Microsoft takes aim at your pocket

It’s been under fire (and pressure) for not aggressively competing in the smartphone space for well over a year.

Delegates at this year’s Mobile World Congress joked about Microsoft hosting a press conference to re-announce something they had already announced at last year’s event.

But they came and queued anyway. The murmurs that we would see a worthy competitor to Apple’s iPhone OS and Google’s Android operating system were strong.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Joe Belfiore, vice president for Windows Phone delivered. Microsoft are playing to win and are going to push as hard as they can until they do.

A lot of hype surrounds Apple boss Steve Jobs’s presentations, largely because he’s so good at them. There’s a bit of Jobs in Belfiore, and if Belfiore is an indicator of the leadership talent inside Microsoft, it’s got a great future.

“Windows Phone 7 Series”, the new platform is hundreds of miles apart from the previous incarnations of Windows Mobile.

It just works.

The operating system is essentially an expanded version of the OS for Microsoft’s music player – the Zune.

Windows Phone 7 Series centres around hubs which are basically built on themes.

These include: People (pulling together live feeds from social networks, photos and other contact information), pictures (making it easy to share pictures and video to a social network in one step), games (offers the Xbox LIVE experience on a phone), music + video (a media experience as good as (if not better than) that offered by iTunes and iPhone), marketplace (the app store) and Office (the familiar experience of the PC version).

But the entire focus of Windows Phone 7 Series is the user interface: how the software looks and how it works. Outlook e-mail on the phone, for example, looks nothing like the PC version. It’s been rebuilt for a PHONE.

“A phone is just not a PC,” said Belfiore. Microsoft has seen the light.

The interface is seriously slick. It’s a phone I would want to use, and the best part is there’s no start button or start menu.

Analysts and industry experts are divided. Some are rather “ho hum” about it, while others are of the opinion that this is a serious move from Microsoft that will pay off.

Ballmer joked at the end of the launch, saying that with the success of Windows 7 (for PC), “We’re hoping seven is our lucky number.”

The only downside? Windows Phone 7 Series devices will only be available in time for the end-of-year holiday season.

* Hilton Tarrant contributes to “Broadband”, a column on Moneyweb covering the ICT sector in South Africa. He would actually want to buy a new Windows Phone. It is that good.


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Microsoft takes aim at your pocket