Windows Phone 7 isn't just a completely overhauled operating system and developer platform, it also marks a major change in the way Microsoft works with its handset manufacturer partners.
In a Monday press conference, Andy Lees, senior vice president of Microsoft's Mobile Communications Business, said with Windows Phone 7, Microsoft will work with OEMs "in a much more structured way," setting minimum hardware requirements and increasing the amount of Microsoft-built software on devices.
"With this new model, we provide a minimum as to what the hardware needs to be capable of," Lees said in the press conference. "We don't stop people from adding value over and above that. What that means is that the software and the hardware are optimized to work together."
Microsoft has long touted the virtues of its Windows Mobile ecosystem, in which OEMs have had free reign to come up with their own hardware configurations. But now, Microsoft has decided that exerting more control over hardware will help it deliver a better mobile experience.
For example, Microsoft is requiring OEM partners to include hardware accelerated graphics in Windows Phone 7 devices to ensure that users have a top-notch experience, according to Lees.
"The problem with [the old approach is that] from a software point of view, you don't know what hardware you're running on. Therefore, your software is not optimized for the hardware, in which case the end user doesn't get the benefit of the innovation that the OEMs are providing," Lees said.
OEMs will still be able to differentiate their devices from the pack, they'll just have to aim toward a more narrow target that's determined by Microsoft. This, Lees said, will prevent "everybody tripping over each other" as has often been the case in the past with Windows Mobile. "We wanted to have something where the pieces could work together much more in harmony," Lees said.
Given Windows Mobile's steady slide into oblivion, Microsoft realized that the status quo wasn't going to cut it. In 2009, Microsoft saw its share of worldwide smartphone sales to end users dip from 11.8 percent in 2008 to 8.7 percent, according to the latest Gartner figures.
During the same period, Apple's iPhone share jumped from 8.2 percent to 14.4 percent, and RIM's Blackberry share rose from 16.6 percent to 19.9 percent. Both Apple and RIM exert a greater degree of control over the hardware and software than Microsoft ever has, and Microsoft is hoping that its shift in this direction will yield similar results.
At its MIX10 conference next month, Microsoft is expected to reveal that the Windows Phone 7 development platform uses Silverlight, XNA and the .Net Compact Framework, which will allow developers to use familiar tools like Visual Studio and Expression Blend to build mobile applications.