Microsoft is hoping to reassert itself in the mobile market, with chief executive Steve Ballmer unveiling what he dubs “a different kind of phone” at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
Ballmer says the new Windows Phone 7 Series, set to be available locally by the end of the year, would “redefine what a phone can do for people".
The new offering will integrate the Web, applications and content in an intuitive way, and could potentially bring services such as music player Zune and games platform Xbox to the phone for the first time.
“In a crowded market filled with phones that look the same and do the same things, I challenged the team to deliver a different kind of mobile experience,” says Ballmer. “We believe Windows Phone 7 Series is a phone that truly reflects the speed of people’s lives and their need to connect to other people.”
Microsoft is hoping the new offering will help the company strengthen its position in the highly-competitive mobile industry. According to the IDC’s Mobile Enterprise Software Survey of August 2009, the company’s previous platform, Windows Mobile, remained is the second most widely deployed mobile operating system among businesses in Western Europe and the US behind RIM.
The move underlines Microsoft’s view of the rising strategic importance of mobile devices. It estimates that more than 1-billion mobile devices will access the Internet in 2010.
Local analyst Steven Ambrose, of World Wide Works Strategy, says developer and application momentum continues to shift dramatically to mobile devices, and mobile PCs, and other mobile devices, will continue to expand and gain momentum.
“This is a bold move by Microsoft,” says Ambrose from Ballmer’s press briefing in Barcelona. “Google Android, which is now on a dozen devices, is emerging as a potent competitor to the iPhone, BlackBerry, Symbian, and Microsoft platforms. Microsoft has realised that it needs to significantly raise the bar if it is to stay competitive.”
Fred Baumhardt, chief technology officer at Microsoft SA, says the market for powerful smart phones had shifted dramatically over the last three years, reflecting changes in the customer, the technology and the competitive landscape.
“We expect particularly strong smart phone adoption in Africa,” says Baumhardt. “The Windows Phone 7 platform will be particularly relevant as the most powerful and increasingly low-cost platform to access the Internet and its various services, like online banking, government services and entertainment. We believe this will empower many South Africans, and help them fulfil their digital ambitions.”
Customer expectations have changed and grown to embrace advanced mobile devices as more than just productivity tools. They expect these devices to connect them to their friends, the services they use every day and a world of entertainment, Baumhardt adds.
“But, while phones continue to grow in capability, using these capabilities is often complex and results in customers not taking full advantage of the improvements. Customers want better, more capable phones all while reducing complexity, not introducing more.”
This focus on simplicity will means that instead of fragmenting the phone experience into many different applications, Windows Phone 7 Series will use a holistic design system to bring together related content from applications and the web so everyday tasks are easier, with fewer steps.
Visually, the new offering is strong, putting the content first and using motion and typography to deliver a striking experience for customers. Across the web, applications and services, related content is pulled into a single view called a “hub.”
Windows Phone 7 Series phones include six hubs built on specific themes:
* People: brings together relevant content based on the person, including their live feeds from social networks, and photos. It also provides a central place from which to post updates to Facebook and Windows Live in one step.
* Pictures: makes it easy to share pictures and video it to social network in one step. Windows Phone 7 Series also brings together a user’s photos by integrating with the web and PC, making the phone the ideal place to view a person’s entire picture and video collection.
* Games: has the capacity and capability to deliver the Xbox LIVE experience on a phone, including Xbox LIVE-enabled games, universal leader boards, and the ability to see a gamer’s Avatar, Achievements, Friends List and Gamer Profile.
* Music + Video: can create an integrated media experience that combines Zune, content from your PC, online music services, and even a built-in FM radio into one place.
* Marketplace: will allow the user to easily discover and load up the phone with certified applications and games.
* Productivity: provides instant access to Office Mobile, SharePoint, and OneNote on the same phone that has Outlook.