Microsoft Is Back In The Mobile Business

Steve Ballmer

Microsoft’s new Windows Phone 7 Series, unveiled today, is not an iPhone killer. But it’s Microsoft’s best mobile offering yet, and puts Redmond back into the mobile race after years of mediocrity.

In short, it looks like Microsoft finally figured out that mobile phones are vastly different than PCs, and it stopped trying to make Windows Mobile just a tiny version of Windows 95. Gone is the silly “Start” menu on every screen, blue sky desktop background, and beveled user interface. Thank goodness.

In its place: A very simple, very clean user interface, designed purely for mobile devices. And a well-thought focus on people, social networking, photos, music, video, and games.

Important:

  • We’re happy that Microsoft didn’t just try to clone the iPhone experience. That likely would have been dreadful, and Microsoft has no job trying to be Apple. Instead, it’s showing off that it still has one of the broadest ecosystems in the technology industry, with built-in, mobile-tailored support for Outlook, Office, syncing to Windows PCs, and its multimedia services like Zune and Xbox. (And strong support for third-party social networking like Facebook and multimedia like Pandora.)
  • We’re especially excited for what Microsoft might be able to do to integrate its popular Xbox live gaming service with the devices. Games have been especially popular on Apple’s rival iPhone platform, and if Microsoft is going to have a shot at finally cracking the consumer market — and rivaling upstarts like Google Android — it’s going to have to offer an awesome gaming experience.
  • Microsoft also suggested that it will have broad support from device makers and carriers, which is crucial for this to work and for Microsoft to sell a lot of units. Big-time manufacturers like LG and Samsung are among Microsoft’s partners, and about a dozen carrier companies worldwide, including the four major U.S. carriers: AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and T-Mobile. AT&T — currently Apple’s exclusive partner — will be Microsoft’s premier partner in the U.S.
  • Biggest potential roadblock: Windows Phone 7 Series won’t ship until much later this year, around the holidays. There’s still a lot of time between then and now, which will allow Apple, Android, and other rivals to continue to improve.
  • Still lots of unknowns. What is the App Store experience like? Which developers are going to make apps for these devices? How fast is the OS on a reasonably priced device? How good is the Web browser? When will developers get access to a SDK?

There’s still a lot between today’s unveiling and eventual commercial success for Microsoft. Devices will have to be attractive and priced right, and Microsoft and its partners will have to figure out a marketing message to get consumers interested. It’s still possible, of course, that this will be a commercial flop.

But Microsoft at least showed today that it’s not dead. It’s capable of producing something on its own that’s good enough to compete in the mobile industry. There were no moments during Microsoft’s presentation today when we cringed in embarrassment, which is progress for Redmond’s mobile division.

And now, Steve Ballmer might not have to buy RIM after all.

Click here for photos of Windows Phone 7 Series from the event >

Steve Ballmer kicks off the event in Barcelona

Press photo of the Games hub

Press photo of the music and video hub

Press photo of the Office hub

Press photo of the Pictures hub

Press photo of the People hub

Microsoft's Joe Belfiore did most of the demo

Here's the Windows 7 Phone user interface. Those tiles can all update live.

Here's a shot at the calendar hub, which integrates your personal calendar and your Exchange business calendar

Here's a shot from Bing Maps. Multi-touch means you can zoom in and out by pinching, like on an iPhone.

You can zoom all the way in on text in the Web browser, which is based on Internet Explorer

Photo gallery hub will plug into Facebook and other social networks to show you new photos of your friends

Games are obviously a big deal for Microsoft, including Xbox Live support

Andy Lees has pulled together some big partnerships, including all 4 major U.S. wireless carriers as launch partners

Happy woman from a Windows Phone 7 Series video

What's Apple's next move?

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