How clueless is Microsoft? If anything shows that the answer to that is "very," it's the ridiculous ads for Windows Phone 7, which finally begins shipping on Monday, Nov. 8. The idea is that the phone will get you, well, off the phone in seconds. And then, as we see in the ad, you can get back to making love, using a urinal, and walking down stairs.
Forgot how silly, albeit amusing, the scenarios are of people trapped on their cell phones, presumably because they're using iPhones, Androids, or BlackBerrys. (The one where the guy drops his phone in the urinal is just disgusting.) The real truth is that the ads have it exactly backward: People love to spend time on their smartphones. Building an ad campaign that pretends that people don't is really, really, stupid.
[ InfoWorld's preview of Windows Phone 7 called it a disaster, but J. Peter Bruzzese says Microsoft got a lot right. | Get the latest insights on mobile technology with InfoWorld's Mobilize newsletter. ]
But given how many mistakes Microsoft made in the design of the Windows Phone 7 OS, it probably makes sense to focus on not using the device. No one, as near as I can tell, will want to spend much time with it. Maybe the slogan should be "The smartphone for people who hate smartphones."
What's more, the company is getting close to an inflection point: Within five years or so, the standard personal computer is probably going to be a lot more like a tablet with most of its applications in the cloud. As my colleague Galen Gruman points out, the notebook of tomorrow may will be the equivalent of yesterday's workstation, a tool for people who need to perform high-end, processor- and memory-intensive tasks, while the rest of us tether small, light devices to monitors and keyboards when we need them.
If it's taken Microsoft this long to respond (anemically) to the iPhone, how long will it take the company to respond to the coming tectonic shift in personal computing?
The little phone that couldn't
Even when reviewers are trying to say nice things about Phone 7, they wind up bashing it. Consider a review by Troy Wolverton, who writes a good column on personal tech for the San Jose Mercury News. He calls Windows Phone 7 "a good start" and says "it puts Microsoft back in the [smartphone] race." Well, that sounds good. But then we have what I call the "yeah, but" paragraph, where Wolverton writes:
It doesn't support copy-and-paste. It doesn't offer an easy way to switch between open applications. And it doesn't have a universal search that allows you to find applications, content, messages or other data stored on your device.
What's more, its Web browser supports neither Adobe's Flash software nor HTML5, which Apple has promoted as an alternative to Flash. Without those technologies, Windows Phone 7 devices can't display many of the videos or interactive websites that you can access from the latest Android devices or the iPhone.