Microsoft Steps Up Consumer Game With Windows Phone 7

With Windows Phone 7, Microsoft is poised to blow away the serviceable-yet-unspectacular legacy of Windows Mobile, which was fine for many business users but hopelessly clunky in the eyes of many consumers.

Microsoft is now aiming for both targets, positioning Windows Phone 7 as a single mobile device for work and for play. On the business side, there's integration with Exchange, SharePoint and the Business Productivity Online Suite. For consumers, Xbox integration is an important differentiator. Microsoft is also giving users the ability to synchronize the photos and video they create with their devices in the cloud.

Microsoft partners say it's clear that much of the work involved in re-writing Windows Mobile was meant to enhance the OS' attractiveness to non-business users.

"Microsoft has skewed With Windows Phone 7 more in favor of the consumer," said Chris De Herrera, a Los Angeles-based Microsoft Windows Mobile MVP and editor of the Pocket PC FAQ blog. "The customer is in control of the user interface, what they install and how they interact with the cloud."

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Microsoft certainly isn't alone in pursuing this goal: Its competitors have shown that the lines between business and consumer mobile users have essentially dissolved.

Next: What Apple, Google and RIM Have Shown

"Most business people are consumers too, and most smartphones appeal to both sensibilities," said Andrew Brust, chief of new technology for twentysix New York, a Microsoft partner in New York City. "That’s why the iPhone, iPad and Android have Exchange integration now. From the other end, it's why RIM has tried to consumerize its OS."

RIM has had some success in this regard, but is still struggling to stay relevant in the mobile market. Brust says Microsoft, with its deep experience with business users, now has a chance to separate itself from the pack.

"I think with Windows Phone 7, Microsoft is the only one that will do both well," said Brust. "They already had Exchange integration down quite well, and with a very nice, completely new mobile OS, it looks they are going to get the consumer-caliber experience and usability out there as well."

Added Brust: "My take is that it will win them share from RIM very quickly and will make them competitive with iPhone and Android as the OS is updated, new devices are released and more carriers come online."

However, some partners would like to see Microsoft tread carefully in its consumer messaging. Windows Phone 7 will be great for business apps, and with Silverlight as the core platform, Microsoft has a ready-made audience of millions of developers, notes Scott Stanfield, CEO of Vertigo Software, a Richmond, Calif.-based Microsoft partner.

Next: Why Microsoft Needs To Balance Its Message

However, if Microsoft positions Windows Phone 7 as purely for consumers, it risks losing some of its business customer base, adds Stanfield.

"That would be a shame, since it will be a solid platform for great business apps," he said. "I think Microsoft will launch Windows Phone 7 without much of a business story and hope that the Windows brand carries it forward."