I’d been impressed with Microsoft Corp.’s Windows Phone 7 at its launch, but have only recently had a chance to play with a phone running the operating system at length. The phone is an HTC Radar running on Wind Mobile, and the combination of smart phone and operating system is a good one.

The phone has a 400 by 800 pixel, 3.8-inch Gorilla Glass screen, built-in 5-megapixel camera, stereo FM radio, 8GB of memory (not expandable, unfortunately), and 512MB of RAM. In other words, it’s a smart phone. What distinguishes one from another is becoming less and less about the hardware. The dreaded word “commodity” springs to mind.

At risk of sounding an awful lot like a marketing type, the differentiator in the smart phone market is the experience, and that comes down, for the most part, to the operating system and how it’s packaged with apps and online services.
(Apropos not much, I was called out by a stranger at my local for constantly referring to the BlackBerry’s OS, even though much of the time I was referring to the user interface. Another story.)
Microsoft’s mobile ecosystem (sorry, more marketing talk) is interesting to compare with those of other mobile players. It’s built around Windows Live (or Hotmail, to those of us who’ve had accounts for ages). SkyDrive hosts files, including audio and video, online, for accessibility anywhere. Xbox Live connects to the gaming experience. The integration of Microsoft Office applications is the best on the market, and documents are accessible through SkyDrive.
What separates the Windows Phone experience from the Google experience is the fact that in its coming Windows 8 operation system, Microsoft is going to extend the user interface theme (the so-called Metro interface) to the desktop. Google doesn’t have a desktop (don’t see people running Android on anything other than a phone or a tablet). Apple doesn’t have the e-mail integration. So it’s a pretty solid play by Microsoft.
But (you knew there was a “but,” didn’t you?) there is something that stands in the way of the Windows mobile play. Our IT manager, Mat Panchalingam, put it aptly in an as-yet unaired video interview. After using the beta of Metro-style Windows 8 for a few days, he had remarkably good impressions. However, “My life is in Google,” he said.
The entrenchment of Google is probably the single biggest barrier to Microsoft’s mobile success. People like Mat, whose e-mail, applications and search are bound up in Google, aren’t likely to shift their lives over to the Windows Live ecosystem. This is more of a barrier even than the Apple cool factor (or Research in Motion Ltd.’s enterprise security angle; Microsoft can tell a pretty good story there, too).
After years of truly horrid mobile devices, Microsoft finally seems to have got it. Did this mobile play come too late? Microsoft has missed boats before. But the company has shown in the past the ability to catch the market PDQ once the sights are aligned on the right target. Google and Apple may have huge head starts, but it rarely pays to count Microsoft out.
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