhone…

JoeBlow

There are Windows Mobile fans? I have used every version starting with Windows CE and they have all sucked. There is zero reason to believe this version will be any better.

Your hype of the Nexus One gets sillier and sillier. Anyone who is paying attention knows it is just to have something to write about and try to drum up page views.

GaryD

Hmmm…could it be that both Apple and Microsoft understand the consumer OS business better than anyone and, after 25+ years each in the space, have come to similar decisions on trade-offs. Security, stability, piracy, general population customer experience, developer attractiveness, etc.

Johnny G

One error is in the comparison table. The Music Store with DRM is misleading. There is no DRM in the iTunes MUSIC store. The video has DRM, however. Also unless I completely missed the last 2 years, Android, WebOS, and Blackberry doesn’t even have a store. I don’t know about MS Zune store since I don’t use the Zune.

JohnnyG

Brendan

On webOS you can buy from the Amazon music store (which are DRM-free files) right from the device.

Booya.

Vladimir Kelman

Sure, toucan buy on Amazon directly from Android phone as well. There is an application for it, or toucan use browser and buy [music] from any other place.

Allen

You could almost say that Microsoft has made a business model out of looking at what others are doing it, copying it then leveraging their market share and deeper pockets to out compete their opponents.

It was a winning strategy in the 90’s, but this time their opponent has pretty deep pockets too, and Microsoft have spent the last few years pissing away whatever market share advantage they had.

As a long time WiMo user all of this would be fine except developers were already jumping ship for the more exciting things happening with apple or andriod and now the few developers for WiMo ‘classic’ are giving up in favour of WM7 (adobe and skype are just the highest profile ones). No software no future. Classic is dead and I’m just not interested in Windows reinterpretation of the iPhone.

Android just got a lot more interesting…

Joe

The iPhone does not support background notifications as noted by the chart. The iPhone does obtrusive notifications that stack up until you dismiss all of them.

Unless you’re of course referring to push notifications, but those are an entirely different monster than “background notifications”.

Luscious

Unless handset makers commit to 32GB and 64GB devices in the near future, the lack of storage expansion is going to be a serious problem for WP7. That said, I’m still waiting for those promised 32GB microSD cards we were told about A YEAR AGO!!!

It’s a shame your comparison didn’t include WM6.5 in that table. MS already has on board many developers for Windows Marketplace and that list will grow. While some developers may get ticked off, from a user perspective it means we get apps that simply work, unlike much junk I’ve found on Handango over the years that was “incompatible” with certain WM versions.

I get the impression WM6.5 is going to be the XP of smartphones – lacks the coolness and eye-candy of WP7 but gives more user control and expansion. Considering that WP7 will render existing hardware obsolete, that’s a tough call, especially with an unlocked TP2 still going for $500 and up.

Stuart

I really don’t see how hardware makers will be able to distinguish themselves with this platorm. They are fenced in almost as much as the end user. One can’t even use the phone as a USB mass storage device so you need to install their software on any pc that you want to transfer files, pictures, music and video from. I have no love for this ecosystem.

Jeff Jackson

The devices have now are:
* Touch Pro 2
* iPaq PDA (Same OS as phone, but 4″ screen, great for reading & TSC)
* Gateway TabletPC
* Desktop

So what I’m talking about doing is moving to a lower end phone and combining the smart portion of the phone, the pda, and the tablet portions of that list into a single device.

The HP slate would possibly be that device if it had a stylus with inking. But as far as I can tell, no new device in the next year is likely to support inking. Long live ink, inking is dead. :-(

A.J.

I’m hoping the Slate features inking… For anyone looking to do Artwork & graphics, it’s essential. HP is one of the Tablet Pioneers! So if they don’t include it, It’ll be pretty disappointing.

Jeff Jackson

Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’ll not be moving to Windows Phone 7 Series. I hope to pick up a Touch Pro 2 this summer, assuming it hasn’t been replaced by the Touch Pro 3 by then (which, from what I hear, is a QVGA device! yikes, has the world gone mad?). I’m not sure where I’ll go after that. Probably Android, although, I’m thinking about abandoning the smart phone concept altogether. If someone comes out with a good Windows 7 Tablet PC device, I may return to plain feature phones and use a WAN enabled tablet for internet connectivity and apps.

Luscious

I’ve been thinking something similar – go prepaid with a basic phone and stash a Fujitsu UH900 in my pocket.

Jasen

When Courier happens, or they they put a webcam in the ipad, this where I’m going.

Sorin

/.sarcasm
Now the only thing left to do is to disable cut/copy/paste for a year or so and success is guaranteed.

GoodThings2Life

You, along with most people, seem to have overlooked the comment made that they are working on a method of providing “alternative” software install mechanisms intended for non-Marketplace users (ie. Corporate/Technical users).

Joshua

It seems that Microsoft is at least willing to allow some third party app multitasking, which is a nod in their favor that they’re at least trying to open things up a bit while still maintaining control for a more favorable end user experience. Still not sure what I think about it all. Just like the iPad/slate craze, I’ll have to the the end results first. I do like the alternate hardware options though, which is a big mistake for Apple to think their ugly box design is good enough to carry across three different refreshed. Moreover, the XBox Live thing has got me a little excited ;)

Skyler L

Actually Windows Mobile 7 will have mutitasking for apps that matter.. like Pandora. They have taken a better approach than Apple and made it so that developers can develop apps within the ‘hubs’ that can run while others do.

I think that Microsoft has taken about as a far-off approach from apple as one can get aside from Android.
The UI is amazing and completely new- like how Android came up with the concept of a panoramic & live homescreen that innovated, Microsoft has come up with something innovative its self with Metro… I don’t think its just ripping off of Apple.

Fernando

And yes, I am more likely to take a closer look at ANDROID.

Fernando

Not me. I like the more “computer like” approach of Windows Mobile so far. I am not sure this is good news overall.

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