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Windows re-opened It might have a new name and a new user interface, but the industry is still to be convinced by Windows Phone. Tim Green examines how the consumer has become the target for Microsoft... ver the last couple of years, there has been much talk about who owns the customer. From Nokia’s stand-off with operators over its various services to Apple’s rejection (initially) of a subsidy model, the big question has been whether users’ loyalty is to the operator or the handset vendor. No one ever mentioned the OS maker. With the latest version of Windows Mobile – Windows Mobile 6.5 or Windows Phone as it’s now called – Microsoft is attempting, for the first time as far as I can see, to make consumers choose their phone on the basis of the operating system. Tough call. I don’t remember Symbian ever straying into the consumer hornet’s nest, although to be fair Android is dipping its toe there. But merely by virtue of hosting a major press conference (at which ‘style’ journalists in skinny jeans tried to distance themselves from stinky


old tech hacks) and throwing millions at primetime TV ads, Microsoft is declaring emphatically that the consumer is its target. Of course, Microsoft does have some in-built advantages when compared to other operating systems. The firm has desktop applications that users – business users in particular – will want to sync across PC and mobile. However, Symbian can’t say the same. And it’s a pretty strong impulse, one that explains why a million users bought an Orange SPV phone even though it was frankly terrible. To be fair to Microsoft, it was humble about its track record on mobile, admitting that only ten per cent of consumers actually know that it is in the mobile business at all, and that it has failed to adapt to the speed of smartphone adoption, the emergence of touchscreens and the rise of the app store. The HTC touch supports Microsoft with its latest version of Windows Mobile

Windows Phone uses a fresh version of Internet Explorer that handles Flash content and shows solid pan and zoom function To this backdrop, the new OS look arrives with some pleasing functions. There is a smart ‘lock’ screen that displays vital information and offers quicker access to phone functions. The touch interface is neat too, with simple upwards and sideways scrolling UI. Meanwhile, there are some excellent added-value extras such as a security feature that means you can call a lost or stolen phone from the web and it will ring even if it’s on silent. There is also a free back-up service that sends data to the cloud without a single click. Browsing should be easier too. Windows Phone uses a fresh version of Internet Explorer that can handle basic Flash content and showcases a solid pan and zoom function. It’s good, but you have to wonder why Microsoft – the big daddy of the browser – took so long to modify for mobile. Finally, all phones from Windows will pre-load

Microsoft’s mobile app store, Marketplace for Mobile, which launches in the UK with around 60 applications, and worldwide with around 250 applications. All good. But some of these extras may bring Microsoft into conflict with partners. What will operators like O2 think of Microsoft’s free MyPhone back-up service when they’re trying to monetise their own? Why should HTC choose Microsoft’s own UI over its own expensively developed interface? Without doubt Microsoft has the clout, the pockets and the will to reclaim some ground in mobile. Thus, it already has support from HTC, LG, Samsung, Toshiba, Sony Ericsson, Orange and Vodafone. However, all of these partners are spreading their bets, with handsets based on Android and Linux too. It could be that Windows Mobile 6.5 is a stop-gap until next year when a far more disruptive Windows Mobile 7 lands. The executives I spoke to alluded to step-changes ahead. But then they would, wouldn’t they? November 2009 9

Mobile Entertainment Issue 57, November 2009  

For everyone in mobile content