Microsoft Hopes Consumers Will Go Gaga Over Windows Phone 7

"Look, people don't want three different ways to get into their e-mail, and three different ways to get out. They just want one simple way to get the stuff that is important to them," said Mindy Mount, chief financial officer of Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division.

Windows Phone 7, intended for smart phones and other handheld devices that have increasingly seen a convergence in use patterns by consumer and business users, was conceived on the principle that most people use such devices in more than exclusively business or professional settings, she said.

The OS, originally codenamed "Photon" and set for a fourth-quarter 2010 release, was first detailed by Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft at February's Mobile World Congress 2010 in Barcelona. The Windows Phone name marks a departure from past editions of the OS, which were called Windows Mobile, though many still refer to the upcoming OS as Windows Mobile 7.

Mount also indicated that OEM partners could have less room to customize the OS for their business customers, saying that Microsoft partners' configuations of past editions of Windows Mobile led to complicated interfaces that resulted in a confusing experience for the user.

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The success of Windows Phone 7 could depend on how well Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft is able to emulate rival Apple's App Store distribution model for software, said Tim Huckaby, CEO of Microsoft Gold Partner InterKnowlogy.

Huckaby said the true test will come with consumers' response to Windows Phone 7, but that Microsoft appeared to making competitive devices for the Apple iPhone and offering a compelling alternative to Apple's exclusive, by-no-means-universally-loved AT&T contract.

"Microsoft has Apple tagged by making their device twice as fast, with much longer battery life and higher resolution. Microsoft has created some jaw-droppingly awesome devices," he said.

But Apple has built a whole culture around usability, Huckaby cautioned, and it was still unclear if Microsoft would be able to compete with the Cupertino, Calif.-based company on that front.

Ken Winell, CEO of ExpertCollab, a SharePoint-focused solution provider, said Microsoft was putting a good foot forward in its quest to capture smartphone market share. But he said a crucial factor would be whether Microsoft prepared its partner channel in advance of the Windows Phone 7 release, particularly with the news that older Windows Mobile-based devices would not be upgradeable to the new OS.

"For example, the HTC HD2 is a Windows Mobile 6.5 phone, and as it sits would not be upgradable to Windows Mobile 7. This means that when Microsoft launches Windows Mobile 7 later this year, the channel will need enough devices and deals," Winnel said.

Winell also predicted that Apple could have its own iPhone upgrades in place by the time of the Windows Phone 7 release, perhaps stealing some of Microsoft's thunder.

Microsoft is taking a very new approach to OEM partners with its new mobile device platform, said Andrew Brust, head of new technology at twentysix, a New York-based solution provider that partners closely with Microsoft.

With Windows Mobile 6.5 and earlier, the Microsoft way was to provide a platform on top of which OEMs could build, similar to Google's strategy with its Android OS. But now Microsoft seeks to better replicate the control Apple has over the entirety of its software, device and implementation stack for the iPhone, Brust said.

He said that for Microsoft to be competitive with Apple, it needs to control implementation and provide strict guidelines for the hardware, even though Microsoft isn't likely any time soon to control hardware manufacturing to the extent that Apple guides the building of the iPhone.

"All of this is a consumer-oriented thrust," Brust said. "In effect, Microsoft views the end-user, a.k.a. the consumer, as their ultimate customer. With Windows Mobile 6.5 and earlier, Microsoft viewed the OEM as their customer."