Microsoft used its annual Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) this week to reveal more details about the impending Windows Phone 7 smartphone platform. While Microsoft's smartphone market share has been plummeting, Windows Phone 7 could emerge as the best smartphone platform for businesses, and help Microsoft regain ground it has lost to RIM, Apple, and Google.
To its credit, Microsoft recognized that its smartphone platform was headed down the wrong path, and it reversed course to deliver a more cutting edge platform capable of competing with devices like the iPhone 4 and the Droid X. Windows Phone 7 has been developed from scratch, facing setbacks and delays in the process, rather than continuing to build incrementally on the foundation laid by Windows Mobile.
Windows Phone 7 has a slick interface, including hubs for things like productivity and social networking that provide simple, intuitive access to the features users need access to. It will use the Zune Marketplace in much the same way the iPhone relies on iTunes, but Windows Phone 7 will be capable of syncing wirelessly rather than requiring a physical connection.
More importantly, though, Microsoft is in a unique position among smartphone platforms to deliver seamless integration with the tools and applications business professionals rely on. Many businesses use Microsoft Exchange as the chief email platform. Many businesses are embracing Microsoft Office Communication Server and the Microsoft unified communications solutions. Most businesses rely on Microsoft Office productivity software, and use Microsoft Windows as the primary desktop environment.
A smartphone must be able to integrate and interact with the applications that users are already accustomed to and rely on each day in order to be an effective business tool. Other platforms like the iPhone, or Android smartphones offer various solutions and workarounds to deliver an experience as close as possible, but it's hard to compete with seamless, native integration.
A post on the Windows Phone blog states "More than 90 percent of our target customers for Windows Phone use their smartphone for business purposes and 61 percent use their phones equally or more for business than personal use. This is why we designed Windows Phone 7 to combine a smart new user interface with familiar tools such as PowerPoint, OneNote, Word, Excel and SharePoint into a single integrated experience via the Office hub."
There are some areas where Microsoft appears to have borrowed a page from the Apple playbook, although all indications are that Microsoft intends for the antenna on Windows Phone 7 devices to remain functional even if you hold the device in your hand. However, Microsoft is exerting much more control over the hardware specifications, and software customisation with the Windows Phone 7 platform, and it will not have multitasking or copy and paste functionality a' la the original iPhone.
Microsoft could still screw it up. The iPhone 4 should be a grand slam success for Apple, but due to either poor engineering, poor quality control, or both, it is faced with a public relations disaster. If Microsoft gets it right, Windows Phone 7 should be the de facto leader for smartphones in the enterprise. Ultimately, Windows Phone 7 could also provide the same benefits and seamless integration for tablet platforms as well.
If Microsoft botches it, Windows Phone 7 could see a hasty exit like the Kin, and Microsoft may need to look for other ways to capitalise on the mobile revolution.