Windows Phone 7 will be a serious game-changer

Love it or hate it, the new Windows Phone 7 mobile OS has success written all over it

I use an Android smartphone and I like it. Although iPhones continue to catch my attention and are certainly more polished in many ways, I'm not one to jump on that fad. The BlackBerry is still loved by huge numbers of loyal fans, and the BlackBerry Torch may keep RIM in the game a bit longer. But the new player in the months ahead, the one everyone is going to be watching, is Windows Phone 7. Tired of being mocked in the mobile market, Microsoft has put a lot of effort into Windows Phone 7 and is anticipating a decent following as folks defect from their existing devices. Will it happen and will it be worth it?

Beyond the walls of Microsoft, very few have even seen the new Windows Phone 7 up close, though developers have had plenty of chances make use of the simulator and start creating all those mobile apps in the new platform (let me put in my plug now for Angry Birds for Windows Phone 7). At Tech Ed in New Orleans this past summer, journalists were allowed to hold one and play with it for a while, though this demo did nothing for me personally.

[ For a contrarian point of view: InfoWorld's Galen Gruman says Windows Phone 7 is a disaster, and early reviews have been negative. | Get the most out of Windows 7 with InfoWorld's Windows 7 Quick Guide ]

The only person outside of Microsoft who has had the chance to really work with it is Paul Thurrott, who has just finished up the book "Windows Phone 7 Secrets" and is obviously an expert on the new platform. For years, Thurrott has been known for his frank and honest evaluation of technology, and he doesn't mince words. His comments on the Windows Phone? He says, "Windows Phone is not just another smartphone. It's a revolution."

One key reasons, I believe, that Windows Phone 7 will succeed is that Microsoft is pulling away from its former policy of letting vendors take the Windows Mobile OS and tweak it to oblivion. Instead, Microsoft is mimicking its iPhone competitor Apple (which controls the software and hardware of every device it sells) in part by requiring vendors to provide very specific hardware minimum requirements and even decreeing similar hardware buttons be available on all phones and in the same locations on the phone. For example, the devices must have:

  • A Back button, a Start button, and a Search button
  • A minimum 5-megapixel camera and flash
  • Assisted GPS, a compass, an accelerometer, and an FM tuner

While OEMs have some say as to what they do with the phone operating system, Microsoft has made major improvements by not allowing them to issue junk hardware or drastically alter the operating system to suit their agenda. There are some standard tile services when you start the phone that cannot be altered by the OEM, nor can the OEMs remove any built-in apps. They can, however, install their own services and apps.

Users cannot remove any of the built-in apps but can remove any OEM apps on the phone. The Windows Phone 7 Marketplace app store can include additional OEM stores, but the official Marketplace cannot be replaced by the OEM. All apps go through the Microsoft store. These kinds of changes in the way Microsoft works with OEMs for its mobile world will ensure a consistent experience for users regardless of their specific phone.

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