The Case for Holding Out for Windows Phone 7

Microsoft is coming fashionably late to the next-generation smartphone party. New cutting edge Android devices seem to come out monthly, and Apple just unveiled its big iPhone overhaul for 2010, but with Windows Phone 7 looming on the horizon, businesses may have reason to delay any decision until they can directly compare the benefits and drawbacks of all three platforms.

The headlines have been dominated by smartphones like the HTC Incredible, HTC EVO 4G, and this week's launch of the next-generation iPhone 4. It seems as if iPhone and Android are the only two smartphone platforms, but the reality is they aren't even the top smartphone platforms.

In fact, RIM is still the number one smartphone platform, with more market share than second place Apple and third place Microsoft combined. Android, while it has been gaining significantly since its launch, is still the fourth place smartphone platform with only 60 percent as much market share as Microsoft.

The primary reason that hugely popular platforms like iPhone and Android aren't already dominating is the business market. The iPhone led a revolution that has blurred the line between consumer gadget and business tool, but RIM has established itself as synonymous with mobile business communications and Apple and Google don't provide infrastructure integration or management tools comparable to those available with the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES).

It is a testament to the continued divide between consumer and business that Microsoft still has 15 percent market share and is still in third place. Aside from the incremental Band-Aid update of last year's Windows Mobile 6.5, Microsoft has not even been in the game. While Apple and Google are leapfrogging each other with amazing innovations, RIM and Microsoft have been relatively stagnant.

The reason for the lengthy delay in new smartphone technology from Microsoft is that it has had some leadership shakeups and went back to the drawing board to completely reinvent its mobile strategy. Windows Phone 7 is not simply an incremental evolution of Windows Mobile 6.5. Microsoft started from scratch to design an entirely new mobile OS platform that recognizes the difference between a desktop PC and a smartphone rather than assuming that the smartphone is simply a very small Windows PC.

When the Windows 7 smartphones hit the street later this year, they promise a compelling combination of the intuitive touch interface and experience found in the iPhone and Android, along with tight integration and native apps to tie in with the Microsoft server infrastructure that makes up the backbone of most customers network and communications architecture.

The Windows Phone 7 platform will have its issues as well. Following very closely in the footsteps of Apple's iPhone, Windows Phone 7 is expected to lack true multitasking, and copy and paste functionality out of the gate. Microsoft is also locking down the environment with hardware and software restrictions that limit how smartphone manufacturers can customize the devices, and scrapping all backward compatibility with existing Windows Mobile hardware and apps.

That said, if your company is not in any urgent need of replacing smartphones immediately, it makes sense to wait a few months for Windows Phone 7 to arrive on the scene and compare and contrast all three platforms before making any decision about which best meets the needs of your mobile users.

I suppose it would be prudent to also consider RIM in that mix, but the BlackBerry smartphones are not really in the same league as the next-generation iPhone and Android devices, or what it seems Microsoft will bring to the table based on what we know so far.

You can follow Tony on his Facebook page , or contact him by email at tony_bradley@pcworld.com . He also tweets as @Tony_BradleyPCW .

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