For IT pros and developers looking to get the goods on what's going on with Microsoft's new Windows Phone 7 platform, Monday's opening keynote address for Exchange Connections (and Windows Connections, and DevConnections, etc.) was the place to be. Microsoft's Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president for Windows Phone Program Management, delivered his message to a full house of eager listeners, and Belfiore didn't disappoint. With little preamble, he hooked his Windows Phone 7 device to a PC so he could broadcast his smartphone screen to the halls's big display screens, and then he proceeded to demo just about every feature of the phone that you could probably think of.
In fact, Belfiore's talk went over time, and I heard more than one person afterward say it was too long—but I didn't notice anyone getting up to leave. Although there were no new announcements about the phone, if you haven't had a chance to see it demoed, this was a great exploration both of how the UI is set up as well as some of the integration of the platform's various features. He talked about the minimum hardware requirements that all handset makers will be held to, as well as what UI elements the OEMs and carriers are able to customize in their particular devices—and what they can't. I won't bore you with all those details, which I'm sure you can find elsewhere. What is to me most interesting in all of this is how what I saw demoed live onstage so vastly outshines what I'm seeing advertised and pushed by Microsoft.
Microsoft has made it clear that it's marketing to the consumer audience, and I don't have a problem with that. Hey, it worked for iPhone and Android; that's where the smartphone market is these days. (Which doesn't mean the company couldn't also talk up the enterprise security and control features, but that's probably another discussion.) But even with that consumer focus, I don't think they're getting the right message out there, or showing off the right features. (enterprise features)
For example, one of the first things Belfiore showed was how you could take a Windows Phone 7 phone that was locked, and press the camera button to immediately wake it up to take a picture. Even if the phone requires a password to unlock, you can still get to the camera with this method, although not to other phone features or functions. If Microsoft put this feature in a TV commercial, every parent who ever missed a shot of a child because they couldn't get their camera app up quick enough would be in line to buy this thing.
Belfiore also showed off the capabilities of Bing through mobile browser experience. I haven't been the least bit impressed with Bing on the desktop, but seeing what it does on the phone, I could become a convert. Combining voice search and location detection, along with a bit of logic to give the results most likely to be what you want, you can speak the name of a current movie and instantly get a listing of theaters with show times and links to buy tickets. Or if you're looking for a restaurant, you can get results in your vicinity, with hours, menus, contact info, and so forth—exactly the snapshot you're probably looking for when you do a search from your mobile device. Microsoft has been advertising this as a "decision engine" without doing the job of explaining what that means.
The real problem, which could be a crucial problem for Windows Phone 7, is simply not being clear about what the benefits really are. Instead, we get commercials of people bumping into each other and dropping phones in toilets. I mean, it's an enjoyable commercial, but it's a confusing message, particularly because it isn't clear that those phones in the commercial causing all the problems aren't Windows Phone 7 devices. A phone to save us from our phones? Yeah, but most people really like their phones and don't want or need to be saved from them. (This spoken from a recently self-avowed smartphone addict, remember—#smartphoneaddict.)Well, I hope people take the time to see these devices for themselves when they begin selling in the US next week. I believe that no one device is going to be the best solution for everyone; we're just not going to see a dominant mobile OS in the foreseeable future. Which means Windows Phone 7 certainly has a chance to find an audience; it might stand a better chance if Microsoft could figure out what it was trying to sell about the thing.
And if you haven't seen the commercial in question, here it is: