You know how in monster movies, the lumbering creature always manages to outrun the frantically running victim? That seems to be Microsoft's hope in competing with Apple: Despite a late start and slow development, it will crush the iPhone out of sheer size. Microsoft's creature of choice is Windows Phone 7, available on devices from Samsung, LG, and HTC.
In a twist on the monster metaphor, the competition is not between beauty and beast. Windows Phone 7 has a very elegant user interface that is nearly as beautiful and intuitive as what Apple produces. The competition is really between capabilities, of which the iPhone has many and Windows Phone 7 has fewer.
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For example, Windows Phone 7 doesn't support HTML5-based websites, the Adobe Flash Player, device-wide search, multitasking, copy and paste, or on-device encryption. The iPhone 4 -- specifically iOS 4.1 -- supports all but Flash; the iPad supports all but Flash and multitasking, but will gain multitasking when iOS 4.2 ships this month.
Some shortcomings could be red lines for certain users. For example, on-device encryption is required by many companies to gain access to email and other servers, so many businesses might be unable to support Windows Phone 7 users. Others, such as the lack of Flash, haven't hurt the iPhone and may not hurt Windows Phone 7. The iPhone also didn't support copy and paste or multitasking for its first two years of existence, yet became a formidable presence in the mobile market anyhow.
But in this day and age of mature, aggressive mobile contenders such as Apple's iOS and Google's Android, it's hard to believe Microsoft's omission of these capabilities will be forgiven by most users.
Still, its attractive UI will appeal to many people, especially those resistant to drinking the Apple Kool-Aid. That elegance was quite pronounced on the Samsung Focus smartphone I used for testing Windows Phone 7; the Focus is a snappy performer, with a big, beautiful AMOLED (Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode) screen, as well as very nice fit and finish, though its touchscreen didn't always register my taps. It does not have a physical keyboard; look to the LG Quantum if you want such a feature.
Deathmatch: Email, calendars, and contacts
For testing, I used a personal IMAP account, a personal Gmail account, and a work Exchange 2007 account. Both devices work directly with IMAP and Gmail, as well as with POP, so my email, email folders, calendars, and contacts all flowed effortlessly among the smartphones, my laptop, and the server. The configuration was trivial, and both devices try to autodetect your settings wherever possible.