Windows Phone 7 smartphones arrived in the U.S. Monday, and Microsoft is now officially back on the comeback trail and looking to erase the recent history of its foundering mobile business. But despite positive early reviews, Windows Phone 7 may face a difficult climb in the crowded U.S. mobile market, where Apple and Google are gobbling the lion's share of attention.
Here CRN examines seven questions about Windows Phone 7 that have the potential to slow Microsoft's march back into mobile industry relevance.
1. Can Windows Phone 7 gain momentum without Verizon?
Microsoft says a CDMA version of Windows Phone 7 is coming in the first quarter of 2011. In the meantime, customers of the nation's largest carrier will only be able to experience Windows Phone 7 vicariously, through their GSM device-toting friends on AT&T and T-Mobile.
Of greater concern to Microsoft is Verizon's ambiguous stance on Windows Phone 7 devices. In September, Verizon officials said the carrier "will probably" release a Windows Phone 7 device in 2011. But last month, Verizon President and COO Lowell McAdam told Cnet that Microsoft isn't currently factoring in his company's plans. "Microsoft is not at the forefront of our mind," McAdam said in a Q&A with Cnet.
Another factor is that Verizon and Google have a pretty good thing going with Android, and Verizon might be hesitant to throw cold water on that lovefest by talking about Windows Phone 7. And there's always the possibility that Verizon may still be silently simmering over the Microsoft Kin debacle and lamenting the front-row seat it had as the exclusive carrier for the devices.
2. Will developers get rich from Windows Phone 7?
Windows Mobile developers weren't thrilled by Microsoft hitting the reset button and starting over with Windows Phone 7, but Microsoft does have the advantage of a giant developer army that already has the skills to build Windows Phone 7 apps. The question is, will developers find it worth their while from a financial standpoint? And can Microsoft at least emulate some of the unforeseen riches that many App Store developers have happily stumbled into?
It's an apples-and-oranges comparison seeing as how Microsoft is emphasizing quality over quantity in its Windows Phone Marketplace, which currently has around 2,000 apps. Still, while Apple gloats at regular intervals about the number of App Store listings, much of the buzz around the App Store has come from developers who've grown rich from their creations.
Microsoft has the industry's deepest well of application development expertise, so it would be foolish to suggest that it's incapable of building a thriving mobile application store. However, Microsoft is going to have to adapt quickly to the proclivities of the mobile space, and its recent track record doesn't suggest it'll be able to do so easily.
Next: How Will Windows Phone 7 Fare Against iPhone, Android?