It’s almost like Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) is checking off boxes on a mobile to-do list with its Mango Windows Phone 7 release. Social integration? Check. Background processing? Check. A truly compelling breakthrough experience that makes it a must-see among developers and consumers? Um, well…
Mobile developers can now kick the tires on Mango, the most up-to-date release of Windows Phone 7 that will formally launch later this year. At launch events in New York and London, Microsoft executives demonstrated some of the new capabilities of the platform, but in doing so underscored just how far Microsoft has to climb for the reboot of its operating system to start paying off.
Mango, which will ship in the fall of 2011, adds features to Windows Phone 7 that people were criticizing Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) for not having in iOS back in 2007 and 2008. Photo-sharing applications are so popular on the iPhone that a company with no business model can get $41 million in funding, while Microsoft is just now giving its developers direct camera access from within their applications.
Unfortunately for Microsoft it’s the same story it has faced for quite some time: too little, too late. Windows Phone 7 is struggling to capture developer interest and nothing that was demonstrated Tuesday was all that far beyond what Microsoft has already demonstrated at events like Mobile World Congress in February and its own Mix conference.
The company’s main hope is that its deal with Nokia (NYSE: NOK) can put Windows Phone 7 handsets on store shelves across Europe and other partners (Acer, Fujitsu, and ZTE) can help make up the difference elsewhere in order to get volume around the world. Microsoft’s Adam Berg claimed that the Nokia deal actually got more handset makers excited about Windows Phone 7, but that’s likely not going to take place in the U.S.: phone makers like Samsung and HTC with prominent U.S. businesses are much better known for their Android handsets, and have spent much more time and money promoting those devices.
It’s just difficult to see what Microsoft will use to get people more interested in Windows Phone 7. The Live Tiles user interface is excellent, and the marketing around the launch late last year was very clever. Yet we’re six months into the new mobile Microsoft push, the one where the company has supposedly learned its lessons, and there’s little sign that developers consider the platform essential to their businesses or that consumers are buying Windows Phone 7 handsets in any kind of volume. Microsoft again turned down the opportunity Tuesday to update us on how many phones have been sold, and that’s probably not a good thing.
You can debate the nature of the “post-PC era” all you want, but one thing that Apple and Steve Jobs have been adamant about is that this new generation of computers will be sold based on experiences to which everyday people can relate, rather than features that appeal to the geek set. Microsoft understands this to a certain extent, devoting significant time during its presentation to explaining how various essential applications–such as Facebook and messaging–are integrated very deeply into the main operating system, so that users don’t have to think as much about where their social updates are coming from.
But it also had to use the event to promote a number of company-specific special interests, like Internet Explorer, Silverlight, and Xbox. Microsoft needs a breakthrough idea or technology in order to turn Windows Phone 7 into a real alternative to the entrenched iPhone and Android communities, and selling your phone’s compatibility with older technologies that really have nothing to do with mobile isn’t necessarily the best way to accomplish that goal.
So while Mango may not be a catalyst, the first Windows Phone 7 devices from Nokia are crucial to handicapping Microsoft’s long-term chances in this market. It still has little to show from its second stab at mobile computing.