Microsoft has owned the tech conversation this week after its announcement of Windows Phone 7 - a complete mobile rebirth for Microsoft with technology that looks nothing like the previous version of Windows Mobile. A major aspect of that conversation: Does WP7 have a chance to make inroads in a market dominated by established players Apple, RIM and Google.
WP7 phones will roll out in 10 different models on 60 carriers in 30 countries, impressive numbers for a mobile OS that is, for all intents and purposes, brand new. The main WP7 hardware makers are Samsung, HTC and LG; the first WP7 phones in the US are due to arrive in November from AT&T and T-Mobile.
But after the dust clears and the WP7 ad campaign message sinks in (less is more!), how will the mobile landscape change?
Technology analyst firm J. Gold Associates concludes that Microsoft has taken a huge but necessary risk with WP7 and its influence will loom large. There will be big winners, and some even bigger losers, according to a report from firm founder Jack Gold.
The Windows Phone 7 winners
Users who want a consistent OS across brands: Windows Phone 7 users will have the same user interface and the same version of the OS, no matter if it's a Samsung, HTC or LG phone. In contrast, Droid phones often run different versions of Android depending on the phone you buy. While OS fragmentation is a common criticism of Android-based phones, Microsoft is avoiding this by demanding consistency from hardware partners.
Qualcomm: With WP7, Microsoft dictated the hardware that all the manufacturers must use. This could be a windfall for Qualcomm because Microsoft chose the company's Snapdragon 1GHz chip to run in WP7 phones.
"If WP7 does well, Qualcomm stands to sell tens of millions of its Snapdragon chips, and cement its substantial lead in powering the smartphone market," writes Gold.
Xbox Gamers: Any gamers developing for Xbox will have a direct and easy path to WP7 phones by using Microsoft XNA (Xbox Native Architecture) . Direct connections to Xbox Live on the phones could greatly benefit game companies and gamers, writes Gold.
Facebook Fanatics: For social networking nuts, WP7 phones have a background push/sync technology that allows for easier access to Facebook updates from the home screen. All smartphones offer connectivity to Facebook and other social media sites, but not with the up-to-date immediacy provided by the WP7 interface.
Silverlight Programmers: WP7 phones are biased toward Silverlight programmers, as it is the preferred way to get content onto the devices. To ensure consistency across all models, Microsoft for the first time is not allowing software vendors to program at the OS level or implement their own UI or app environment. If you're a Silverlight guru, this is good news.
The Windows phone 7 losers
Enterprises: That's right, Microsoft's bread-and-butter may have trouble with WP7, according to the Gold report, particularly those with specialized business applications built to the old Windows Mobile platform.
"It will be hard for apps to be ported unless they are already Silverlight compatible or built in standard .Net mobile protocols," writes Gold. "The majority of enterprise apps are not."
HTC: Though there will be five HTC models running Windows Phone 7, the phone manufacturer will be hampered by Microsoft's rigid rules on consistency. Why? Because Microsoft has terminated all OEMs' rights to provide their own user interfaces on top of WP7.
This is the death knell for Sense, HTC's successful user interface that ran on top of Windows Mobile and set the company apart from the crowd, writes Gold.
ISVs: Many software vendors probably have to adopt another programming standard to use Windows Phone 7 (Silverlight, XNA or .Net), which means supporting another programming model in addition to the ones they are already using for iPhone, Android or BlackBerry. Or they could just choose not to be compatible with WP7.
Gold predicts that most of the smaller software vendors will not port their code to WP7 until the platform has proven itself in the market.
"It's a chicken and egg scenario, since more apps means higher probability of success for WP7," Gold writes.
Flash: Microsoft has put all its eggs in the Silverlight basket, and this means that Flash-based content (and Flash player) will not likely be supported by WP7 anytime soon, writes Gold.
Though a rumoured Microsoft acquisition of Adobe could change that.
OEMs and Carriers: Now that Microsoft has put its foot down on how much customisation partners are allowed with WP7, it will be difficult for hardware makers and carriers to make one phone stand out from another.
"The central entry point to WP7 is Hubs, and Microsoft is the only one that can add new hubs or services that run in background such as synching and push email," writes Gold.
"Differentiation among hardware vendors will therefore be in things like screen sizes, memory, additional add-on tiles, HDMI, cameras and keyboards. But the user experience will essentially be the same on all devices."
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