One important question was answered by the coverage of the introduction of the new stable of Windows Phone 7 smartphones this week in New York City. And one important question simply couldn't be.
The answered question was whether the new phones are any good. The overall conclusion from the analysts was that they are. The reviews didn't suggest that the devices are perfect. They did say that they are a serious attempt to stake out a piece of territory in the mobile device market. This category is on one hand growing and on the other hypercompetitive, so a new entrant probably has a shot-but what it brings to the party, both in terms of the device itself and the ecosystem behind it, better be good.
The unanswered question is whether very good is good enough in a world crowded with Androids, iPhones and other new and emerging devices. If an old stalwart, Research in Motion's BlackBerry, is having trouble, it's a sure sign that a newcomer will be put to the test. The bottom line is that the quality of the phone is only part of the battle. What can't be answered at a glitzy introductory event is whether the company's massive marketing campaign will take hold and if the developer community will be interested.
There has been a tremendous amount of commentary on the announcement. Two of the most important points were made by GigaOm's Kevin Tofel and Devin Coldewey, whose commentary was in a compendium of reactions Clearly, according to Tofel, the company has a lot at stake:
Microsoft has to go "all in." Windows Phone 7 comes at a time when Microsoft is nearing irrelevance in the fast-growing smartphone market, a turn around from the early days of smart mobile devices. In July of 2006, for example, research firm Canalys estimated Microsoft's market share at 15 percent and growing as compared to just 6 percent held by Research In Motion's BlackBerry devices. Fast forward to the present day and RIM is fighting for its life against iOS and Android devices while you can count Microsoft's share using the fingers of just one hand.
In the final analysis, however, the phone is just a phone. There are so many interconnected pieces-for Microsoft especially, but for all players in this decentralized, cloud-based, departmentalized and fragmented world-that a piece of hardware is not even have the picture. Said Coldewey:
Like so many other Microsoft products, the true value really only comes out when you put all of their pieces together. The Live ecosystem is hugely interconnected and self-supporting, but the fact is most of us don't live there, and I doubt that Windows Phone 7 will be the capstone that causes the whole thing to fit together in consumers' minds. I expect it will be a well-loved OS but won't garner enough support to make an impact - rather like webOS, and with a similar safety net. My other fear is that in a year, Windows Phone 7 will be exactly the same as it is today, unlike iOS and Android, which undergo serious revisions regularly. Only time will tell.
Yes, only time will tell. But, for Microsoft, the first hurdle-releasing a product that is taken seriously by critics-has been surmounted.