The initial buzz on Windows Phone 7, name aside, is positive, and I think the platform raises the bar in a market dominated by Apple and Apple clones largely running Google's platform. The Windows user experience is different than either the iPhone or the Android platform and provides a needed choice. Apple broke into this market largely by approaching the user experience differently, and this seemed to get too many people chasing Apple. Let's explore why that wasn't a good thing.
The Problem with Cloning
The problem with cloning in an emerging market-and smartphones are still an emerging market-is that the developers lock down on a concept that might not be the right one. With smartphones, it was the use of icons to navigate through applications. It shouldn't be a surprise that while icons did represent the state of the art on PCs, they made a phone screen look rather busy. In addition, if you were trying to use the phone while doing something else, the combination tended to create a distraction. It is no wonder that concerns (scary stats ) about phone use while driving have the U.S. government considering a total ban on use behind the wheel.
The iPhone clearly revolutionized smartphones, but it was a step on a path, and unfortunately, many (read Google) seemed to think that was the destination. The rush to clone the iPhone was on.
Windows Phone 7: A Different Drummer
Windows Phone 7 moves the bar, so much so that Microsoft has built the change into its ad campaign, which appears to make fun of the notion that we don't use smartphones appropriately. Rethinking something generally takes place during the emerging phase of a technology because the market still hasn't found its ideal approach. I'm not suggesting Windows Phone 7 is the goal either, only apparently closer to it.
Microsoft is generally not thought of, at least this century, as a company who steps out and innovates, but this is a different approach to the device. It focuses more on the phone's primary functions and builds in voice as a more pronounced user interface tool. The goal appears to be to reduce the amount of time spent fiddling with the phone and to simplify access to the core functions you're most likely to use.
It isn't evolutionary, because it doesn't really build on what Apple has done, but goes back and rethinks things. This makes it more revolutionary, something Microsoft isn't really known for either. With Apple rumored to be talking about moving to subscription music, Microsoft clearly isn't alone in thinking that change may be critical to the growth of the smartphone platform.
Windows Phone 7: Coming To Business
Out of the box, this platform should be better at connecting to Microsoft's back-end offerings like Exchange than any other phone. Mobile Me was one of Apple's well-meaning, but poorly executed, approaches to this problem.
But phones tend to come into the office whether we want them to or not, and this launch is a good excuse to bring one inside and kick the tires to see whether you want to approve this platform. It could very well show up anyway, since with phones, most of us realize that employees likely still get the final say-so. As we discovered with the iPhone, saying no only seems to make them want it more.
Of the initial handsets, the LG Quantum and the Dell Venue seem to stand out as being more business focused, and you may want to point folks toward those for testing or purchase. Phones that seem to focus on gaming (Samsung Focus) or TV (HTC HD7) are probably not the direction you want employees to go, particularly if you are picking up the data charges.
Wrapping Up: Change is Good
In this phase of technology growth, vendors should be challenging the status quo more and rethinking their approach to the market. Ford is another vendor doing that, and if you get a chance, check out its new Sync offering in the Ford Explorer. It's pretty much hands-free everything and touchscreen or soft-touch controls for those few things left over. It, too, is rethinking how things are done, and it is interesting that Microsoft is a partner in this effort as well. Maybe Microsoft isn't the stick-in-the-mud we've learned to whine about and this is the beginning of some big changes. In this economy, it is critical that someone move the ball forward. Who would have guessed it would be Microsoft?