The last week has brought nothing but good news for Microsoft and Windows Phone 7. Between Nokia's hardware commitment, Angry Birds on the way and Microsoft's own announcement of a roadmap for vital features such as multitasking, Windows Phone 7 seems to be catching a second wind in 2011.
I don't think the smartphone race is over. Microsoft still has time to transform Windows Phone 7 from an also-ran into a genuine threat to Android and the iPhone. But the last week of announcements won't be enough to save Windows Phone 7 from a life of mobile obscurity. Here's what Microsoft needs to get ahead:
Microsoft will soon update Windows Phone 7 to support CDMA networks such as Sprint and Verizon Wireless, but Verizon has been cool to the platform and to Nokia, which currently doesn't build CDMA devices. Even though Verizon plans to carry Windows Phone 7 handsets this spring, the company's chief technical officer, Tony Melone, told CNet that he doubts whether Microsoft's platform can be a strong competitor to the iPhone and Android. If Microsoft wants to gain traction in the United States, it will somehow have to build the confidence of the nation's largest wireless carrier.
More missing features
Microsoft plans to fill in quite a few missing features this year, including copy-and-paste, multitasking, HTML5 support and SkyDrive online storage. But without native turn-by-turn voice navigation and either tethering or Wi-Fi hotspot support, Microsoft will have a tough time attracting Android users who have long enjoyed these features. Hopefully Microsoft's update plans for Windows Phone 7 in 2011 aren't complete yet.
After some developers released an unlock code that let Windows Phone 7 users install unauthorized software, Microsoft reached out and convinced the developers to remove the tool, with the understanding that the company would work to support homebrew apps. If you appease the geeks, eventually they'll recommend a product to their friends and families, so let's see homebrew support happen sooner than later.
Another strategic partnership
Let's face it, Microsoft is running a marathon with Windows Phone 7, not a sprint, and that's why Nokia's long-term commitment makes so much sense. Although LG and Samsung say they're still committed to Windows Phone 7, they're also hedging their bets with considerable investments in Android. Microsoft could really use one more vendor to treat Windows Phone 7 like it's the best mobile platform around, and bet the farm on it.
Microsoft announced this week that the Windows Marketplace for Mobile now has more than 8,000 apps. Although Microsoft may never catch Android and iOS on quantity, it can focus on quality by courting developers of popular apps on other platforms. We know Microsoft is willing to pay developers to work on Windows Phone 7, so let's see those efforts go toward hit apps like Instagram (which now has 2 million users on iOS). Also, Windows Phone 7 desperately needs in-app purchase support, especially now that it's available to Android developers.