“Its nice of you to ask, but it doesn’t really matter what I think“
Last Sunday the smartphone market witnessed the birth of the Lumia 900, the latest in a line of Nokia manufactured, Windows powered smartphones marking the re-entry of two tech giants that haven’t been significant players in the mobile computing sector in nearly a decade. With Windows Phone 7.5, Microsoft looks to advance its best foot yet with a sleek new handset and a completely overhauled operating system that looks to be a good match for Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS, the current alpha dogs of the market.
However, it takes more than new hardware and a business partner with a 150 nation customer base to make a mobile OS successful. It needs a big pool of apps and a solid community of people to develop them, and it is here where Windows Phone struggles. Microsoft’s long absence from prominence in this sector has relegated most of its products to the back corner of app developers minds and with only 70,000 or so apps to its name its finding a tough time wooing the consumer away from Android and iOS. But, Microsoft has embarked on an ambitious campaign to attract developers to Windows Phone, it’s paying out for apps, and paying well for big titles like Foursquare and Linkedin. If this strategy pans out, we could not only see Microsoft and Nokia return to the light, but a dramatic shift away from protecting product patents, and instead protecting the best and brightest that Objective C has to offer.
World, Meet Windows Phone
The first thing that jumps out when a Windows Phone device is powered on is the few seconds it takes to boot to the “Start Screen” and the brand new user interface called “Metro” by Microsoft. When it comes to the interface itself, user data is organized into either a “Live Tile” or a “Hub” both of which present on the Start Screen. A Tile acts as a link to assortments or individual pieces of data such as a missed call, unread text message, or user-installed applications. Tiles can be added, removed, or rearranged at will, and update in real-time provided the phone has an active Internet connection via Wifi or 3G/4G. Tiles are useful for allowing quick access to frequently viewed content or information that the user would prefer to be able to access immediately upon startup. Hubs are collections of both user-entered and web based data that are automatically compiles and arranged by the operating system and Windows Phone features four main hubs for user data: the Pictures Hub, Games Hub, People Hub and the Music+Movies Hub.
The Pictures Hub serves as the primary library for the users photos, housing both photos taken with the phone’s camera and ones that are imported from social networks like Twitter or Facebook. Users can upload, tag, and comment on photos within the hub and as such do not need to actually open another application.
The Games Hub manages the integration of Xbox Live content with Windows Phone. It gives the user access to many function of their console Live account as it displays the users gamescore, avatar, leaderboards, and allows for messaging between friends. Additionally, a live member can be signed in on their Xbox console and their Windows Phone device at the same time without interrupting service on either. Currently, there are only turn-based multiplayer games available for purchase but Microsoft does have plans for real-time multiplayer games in the future.
The People Hub collects data from manually entered contact, registered email account, Facebook friends, Linkedin connections, and Windows Live contacts. . Each contact has their own entry featuring their picture, news feeds from their Facebook, and a section that imports and updates photos that are added by that contact. If a contact’s card is moved from the Hub onto the Start Screen (which creates a Live Tile for that contact) the user sees a brief readout of that contacts current Favebook status, registered social networks, and if a contact has multiple accounts these can be merged onto a single card or tile for eay viewing
The Music+Movies Hub contains and manages media content between and Windows Phone device and Windows based computer. Users can access their music and videos, play imported content, and from the hub access the Windows Phone Marketplace to buy or even rent music. Windows Phone is configured to handle all of the commonly used media file formats for music, pictures and movies and this hub also integrates web based music and video apps like Youtube or iHeartRadio for quick access.
Speaking of apps, the Windows Phone Marketplace features four game changing applications in its Microsoft Office Mobile suite, a critical and missing component from other major mobile platforms. The suite includes WordMobile, ExcelMobile, PowerPointMobile, and OneNoteMobile allowing users to import their Office documents from their Windows computers directly into their phone. Of the four, only PowerPointMobile does not feature editing capabilities, but the other three allow for a smooth import-edit-export between the computer and mobile operating systems. Users can also work on more than one project at a time as the interface features a switching mechanism that allows for quick changes between document types.
What’s Nokia Got To Do With It?
For a newcomer mobile OS to stand a chance, one of the critical components of its success is a consistent set of worthy hardware, otherwise the platform struggles to take root especially when competing with Google’s consortium of handset makers in the Open Handset Alliance. This is role that Nokia plays for Microsoft, and it is arguably the best choice out there to take Windows Phone to market. Google’s OHA soaked up most of the major manufacturers like HTC and Samsung, Ericsson is veteran but wholly owned by Sony who has no direction in that space not to mention that most of its products run Android anyway. On the other hand, Nokia is its own beast with more than 130,000 employees operating in 120 countries and sales in over 150 countries around the globe. It manufactures phone for every network standard (GSM, CDMA, and UMTS) and still holds a near 20 percent market share in the mobile device sector worldwide.
But there’s two sides to every story and this partnership is no different. Microsoft needed a hardware maker for Windows Phone, and Nokia needed a software maker with a development community. Prior to its partnership with Microsoft, Nokia struggled to market its proprietary Symbian OS and Ovi mobile services platforms but with Mircosoft’s approach in February 2011, Nokia found a way to re-enter the market on surer footing. Overall, the Microsoft-Nokia partnership is a strong pairing of two tech giants, each on one side of the process. The best part of it is that it saves both companies from continuing to produce lines of solid, but obscure products like RIM and Sony have. Windows Phone now has a home in a brand new set of powerful smartphones which can easily introduce or re-introduce the a Windows based mobile platform to consumers. Nokia gets to make hardware for a platform of some notoreity and Microsoft gains a steady stream of hardware allowing for a greater focus on marketing and further development for Windows.