Microsoft announced many of the details of its next mobile operating system this week. Windows Phone Series 7 will be the official name (it had previously been referred to as Windows Mobile 7). Windows Phone is a tremendous departure for Microsoft in more ways than one, and it signals a very interesting new direction for the company on the handheld side of the business.
The look and feel quite frankly is almost nothing like Windows Mobile 6.5. In fact, at first blush, the operating system looks more like the Zune than a Microsoft Mobile powered phone. The home screen, made up of panels and tiles, is kind of like a cross between the Zune and the Xbox dashboard. Speaking of which, all music/video content will use the Zune brand while games will use the Xbox Live brand. A couple of other interesting things to note: First, Microsoft has locked down the OS, meaning hardware manufacturers will not be able to make the type of modifications they have in the past (sound familiar yet?). Second, the system is at the same time minimalist but heavy on the graphics and animation. Nothing unnecessary is on the screen (for example the Start button is gone), yet all user interactions and program functions are very heavy on the graphics.
It's painfully clear that this new OS has Apple and the iPhone squarely in its sights. I'm wondering If they took the right approach to get there, however. Most of the new changes and modifications feel more like a consumer electronics device to me than a business tool. Does the CEO of your company care that he can play Xbox Live games or get Zune music on his phone? I would say no. His teenage kids do, however, and that looks like the target audience for this launch. Clearly the consumer electronics approach has worked for Apple, but not strictly from the device standpoint. As cool as the iPhone was when it launched, it didn't become a serious business device until third-party developers started writing business apps for it, and even then it hasn't surpassed the Blackberry in the enterprise space.
Microsoft is taking a very big gamble in my mind. It's almost as if it decided it can't beat out Research in Motion (RIM) in the enterprise, so maybe it should go after Apple and Google on the consumer side. Maybe it is just hoping the name "Windows" product will keep it a serious option in the Enterprise and the cool bells and whistles will help jumpstart adoption that same way it did for Apple. Either way, Microsoft has been lagging terribly in the mobile space and if nothing else, this release shows they are willing to thrown away all convention to gain back some footing. It's scheduled for launch sometime around the end of the year, so it will be interesting to see what hardware manufacturers and software developers can dream up for the device between now and then.