Windows Phone 7: Is quality enough?

If the launch of Windows Phone 7 proved anything, it was that the coming Windows Phone/Android war is bound to be heated, and that there won’t by any means be a clear victor. Very much unlike the quickly abandoned Kin platform, Microsoft has hit the ground running this time around. When your whole mobile wireless product division lives and dies on one product release, you better believe that Microsoft is going to pour everything they’ve got into this OS. With a slick, simple and customizable UI, backed up by powerful, sleek and varied hardware, Microsoft has shown that they may actually have what it takes to take on the two mobile OS giants in a full frontal assault. The question is no longer if WP7 is going to do well, but only how well it is going to do.

It will be a lot like Windows, in fact. There are key similarities between the strategies that led Windows to success in the PC market and the tactics that Microsoft is employing now to get WP7 in to the hands of as many users as possible. The most obvious example of this is how Microsoft is bullying, I mean encouraging, companies to abide by specific hardware quality and specification requirements to be able to run their OS. This has been one of the cornerstones of Windows sales strategies since its beginnings, namely in the "Recommended for Windows" and "Certified for Windows" sticker requirements, and the partnerships Microsoft forms with hardware manufacturers and resellers have practically guaranteed retail visibility and sales dominance in the consumer sector. Microsoft plans to unleash a similar strategy on the mobile market. Somewhere in between Apple’s reliance on one hardware platform with one carrier, and Google’s open source free-for-all and fragmentation problems, lies WP7, trying to make nice with both sides of the fence. This has worked for them in the past, and will continue to work for them in the future.

Another key selling point of Windows PCs is the user-friendly atmosphere the OS provides. It was the first popular OS to really focus in the user’s ability to accomplish common tasks and provide a logical UI to help achieve that sense of ease (modern historians may squabble over the “first OS” claim, but the point still remains). However, Windows detractors will tell you over and over again that the user-friendliness that Microsoft pioneered was only accomplished at a severe cost to power and reliability. It may easy to pick up and use, but one of the biggest issues with Windows has always been its crash-prone nature and resource appetite. Nevertheless, the market seemed not to care that Windows failed sometimes and hogged resources. The market liked the fact that users could turn it on and learn the ins and outs of modern computing with relative ease, and that the OS came with the hardware, free of charge to the consumer. Time will tell if WP7 is an unreliable resource hog, but there’s no doubt that this thing is running on premium hardware only. At a minimum of a 1Ghz processor and 576MB of RAM, WP7 is one hungry OS. It would be pure speculation to say that WP7 needs the hardware because it's designed badly, but I wouldn't put it outside the realm of possibility. 

While selling like Windows can only only be a good thing for Microsoft, there’s one glaring problem with this scenario. This time around, Windows Phone 7 faces a market saturated with two operating systems that have already won the hearts and hands of millions. If we could pretend that iOS, Android, and WP7 all came out at the same time, WP7 would be my easy pick for front-runner. Personally, I’m a fan of the Android OS and of open source products in general. However, if they tried to compete with WP7 after a simultaneous release, they wouldn’t stand a chance in the consumer market. Microsoft's retail marketing machine would indeed be an extremely difficult opponent to overcome. However, reality is reality, and Google Android has had a huge head start on the market that Apple wasn’t able or willing to gobble up. Android will take a solid hit with the release of a decent competitor, but it will take some serious marketing and industry tactics, both strong areas for Microsoft, to actually surpass Android’s continual choke hold on the mobile OS industry. When competing with another quality product, you can’t always beat quality with quality. It’s time for Microsoft to whip out some of that famed industry magic, make like Windows, and sell, sell, sell.

Oh, and having an absolutely epic launch commercial certainly helps things along as well.

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