Entelligence: Windows Phone 7 Series

Entelligence is a column by technology strategist and author Michael Gartenberg, a man whose desire for a delicious cup of coffee and a quality New York bagel is dwarfed only by his passion for tech. In these articles, he'll explore where our industry is and where it's going -- on both micro and macro levels -- with the unique wit and insight only he can provide.

It's been a rough year for Microsoft in mobile. Despite the launch of impressive products such as the HTC HD2, the company has faced some harsh criticism: "except for gaming, it's 'game over' for Microsoft in the consumer market" was just one of the choicer comments from the past year. Personally, I'd disagree, and I'd actually argue that Windows Mobile 6.5 is underrated in the mobile arena -- almost as much as Android is overrated. But no matter. Whether last year's mobile platforms are good enough or not is irrelevant; no platform from 2009 is good enough for 2010 and beyond, and every mobile platform will need to evolve this year. Last week in Barcelona, we saw the first part of Microsoft's revamped mobile strategy, and while there are many questions that will need to be answered, there's a lot to like about what we saw.

First, it's important to look at the velocity of the mobile space. The tech industry is largely governed by Moore's Law, which predicts a doubling of semi-conductor density roughly every eighteen months, but the mobile space is moving at a rate of change that's closer to every eighteen minutes. What happened yesterday simply doesn't matter nearly as much as it once might have. Just look at two of the hottest companies in mobile, Apple and Google. Just a few years ago, neither would have been part of the conversation, much less at the center of it.

Second, it's about visible differentiation. Whether you like what Microsoft's done with Windows Phone 7 Series or not, it certainly doesn't look like any other mobile platform on the market. In particular, it doesn't look like another iPhone clone with pages of app icons. While my fellow columnist Ross Rubin made an excellent point last week when he argued that Microsoft will have to justify why being different is something good for users, I think that the ability for Windows Phones to simply stand out from the market is in itself a good thing.

Finally, Microsoft is making a strong move by both leveraging the power of mobile applications while simultaneously moving beyond siloed apps into integrated services. Moreover, we're finally seeing Microsoft begin to tie a unified view of its ecosystem into their mobile products. The inclusion of both Xbox and Zune services in Windows Phone 7 Series can both drive greater use of Zune as well as give Microsoft instant credibility in mobile gaming.

There's a lot of questions that still need to be answered about Windows Phone 7 Series: the application model, hardware providers, carrier partners and of course marketing are all yet undefined. (And who in Redmond came up with such a bizarre name?) Microsoft must also commit to telling a great marketing story about what they've done here and why they've done it, a piece of the puzzle we'll hopefully hear more about next month at MIX 10. Microsoft is hardly exiting the mobile space anytime soon, nor should they. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and that's the often race Microsoft does best in.

Michael Gartenberg is a partner at Altimeter Group. His weblog can be found at Contact him at gartenberg AT gmail DOT com. Views expressed here are his own.