On Friday, Windows Phone 7 Series, Microsoft's weapon in the fight for pocket dominance, received a bit of a tattle tale endorsement. Had it come from an Apple fanboy, the statement could be interpreted as flattering: “For tech guys like us it might be a little bit boring after a week or two..."[Gizmocrunch] The problem for Microsoft is this: James Choi said it, and the cheeky non-conformist is LG's head of marketing strategy and planning. And he is bored. Ouch.
You see, LG make Windows Phone 7 handsets, e.g. the LG Optimus 7. And I think the photo above which shows a range of Windows Phone 7 handsets explains why LG's marketing head honcho may have struggled with his praise dispenser - they do look a bit samey, don't they? I call Windows Phone 7 Series the County Council OS. My county council tells me how to do my plumbing but they don't supply me with mains water. They don't collect my rubbish, they don't give me broadband, nor a TV signal, or, heck, health care facilities within a 10 mile radius. BUT: they tell me what colour roofing tiles I can use and how to arrange them. Life is good. As long as it's uniform.
But, poor initial sales aside [Pcworld], is it so bad that all Windows Phone 7 devices look almost identical? After all, Apple's iPhone was successfully advertised again and again and again with the same icons on the same homescreen. Yes. But there is one iPhone (at any given time) versus all the other wannabes. So, of course, Apple have a point: Brand-awareness. Microsoft don't. Have a point. They only provide the platform. The OS for many handset makers to work with, and work it is. No play. Invariably, dullness will afflict Jack, as the saying goes. Look at the guidelines set up by Microsoft regarding hardware requirements - stick to them, or else.
Microsoft started work on a major mobile platform overhaul as early as 2004. The old Windows Mobile, or WinMo as it was generally referred to had become a bore. It wasn't touchscreen friendly, and to Joe and Jane Public WinMo smelled of sweaty sales reps. It didn't help matters that many of the old WinMo handsets looked like the barcode scanner you had to use in your first summer job in Tescos, so there...
The problem is that somewhere along the timeline, Microsoft's pocket team obviously stopped paying attention. They were not quite there when for years Apple were maligned for claiming "smartphone users don't want something as complicated as copy and paste," No, in March 2010 Microsoft states regarding copy and paste: "people don't do that"on smartphones [Engadget]. And while Nokia get trashed as obsolete for Symbian's boring same-old, same-old UI appearance, Microsoft encourage every handset maker on the planet to churn out multiple clones of virtually the same handset. Well, how could it go wrong? No copy and paste, no keyboard when browsing the web in landscape mode, no tethering, no mass storage access to transfer files between your phone and any PC. In fact: not even a file manager onboard. On launchday no desktop sync program for Macs - meaning absolutely no way to add any content to your 'smartphone'. Cunning stunt, Microsoft. Annoy the MacFans, your main competitor's clan. You don't need their custom, right? ("People don't do that", I guess?!). And obviously people no longer play show-me-yours-I-show-you-mine...not when they all look the same, eh?!
Yes, Microsoft had made it clear that the new Windows Phone 7 Series OS would be "less business smartphone and more consumer oriented", but how dumb do we consumers look through the Redmond telescope? Sure, we bought Vista, but many of us had to. So that proves nothing. There are smart consumer oriented alternatives to Windows Phone 7. The iPhone is one of them. And I did not ever think I would say the words "The iPhone is less restrictive and limited than..." But compared to the Windows Phone 7 OS the iPhone is sheer Hippie spontaneity.
"People don't do that", is the Microsoft slogan for making a dumbphone OS in a smartphone market. And sales so far have been bad. Is the Windows Phone 7 Series D.O.A., or can they save it?
Of course. Not all is lost. The first Android phones got mixed reviews, and their homescreens all looked the same. But now Microsoft need to admit to themselves that people are not yet entirely zombified thanks to aeons of exposure to the Windows nanny OS in schools, colleges and at work. People, dear Bill Gates, still have some playfulness and courage left to exploit before you outlaw it in your EULA. Use it.
Do you see that, Microsoft? That is just one internet forum. Threads for just one Windows Mobile 6.5 phone, the HTC HD2. Count them!
Whatever derogative comments there are about the old Windows Mobile platform up to WinMo 6.5, many many phone users appreciated the freedom that only Windows Mobile used to offer in terms of personalisation: open file and registry access meant that pretty much any tweak you could dream up could be realised. Then there was the integration of Java apps long before Apple hyped the appstore idea. Oh, and yes: WinMo had copy and paste.
People now read about firmware updates in the mainstream media, Mr Gates. Non-Tech guys now jailbreak iPhones and root Android devices. One of last week's main tech news stories involving "windows" and "phones" was the successful port of Android to the old WinMo 6.5 HTC HD2. Punters pay money for additional onscreen keyboards and homescreen replacement apps. They want to swap photos and songs between phone and multiple laptops without the need of a gigantic PC suite such as Zune or iTunes. Let them. After all, with your many flavours of Vista and Windows 7 for desktops you have helped to perpetuate the idea of consumer choice.
(N.B. I should add that 2 of my all-time favourite mobile devices are the Windows Mobile 5 sporting Palm Treo 750, and the WinMo 6.5 HTC HD2. So, no hatin', please. I would love a Windows Phone 7 smartphone. It just hasn't been made yet.)