Windows Phone 7: Do You Care About Apps?

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Microsoft's design and strategy for Windows Phone 7 is about as different from the iPhone and Android phones as it gets. In an app-happy world, Windows Phone 7 is app-light. And rather than luring you in with all the amazing things you can do on your phone, Microsoft lauds the ability of Windows Phone 7 phones to have you spend less time using your phone, not more. It's a big gamble --- and it just might pay off.

Android phones and iPhones are designed from the ground up to focus on apps, using straightforward, icon-based interfaces so that it's easy to quickly find the app you want to run. Screens full of apps make you want to use and try more.

Windows Phone 7 doesn't try to wow you with the number of apps it has. Instead, the main screen presents tiles that when tapped, open contacts, email, messaging, pictures, and so on. Microsoft calls the different areas "hubs," to get across the point that rather than being individual apps, they're information-gathering and sharing areas.

The company's initial ad campaign plays up this difference in a very important, but subtle way. iPhone and Android phone ads are full of great-looking, powerful apps, and the amazing things they can do for you. Windows Phone 7 ads takes the exact opposite tack, taking aim at people who spend their lives glued to the phone, instead of enjoying life. The message is that your phone should free you, not force you to stare at it.

So a parent stare at a screen rather than play with his son; people on the beach stare at their phones rather than enjoy the sun and sand; someone on a roller coaster stares at his phone rather than enoying the ride...and yes, sex enters into it as well, when a man ignores his lingerie-clad partner for the sake of his phone. You can see the video, below. (By the way, if the music sounds familiar, it's "In the Hall of the Mountain King," from "Peer Gynt Suite," by Edward Grieg.)

Another ad is spookier, playing the old Donovan song "Season of the Witch" to people who wander around staring at their phones, zombie like. You can see it below.

This is clearly a big gamble, because smartphone users like using their phones and their apps. Theses ads seem to go out of their way to insult them.

But Microsoft may be onto something, because I don't think Windows Phone 7 is necessarily aimed at existing smartphone users. I don't believe that many people will give up their iPhones or Android phones for Windows Phone 7. Instead, Microsoft is aiming at people who don't yet use smartphones. These people vastly outnumber smartphone users. Microsoft is gambling that they're different than existing smartphone users, don't care much about apps, and want a phone that gets them what they want quickly, and not necessarily a lot more.

If that's the case, the early way to judge the success of Windows Phone 7 is by how many people switch from a non-smartphone to Windows Phone 7. iPhone and Android users are probably beyond reach.

This story, "Windows Phone 7: Do You Care About Apps?" was originally published by Computerworld.

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