So Microsoft finally got formal with Windows Phone 7 and the handsets it will power today.
Luckily, I've had a chance to play with a few of the handsets before the launch, and today I got a bit more hands-on time, which confirmed my initial suspicion: that Microsoft has created a genuinely consumer-friendly, usable, speedy and attractive mobile operating system.
I won't go into the details of using Windows Phone 7 — that's a discussion for another time, when I've had more of a chance to use one of the handsets as my primary phone. What I will say, though, is that the hardware it's launching on is, barring variation in screen size, highly uniform.
It's very difficult to tell one Windows Phone 7 phone from the next, largely because Microsoft has been so tough in enforcing minimum specifications that are, for the tail-end of 2010, at the very least good enough for the market. There's not that much reason to innovate on top of those specs just yet, and no-one knows what the next gap in that market will be, so the manufacturers are playing it pretty safe.
Operators are quite clearly trying to differentiate their handsets by preinstalling apps they think their customers will like. I don't buy into the idea of operators messing around in the application space — the only real value carriers tend to be able to add comes in the form of promotions outside the phone itself, such as Orange Wednesdays.
Two important questions remain: one for the consumer market and one for the enterprise. For the consumer, how much does the number of applications matter? Microsoft is being remarkably tight-lipped on this, and perhaps fairly so, as the marketplace is busy getting populated and will continue to do so for the next 10 days before the actual launch.
Of course, size isn't everything, and a select group of high-quality apps would be preferable to a flood of dreck, but the reticence is odd. The best information I could get at today's event in London was that there will be thousands of apps at launch (that's courtesy of Will Coleman, the product lead in Microsoft's developer and platform group). Thousands ain't bad for launch, I suppose.
The other question is that of how quickly Microsoft manages to make Windows Phone 7 truly enterprise-friendly. The security aspect is supposedly why WP7 phones don't support microSD expandable memory, so it's strange that Microsoft hasn't come up with a way for apps to be distributed within a closed group (marketplace only, folks) and centrally administered. In fact, not much can be centrally administered at the moment — as far as I'm aware, that functionality extends to password enforcement only.
Security's great, but manageability will be key if Microsoft wants to take WP7 into the enterprise. They may be coy about it now, but two of the handsets we know about already have the suffix 'Pro'. Funny to think about Microsoft wanting to break into the enterprise, but that's where we are. Your move, Redmond.
UPDATE: I've had more of a play now. I briefly thought Google Calendar wouldn't sync, but I was wrong — it does. Further thoughts on the enterprise: remote wiping can be done through System Center Mobile or through the consumer Windows Live portal, which also enables stuff like find-your-phone. So, some basic centralised admin stuff is possible, but extremely little from an enterprise perspective. Therefore, I think (depending on the app situation) that Windows Phone 7 may be suitable for very small businesses after all, but nothing larger for now.