To Apple's iPhone and Google's Android, Microsoft has one thing to say: "Daddy's home!"

Even though Microsoft's been missing in action for this generation of smartphones, that time is over.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

Would someone please string Steve Ballmer up by his private parts and shake him until he wises up?

No, I'm not talking about his recent bonus penalty imposed by the board. I'm, instead, talking about the idiotic naming of Windows Phone 7.

Apple has the iPhone. It's a hip name, it's cool, and it allows Apple fanatics to be insufferable in their "we're too cool for our shoes" attitude. Google has Android or "Droid," with the Verizon models equipped with a Cylon recording that's just slicker than snot to play. BlackBerry is a nice, easy-to-remember name.

But Microsoft Windows Phone 7? Seriously? The name makes you ask, "Is it just another Windows CE phone? And 7? What about 8?" It's not clear whether the brand is "Microsoft Phone," or, maybe, "Windows Phone," and it doesn't seem to give the company room to grow the line's branding over the space of years.

Microsoft has often made branding mistakes, but to saddle what's likely to be a game changing phone OS with a name like Microsoft Windows Phone 7? Someone in Redmond should bounce Ballmer up and down on his fiddly bits.

Even so, I think that despite its cumbersome name, Microsoft Windows Phone 7 is a game changer.

Not everyone agrees with me (there's a surprise!). I deeply respect my colleagues Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols and Preston Gralla, but SJVN says it's "too little, too late" and Preston says, "iPhone and Android users are probably beyond reach".

I disagree. I think Microsoft's Phone is going to flip the smartphone market on its ear, and we're about to see, well, the Windows market share miracle all over again.

There's no doubt that Apple, Google, and RIM all have some very smart people in their employ, and so does Microsoft. But this game isn't about who's smarter.

It's also not about who's got a better fashion sense, because while Apple always fields beautifully designed works of art, Apple doesn't always field practical devices. Microsoft has shown that while it is often willing to ship pigs that work, it can sometimes summon a deep sense of design, as the company has proven with both the later Zune incarnations and the Xbox.

Windows Phone 7 judo

No, the real issue is that Microsoft almost perfectly counters the weaknesses of its competitors and, this time, is showing surprising strengths.

Let's start with those strengths. By all accounts, Windows Phone 7 has a very, very nice interface. Even Apple fanboy extraordinaire, John Gruber stated that the new Windows Phone 7 was "really nice" and he was "really impressed." For the record, Gruber is clearly not one of my fans -- kiss, kiss, John, kiss, kiss.

Fanboi-baiting aside, the other Windows Phone 7 strengths track with what's made Microsoft a powerhouse: its ability to work with top-tier licensees. With HP embroiled in an ongoing made-for-TV battle with Oracle, Dell is likely to become a Windows Phone 7 licensee and ship a product with all of Dell's normal quality, solidity, and reliability. The same is likely to be repeated by many, many other licensees.

We're also likely to see Windows Phone 7 devices available for all the major carriers, which gives consumers and enterprises the flexibility they demand.

But what about iPhone?

It's reasonably clear that Apple introduced an inferior product with the iPhone 4.

See also: Should Steve Jobs "man up" and kill the iPhone 4? Poor Apple can't seem to catch a break Open letter to Steve Jobs: Retire now! Will shoddy products tarnish the cult of Steve Jobs?

As you can see, I've written about the iPhone's problems a lot, but it's actually gotten worse since my last article. Apparently, the iPhone 4's screen breaks 82% more than the iPhone 3GS. This is a serious problem for Apple and consumers. The Apple reality distortion field won't be able to hold when the product's own glass can't keep itself together.

So Microsoft's entering a market where the market leader's product can't be held without a special Kung Fu grip, where the back of the device shatters when put into a case, and where the screen breaks 82% more than its outmoded predecessor.

Oh, and, of course, the iPhone can only be used on AT&T's universally-hated network.

To say Microsoft's got a serious chance here is an understatement. The iPhone's time in the sun may well be over.

Next: Android's emergence »

« Previous: What about the iPhone?

Android's emergence

The iPhone is already in a battle with Android for market dominance. According to Nielsen, Android is the most popular OS in America among recent smartphone buyers.

In other words, more people are buying Android phones than iPhones.

The Android phones have a lot of advantages over the iPhone, including a lot more freedom for users and developers, availability on carriers that are not AT&T, and often both price and performance benefits (like phones that are also mobile hot spots).

But there's also chaos in the Android world. Android has many different personalities, with lots of different hacks, and better and worse implementations. It's not entirely clear what Android you're getting when you get a phone, and one Android phone from one vendor may look, feel, work, and be operated entirely different from another Android phone.

This is where Microsoft may well best Google. Microsoft has worked with licensees for years, decades even, and understands how to give licensees just so much, but not more -- and keep every Windows implementation virtually identical from vendor to vendor.

Sure, there might be different shovelware on the no-name brand you buy from one company and a sweet little box you buy from Dell, but the basic operating system features are identical.

This consistency will do wonders in selling phones, because consumers and businesses will know what the phone has, and since Windows Phone 7 looks pretty good, they'll know any Windows Phone 7 is pretty good.

Essentially, Microsoft removes the guesswork vs. Apple, because Microsoft's phones are unlikely to shatter in your case or require you to master the Vulcan finger grip to be able to use them.

Microsoft removes the guesswork vs. Google's Android because Microsoft's phones will be predictable and consistent from vendor to vendor and carrier to carrier, so you know what you get when you get it.

What about RIM?


Seriously, RIM's primary advantage has been email and there will be some who like to thumb type on those little keyboards (me, included). But, in response to the iPhone and Android lines, RIM is moving away from its signature keyboard and moving more to a me-too line of full-screen phones.

RIM's other advantage was its position in the enterprise, with its excellent mobile connection to Exchange servers. Who makes Exchange servers? Oh, that's right: Microsoft.

Daddy's home

Microsoft employs a tremendous number of very very smart people and always learns from its mistakes. So even though Microsoft's been missing in action for this generation of smartphones, that time is over.

All that leads up to this conclusion: Microsoft's coming to the market and the company is both going to bring discipline, quality, good design, and flexibility. It's competitors have some of those features, but not all.

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