Microsoft has promised to deliver big news Tuesday regarding its Windows Phone 7 smartphone platform, and the company will be kicking things off at 10 a.m. in TriBeCa in New York City. But WP7 has had a rocky start so far. Can Microsoft really deliver?
Microsoft first introduced WP7 in February 2010. The platform officially launched worldwide in October 2010. The first crop of devices was very good, but not quite a match for the headlining Android smartphones available from most carriers. It didn't help that WP7 only launched on AT&T and T-Mobile at first. Sprint didn't pick up any WP7 handsets until earlier this year, and Verizon is releasing its first WP7 smartphone this week.
Microsoft announced a minor feature update for January 2011. The update was then delayed until March. The update that prepared for the update ran into trouble. Things were pushed back even further. Then it ran into problems with updating Samsung devices. The NoDo update was not fully delivered to the existing crop of WP7 devices until about two weeks ago.
Microsoft needs to do a lot better than this. Here's what we expect to see.
Microsoft will definitely show off the next version of Windows Phone 7, codenamed "Mango." It is possible that this version of WP7 will actually be WP7.5, but that hasn't been confirmed by Microsoft. We know that Mango will include at least a handful of new features, such as Internet Explorer 9, better Office integration, multitasking, and Twitter support in the People Hub.
Mango will add the ability to save and share Office documents through Office 365 and Windows Live SkyDrive. Four other new features include the ability to: pin email folders to the home screen for faster access; view emails in threaded, conversational style; search the email server for emails no longer stored on the device; and access Lync Mobile, which is Microsoft's unified communications platform. It will also gain better IT admin controls, such as support for complex passwords.
Speaking Monday at an event in Japan, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said that the Mango update will have 500 new features packed into the software. He also noted that Tuesday's press event will include more information on Microsoft's relationship with the carriers.
The big question is, can Microsoft successfully deliver this update to existing and future handsets in a timely manner? Experience to-date tells us no.
2. Nokia CEO Stephen Elop
Microsoft's new BFF, Nokia, will likely take center stage through the presence of its CEO, Stephan Elop. Nokia announced in February its plans to drop its home-brewed Symbian smartphone platform and instead adopt Microsoft's WP7 platform. The news shook the mobile industry to the core. Now that the shock has worn off and Nokia has begun to make strategic plans around this shift, it needs to keep the information about its progress flowing.
I'd expect Elop to speak about the integration between Microsoft's and Nokia's systems and give us an idea of how things will fall into place as the integration takes place.
Will Elop show us the first Nokia-made Windows Phone 7 device? I highly doubt it. Elop has said repeatedly that Nokia won't ship its first WP7 device until late 2011 or early 2012. It would be near suicidal for them to reveal even a mock-up of a handset this far from release.
3. Nine New Phones?
Rumors have been swirling about new hardware. The latest says we'll see up to nine new devices from Microsoft's manufacturing partners. I'd give the chances of this about 50:50. I do expect to see some new hardware, but not necessarily nine new phones. There are only about a dozen WP7 handsets available right now from the likes of Dell, HTC, LG, and Samsung. At the very least, I expect HTC and Samsung show off new hardware. Will the others?
Very few details have been leaked about the next crop of WP7 handsets. The existing crop are nearly identical in a few keys ways. First, they all have 1-GHz processors, they all have 5 megapixel cameras, they all have screens with the same resolution. None of them are category killers, as some of the latest Android handsets. Has Microsoft convinced its partners to churn out some class-leading phones? We'll see.
Beyond this, I expect we'll hear plenty of talk about developer support. The Windows Marketplace for Mobile just hit 18,000 applications. It's growing at a faster rate that many of its competitors (hint: BlackBerry, Palm). I'd be surprised if some of Microsoft's developer partners don't take the stage to show off their latest applications for WP7.
While exciting things appear to be on deck for Microsoft and Windows Phone 7, I am still skeptical that Microsoft can make good on its promises.
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