Something unusual happened Monday in New York: Microsoft launched a new smartphone platform and no one hated it. And no, I'm not joking: Whereas the software giant's previous Windows Mobile efforts were met with scorn and ridicule for not rising to the iPhone challenge, its brand-new, built-from-scratch Windows Phone 7 OS has been almost universally lauded for being fast, beautiful, and innovative.
Pinch yourself this morning, Microsofties. This doesn't happen to you very often, and it might not happen again for a long time.
On Monday, Microsoft and its US-based wireless-carrier partners AT&T and T-Mobile announced the first generation of nine US-based Windows Phone 7-based smartphones, which will hit retail stores throughout November and December. Elsewhere in the world, Microsoft launched many more devices in numerous other locales. Overall, Microsoft's partners will sell Windows Phone via more than 60 mobile operators around the world this year alone.
The AT&T phones I finally got to examine on Monday were excellent, with high-quality displays, sleek form factors, blazingly fast processors, 8GB to 16GB of (apparently expandable) storage, and a variety of custom apps. (I'm personally trending toward the Samsung Fusion, if you're curious.) The Windows Phone Marketplace went live with thousands of apps per month before the phones arrive, and Microsoft says more are coming every single day. Those missing features everyone is griping about? They're getting fixed, including the copy-and-paste functionality that Microsoft says will be implemented for all Windows Phone devices by "early 2011."
But the most amazing thing of all, really, isn't the software (which is excellent), or the hardware (which is innovative with lots of choices), or the online services integration (which is a leading-edge differentiator). No, it's the reviewers. Almost everyone—and I mean, literally, almost everyone—loves Windows Phone. And that includes some people who could charitably be described as being in Apple's back pocket. (Yes, that's the nicest way to say it in some cases.)
Comedian and actor Stephen Fry, who has gushed embarrassingly over every Apple doo-dad ever released, took the stage at Microsoft's London event to proclaim his love for Windows Phone. "I have felt enormous pleasure using this phone," Fry said. "Yes, I love Apple, but I'm not a monotheist. I want biodiversity in this market, and all of us that love it should welcome that, too."
Comedians and actors from my own industry, as well as some actually credible reviewers, also fell all over themselves to praise the device.
"My initial impressions are mostly positive," USA Today reviewer and perennial Apple fan Ed Baig wrote.
Microsoft has "established themselves as a credible player," Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg said.
The kids at the gadget blogs went ga-ga over Windows Phone, as well, although it's likely most of them woke up on Tuesday and moved on to the next mid-level Android phone or some South Korean knock-off tablet. Maybe they'll discover girls at some point.
No matter. What Microsoft has done here is quite impressive—more impressive, in fact, than its other recent successes, such as Windows 7 or Internet Explorer (IE) 9, both of which are excellent but also technological successors to previously established products. Windows Phone 7 is a smartphone OS like its own predecessor, Windows Mobile, of course. But that's where the similarities end. Microsoft very rarely starts over from scratch. And it even more rarely scores so obviously as it has done with Windows Phone 7.
Haters—and they're out there, often writing for mainstream US newspapers—will tell you, incorrectly, that there's nothing in Windows Phone 7 that can't be done with other smartphone platforms. They'll bemoan the "lack" of apps while never actually visiting the app-rich online store Microsoft has created. They'll carp about missing features, while they still can, because—yes—in some cases it would be nice to copy and paste some text or multitask with third-party applications. (The rest of the OS and built-in apps already multitask.)
But I've been using Windows Phone for several months now, not in some test environment but as my daily-use phone. And unlike the iPhones that preceded it, Windows Phone actually works, both as a phone—I dropped my first call the other night in New York City, whereas I dropped calls regularly on all my iPhones, and around the world—and as a daily tech companion. This is an innovative, efficient, and useful device for both productivity and entertainment, and though I'll be reviewing it formally in the weeks ahead, I can tell you now that it's already been an amazing ride. I haven't picked up my iPhone in months.
But it's not as amazing as watching the rest of the world wake up to what I already knew months ago: Microsoft has a hit on its hands with Windows Phone 7. Not a qualified hit, but a smash-hit, out-of-the-ballpark grand slam—the kind of thing the software giant hasn't seen in years, maybe decades.
Windows Phone 7 is here. And it's the real deal.