One of the biggest stories of the Mobile World Conference was the unveiling--finally--of Windows Mobile 7, rebranded as Windows Phone 7. The story within the story is how Microsoft abandoned the foundation established with the waning Windows Mobile platform, went back to the drawing board, and started from scratch for the latest incarnation of its mobile operating system.
The result is a completely new mobile platform from Microsoft which, at least from initial feedback and reviews, seems to be worthy of further consideration once Windows Phone 7 devices start hitting the streets.
Given the delays experienced by Microsoft in developing Windows Phone 7, expectations were high. Any minor, incremental improvement on the existing platform would have been virtually guaranteed to fail.
Microsoft's approach with Windows Phone 7 seems to borrow some from the Apple business model that has proven so successful with the iPhone. Like Google, with the Nexus One, Microsoft is reining in oversight of the hardware for Windows Phone 7 devices.
Microsoft has been accused of stealing a variety of design elements and features from Apple over the decades, but one thing it has steered clear of is emulating Apple's strict control of the end-to-end user experience. However, with Windows Phone 7, Microsoft seems to be embracing that philosophy to some degree.
Traditionally, the best Windows Mobile phones have been the devices built by HTC, and the reason they have been the best is because HTC took the Windows Mobile platform as a foundation, and branded it with its own unique design and interface elements. With Windows Phone 7, Microsoft has spelled out strict hardware and software design guidelines that will restrict such unique development by HTC, but hopefully deliver a more consistent experience for Windows Phone 7 users regardless of manufacturer.
By exerting more control over the hardware and software specifications, Microsoft can ensure that apps developed for Windows Phone 7 will not only work, but will work the same way, across all Windows Phone 7 devices. That level of consistency across Windows Phone 7 devices will help to increase adoption and improve perception of the Windows Phone 7 platform.
What Google seems to have learned from Apple--the same lesson that Microsoft appears to be grasping as well--is that maintaining control of the end-to-end user experience creates a more stable environment for developers to work with, and enables it (Google, Microsoft, or Apple as the case may be) to maximize the potential of the operating system without being handicapped by variations in capabilities from one handset to the next.
Of course, one of the things customers have come to expect from Microsoft is a more open and flexible platform than what Apple offers. Users want the ability to configure and customize their Windows devices--whether PC's or smartphones--and typically abhor the sort of "dummy-proof-our-way-or-the-highway" approach taken by Apple.
IT administrators enjoy the increased flexibility and capabilities of a more open platform like Windows Phone 7 or Android. One of the issues standing in the way of Apple iPhone adoption in the enterprise is the lack of control provided for IT administrators to be able to configure and manage the devices the way they would like to.
Businesses stand to benefit from the more consistent user experience of Windows Phone 7 as well, though. Rather than having to test and develop for each individual Windows Mobile handset in use, any configuration settings or custom apps will be able to function regardless of the Windows Phone 7 devices in use.
Windows Phone 7 appears to be a significant departure from previous Windows Mobile operating systems. At first glance it seems the Microsoft is heading in the right direction and could recapture some of the lost market share of the waning Windows Mobile platform. We'll have to wait until the Windows Phone 7 devices hit the streets to see how it really plays out.