Windows Phone 7: New, Useful and Very Likable
Don't Be Put Off by the Consumer Focus
Microsoft is pushing the Windows Phone 7 platform very much as a consumer device, with extensive marketing focus on Xbox Live-style gaming, social media usage, and Zune music and video playback. One drawback: There is no Mac desktop client for Zune, which will prevent adoption by many technology opinion leaders and give the iPhone a natural bulwark against Windows Phone 7. Microsoft really needs a Zune desktop client for the Mac or a deal that lets Windows Phone 7's Zune work with iTunes on the Mac desktop. Hey, maybe Apple and Microsoft can do some horse trading, with Microsoft offering cheaper or free licensing for Exchange ActiveSync -- which Mac OS X and iPhone OS rely on -- in return for iTunes compatibility or helping in porting the Zune desktop. Casey McGee, a Windows Phone 7 product marketing manager, tells me he's heard the requests for Mac support several times already, so maybe Microsoft will make it happen. After all, it's already made one of the core app dev technologies used by Windows Phone 7, Silverlight, available for the Mac.
Despite Microsoft's consumer focus in its PR, don't forget that Windows Phone 7 will also come with a version of Microsoft Office and should have the same kind of enterprise security and manageability that businesses have long relied on and expect from a Microsoft mobile device. (Kindel did dodge my question on whether Exchange ActiveSync policy management and other security and management features would be the same as for Windows Mobile, responding instead that Microsoft knows those businesses' needs and is committed to supporting them. That's usually vendor-speak for "it'll be close enough.")
One nice feature: Windows Phone 7 will support multiple Exchange accounts. Take that, iPhone!
And the Windows Phone 7 version of Office is not yet in a state that Microsoft is comfortable in presenting it. One issue with today's mobile devices is that they're mediocre in working with basic documents, so you can't use them as a short-term substitute for a computer when on the go. The Documents to Go productivity suite for the BlackBerry and the Quickoffice suite for the iPhone are the best of the lot, but they're not good enough for regular use. Maybe that's not their fault but a limitation of the mobile form factor and its constraints on input, display, and processing that just don't support what document editing requires.
That's why Apple's decision to develop a version of its iWork productivity suite for the forthcoming iPad so intrigued me -- that form factor could let you have your mobility cake with your productivity apps à la mode. But Apple's apparent stupid decision not to support Office export from the iPad's iWork means that 98 percent of the world will likely never know.
So will Office for Windows Phone 7 break new ground in allowing productivity app usage in a handheld device? I wish I knew. I'll let you know when I find out.
Despite my early enthusiasm, I have to issue a reminder that Windows Phone 7 is not yet real, even though there are now actual prototypes to experiment with under controlled conditions. Still, I see potential for genuine innovation that could get the mobile market past its "let's all imitate the iPhone" phase. Fingers crossed!