Overall, the first approach of Windows Phone 7 into the marketplace looks strong. Microsoft has built a surprisingly solid new OS (which we previewed in-depth back in July), has a strong set of carrier relationships in place, and is introducing hardware that if not revolutionary, is certainly competitive. So, where are the holes in the plan right now?
First up, while carrier partnerships are solid, they won't be complete (at least in the US) until early next year, when CDMA providers Verizon and Sprint come onboard. Until then, a huge portion of the market will be left out in the cold, opening lots of potential for Droids and BlackBerrys to get into the hands of buyers and upgraders. Add to that scenario the suddenly impending threat of a Verizon iPhone, and you've got a significant blockade for WP7. Still, Microsoft is going to push hard on the marketing front, and since the company's ads seem to have something of real value to say, it should be enough to convince more than a few people to take a glance at these phones.
On the platform side, Windows Phone 7 has yet to really prove itself to a large audience. Some of the software we saw today was very promising, but we also noticed issues with considerable load times (some apps took over a minute to start up, The Harvest took around three). There was also a pretty clear lack of integration where you would expect it. Twitter, for instance, has no integration into the company's much-touted People Hub, though Facebook gets top billing and sympatico behavior throughout the OS. Furthermore, Microsoft introduced a troubling distribution concept in the form of the AT&T / Ilomilo deal. The game will only be available on a single carrier through the holidays, making purchases on other providers less attractive, and paving the way for fragmentation in software availability for the platform based not on device compatibility, but on carrier whim. It's a dangerous play that we hope Microsoft avoids making after these initial offerings. Differentiation which hurts your overall user base isn't attractive.
On the plus side, the company announced a near-future update which will add copy and paste functionality to the platform (for text at least). Microsoft still has to answer questions about multitasking, and partners like Pandora were conspicuously absent from today's proceedings -- likely due to Windows Phone 7's inability to allow backgrounding. When we pressed Joe Belfiore on when or if the functionality was coming, he didn't have much to say, but we have to believe it's in the cards.
And then, finally, there are the devices themselves. While much of what we saw today was solid hardware, it also all felt very samey -- status quo, if you will. If you go by specs alone, the Windows Phone 7 family is slightly behind the edge that Android and Apple's offerings are riding, and as far as differentiation is concerned, only a few handsets really stand out; most notably the Dell Venue Pro, and HTC's HD7 and Surround. We're not saying that what we handled was necessarily bad, but we think there's still a lot of room for innovation in this space.
All in all, however, Microsoft is most assuredly back in the smartphone game. Windows Phone 7 is a smart, easy to use, and legitimately original OS, and the folks in Redmond seem to have the partnerships and marketing in place to make an impact in a crowded field. It will be interesting to see the company reemerge in this race, and you can be sure we'll be there every step of the way.
In case you missed anything from the launch, we've rounded up every bit of info we published on Windows Phone 7 today, so check out all the news below!
Microsoft announces ten Windows Phone 7 handsets for 30 countries: October 21 in Europe and Asia, 8 November in US
Live from Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 launch event
Windows Phone 7 handsets: spec comparison
HTC Surround / 7 Surround announcement, hands-on
HTC HD7 announcement, hands-on
HTC 7 Mozart announcement, hands-on
HTC 7 Trophy announcement, hands-on
HTC 7 Pro announcement, hands-on
Dell Venue Pro announcement, hands-on
LG Quantum / Optimus 7Q announcement, hands-on
LG Optimus 7 announcement, hands-on
Samsung Focus announcement, hands-on
Samsung Omnia 7 announcement, hands-on
Windows Phone 7 launch day app roundup
AT&T U-verse Mobile preview
AT&T brings U-verse to Windows Phone 7, Xbox 360
Xbox Live for Windows Phone 7: your Xbox isn't in your phone yet, but we're getting there
Zune 4.7 in cahoots with Windows Phone 7, caught on camera
Meet the new AT&T Windows Phone 7 family
Copy and paste coming to Windows Phone 7 in 'early 2011'
First (legitimate) Windows Phone 7 ads unveiled
Additional reporting by Chris Ziegler