Today is exciting for smartphone enthusiasts, Microsoft, and their global partners as the first batch of Windows Phone 7 hardware and operators launching before the holiday 2010 season was revealed. As you look across the various devices from different manufacturers you see they all have a very high baseline level for their specifications, common look and feel to the user interface, and very limited carrier and manufacturer customizations made to the operating system. Microsoft was able to bring the iPhone consistency and Apple control to Windows Phone 7 while also being able to provide an openness to applications and diversity in manufacturers and carriers that we see in Google Android platform. We won't be able to make final judgements about Windows Phone 7 until we test out retail shipping devices, but so far things are looking pretty good for a Microsoft reboot in the smartphone world.
Apple consistency, control, and gaming
When Apple entered the smartphone arena in 2007 they shook up the industry and made people think about their strategy with a single device on a single carrier. Apple has since moved on to carriers around the world, but still has limited devices that all function about the same. In the past Microsoft's Pocket PC and Windows Mobile operating systems had touch and non-touch interfaces, huge difference in hardware form factors, and specifications that varied across the board. With Windows Phone 7, Microsoft has established some high baseline specifications to ensure that every device gives users a good experience. You will see 1 GHz processors, a 5 megapixel minimum camera resolution, large capacitive touchscreen displays, a hardware camera button, three consistent buttons on the front, and more that make sure the Windows Phone 7 experience is not a lame experience where a manufacturer or carrier was trying to save a few bucks.
Apple also exerted amazing control of the iPhone over AT&T (this was not always a good thing) and if you didn't know where you purchased it you wouldn't have a clue that AT&T was even the carrier of the iPhone in the US. In the past, Microsoft let carriers and manufacturers go to town with Windows Mobile and in many cases this led to poor experiences, reboots, and clunky interfaces that turned people off of Windows Mobile. Granted there were some great things that manufacturers like HTC did to push the limits, but that wasn't always the norm. With Windows Phone 7 Microsoft has tightened their grip on what customizations can be done by both manufacturers and carriers and I understand there is a five application limit of what can be loaded on shipping devices. This means you will get some carrier services and apps, but at least it will be extremely limited and Microsoft also requires they be fully working applications and not the trial crap that the US wireless carriers are known for loading up and not allowing you to remove.
Microsoft also sees that games are still the most popular applications in the App Store and with their Xbox LIVE support and Games hub they are taking Apple head on in the gaming arena. If they can launch with some compelling titles and tie Windows Phone 7 to the Xbox they have a chance to rule in the gaming department, which was always quite weak in Windows Mobile.
Google openness and diversity
The Android operating system is like the Wild West right now with several versions out and about on devices with specifications all over the spectrum. Microsoft has applied some of the openness from Android by allowing 3rd party applications to be loaded that appear to directly compete with their own Music & Videos hub. For example, the upcoming T-Mobile HTC HD7 will be loaded out of the box with the Netflix video application and Slacker Radio streaming music application. You can watch movies through titles purchased or rented through the Zune Marketplace and also stream music through the Zune media player, but Microsoft still lets competing applications be loaded on the device. TeleNav GPS Navigator will also be on the HD7 right alongside the Bing Maps application too.
Unlike Apple and RIM, Microsoft licensed their OS to manufacturers just like Google does so that buyers will have a choice in hardware to fit their tastes. More than just hardware, Microsoft is opening up Windows Phone 7 to carriers so you will eventually see Windows Phone 7 devices on all four major US wireless carriers and likely the regional carriers as well. You won't have to worry about switching to a carrier you settle with to get a Windows Phone 7 device.
Still work for Microsoft
I am by no means stating that Windows Phone 7 is yet perfect and I am sure everyone will jump on the lack of copy/paste, Flash support in the browser, WiFi tethering, and more. Keep in mind though that this is a completely new mobile operating system with a new user interface. Micrsoft knows what they need to do to compete and knows they have areas for improvement, but they have been working extremely hard to line up developers and look to have a pretty amazing launch of applications in store for buyers starting in November.