Like Palm and Motorola before it, Microsoft has launched its own mobile comeback with the unveiling of its long-awaited Windows Phone 7 software at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona Monday. And like the upgraded Palm webOS and Motoblur, Motorola's Android-based software, the revamped Windows Mobile OS have been greeted by mostly positive buzz.
The upshot is that with Windows Phone 7, Microsoft has staked its claim to being a legitimate contender in the smartphone wars with Apple, BlackBerry and Google. "Microsoft is a credible competitor again in smartphones, and this is a market where Microsoft intends to compete in for decades to come," noted Avi Greengart, research director of consumer devices at Current Analysis.
But with 10 months until Windows Phone devices from partners like HTC and Samsung are actually released, there's a long gap between the early hype and the true test of acceptance when people get the phones in their hands. After all, Microsoft's Zune music player, which the Windows Phone interface is derived from, has won praise from gadget reviewers but not gained traction with consumers.
And since the launch of the Pre last year, Palm's resurgence has more or less fizzled. The company is now banking on new versions of the Pre and Pixi phones, which hit stores in late January. So the success of new Windows Phone platform is hardly assured. But one thing that seems certain is that Microsoft, with its vast resources, will make a big promotional bush behind either Windows Phone 7, as Motorola has done with Motoblur, or specific handsets using the upgraded OS.
Given the success of its $100 million campaign behind Bing--built into its new mobile software, naturally--Microsoft might use that effort as a template for launching Windows Phone 7. Or like Verizon's Droid campaign, it could take more direct aim at the iPhone, perhaps trying to turn Apple's long-running PC vs. Mac campaign on its head.
CNet blogger Chris Matyszczyk pointed out that Microsoft took an indirect shot at the iPhone in a short promo film during yesterday's Wndows Phone launch. It highlighted Windows' ability to use multiple apps simultaneously, while noting "current smartphones make you use one at a time." The iPhone has often been faulted for its lack of multitasking capability. Just a taste of what's likely to come from Microsoft's marketing machine.
But the software giant will have to spend the rest of the year building up its meager app catalog before it can boast about rivaling Apple's 150,000-strong App Store. When it comes to competing with Apple, Microsoft still has a long way to go to convince consumers it can deliver a user-friendly smartphone.