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Where's the roadmap for Windows Phone 7?

The first wave of hands-on previews of Windows Phone 7 are out. If Microsoft is smart, they're going through those first looks with a fine-tooth comb and planning a series of updates. But can they deliver those improvements fast enough?
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

I'm awaiting my Windows Phone 7 review unit, which I'm told is on a truck and should be here any time now. Meanwhile, I've been reading some detailed previews from some very sharp commentators, including ZDNet's own Matt Miller and Engadget's Joshua Topolsky, which stand out from the pack. Manan Kakkar has an excellent roundup of all these first looks. (It's worth noting these are not reviews, because this is prototype hardware that will never ship.)

If Microsoft is smart, they're doing the same thing I've just done, which is to go through all those previews with a fine-tooth comb. They need to identify what critics are pointing out as hits and misses and then prioritize those issues for the initial shipping release and preferably several updates.

And they need to iterate at a pace that would be unthinkably fast for the Windows or Office division. Microsoft is far behind when it comes to phones, so they have to get the hardware right on Day 1 and then ship improvements at a steady clip.

The first and most important missing piece is Clipboard support, a feature that every preview I read identified as a negative. According to Long Zheng, the Windows Phone 7 team "knows exactly how they will be implementing copy & paste … but did not believe it could be implemented without affecting the release schedule." There's no question is will be included in an update (Long says "soon after initial release"), but there's no firm date, which leaves Microsoft open to accusations that it's announcing vaporware.

The second flaw is a lack of multitasking support, where Microsft has to at least pass the Pandora test - allowing you to listen to music via Pandora while doing something (anything) else.

And the third is the lack of support for HTML5 or Flash or Silverlight in the mobile browser. As Engadget correctly notes, the inability to play back video in the browser is a serious shortfall: "There's not even a YouTube app on the phone! Microsoft -- you've got to step it up on the video front if you want to play this game." (It's worth noting that many of the WP7 previews include video clips that would be unwatchable on the device itself.)

The good news is that all of those issues can be fixed with software updates. The question is, when? I've heard several people (including my friend Dwight Silverman) suggest that Microsoft should delay shipping until that feature is in. Dwight argues that this is a must feature in this competitive climate.

Personally, I don't mind if those features are not in the first release. Microsoft can and should ship in the fall with a polished product where every feature works and works well. That gives early adopters a chance to shake out issues in performance and functionality, which can be cleaned up in an update that also incrementally delivers those missing features. And it gives developers a chance to write apps and test them on shipping hardware, with the expectation that updates will be available soon.

The big question is, how soon? Dribbling out those fixes and improvements over a full year is unacceptable. Even six months is probably too long. If phones are on sale in October, that point-one update with cut/copy/paste support should appear within 90 days, and Microsoft should release a Windows Phone 7 version of IE with HTML5 support shortly after IE9 is released for desktop platforms.

The biggest missing piece of all is the value proposition: what is this phone going to deliver that makes it worth choosing over an iPhone or an Android device? I'll have a better idea of how to answer that question after I've spent some hands-on time with the device.

Now pardon me while I go wait by the door for the FedEx guy.

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