Microsoft plans to unveil some mobile phones running Windows Phone 7 at its second annual Open House in New York on Monday, October 11. This won't be an exclusively phone-oriented launch but will also show off other consumer-oriented technologies, including the Xbox 360 games console, Zune media player and subscription services. There will be associated events in other cities, including London.
Microsoft is expected to demonstrate smartphones from HTC, Samsung, and LG, all running on AT&T's US network, though they will not be available for sale. However, all three companies are also making Android-based phones. While HTC built its business on Windows CE with both PocketPC and Windows Mobile devices, it's not a market that allows for charity, and Microsoft's share of the smartphone market has slumped from a peak of around 20% to only 5%.
Windows Phone 7 is a bold initiative, in being both innovative and consumer-focused. Instead of building on Windows Mobile's relative success in large enterprises, Windows Phone 7 aims to exploit Microsoft's success in the games market with Xbox Live, and Windows Live services including Messenger. However, in another change from the Windows Mobile era, Microsoft will exert close Apple-style control over the apps download market.
Companies may be attracted by Windows Phone 7's Office functionality, but it's not clear how they'll be able to knock out corporate apps and deploy them locally. At least Visual Basic will be available. How many will develop apps in Silverlight is another matter.
Such questions should be answered with Round 2 of Windows Phone 7, when more businesslike BlackBerry-style models should be available with keyboards and smaller 480 x 320 pixel screens.
Microsoft also has one recent flop on its hands, with the Kin phones that came out of its acquisition of Danger (Sidekick). These were reasonably good youth- and social network-oriented feature phones, but offered via Verizon at insane smartphone prices. In a Q&A with Steve Ballmer on mobile, search and Facebook at the Seattle Times, the Microsoft boss said:
The No. 1 message from Kin is a message of focus. You only get so many things you can really talk about, communicate, work on with the consumer. You've got to be bold, you've got to look forward and you've got to stay focused. Kin was neither -- with 20-20 hindsight -- bold enough relative to where the market's going, and it just defocused activity from Windows Phone.
You can certainly expect Microsoft to get behind Windows Phone 7, with promotions and advertising, because it's a key piece in linking together all its products. Bringing PC, Office, Xbox, Live online services, Zune, and music and movie services together gives it power and range currently beyond either Google or Apple.
But while Microsoft has previously benefited from being able to offer more different smartphones on more networks than anybody else (and Windows Phone 7 will be available on all the UK networks), that is no longer the case. Google Android now offers the widest range of options, and it looks unstoppable.