New Windows phones fail to impress

Despite Tuesday’s big launch event in both Paris and New York, Microsoft Corp.’s Windows Mobile 6.5 is far from a significant release for the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant, according to industry observers.


Matt Rosoff, an analyst at Kirkland, Wash.-based research firm Directions on Microsoft, referred to the release as a minor one, comparing it to a service pack as opposed to a significant overhaul.


“The only reason they have made a big deal about it is Windows Mobile 7 is going to be late,” he said, referring to the company’s long expected, full-scale mobile OS release next year.


“Why has it taken Microsoft two-and-a-half years to come out with this?”


Mark Tauschek, lead analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group Ltd., agreed, adding that while the OS might be a little prettier and easier to use, it’s still very much the same under the hood.


“It’s kind of what they’ve been doing for the last several years,” he said. “Putting lipstick on a pig.”


Tauschek added that while many Canadians will be buzzing about Tuesday’s news that Bell Canada and Telus Corp. will soon be offering the Apple Inc. iPhone to its customers, Microsoft’s announcement will attract significantly less fanfare and probably fall under the radar.


He said that while Microsoft might still be able to tackle a big chunk of the feature phone market, its window of opportunity to compete as a smart phone power is closing.


Both analysts’ views are being echoed by bloggers and tech media Web sites, with the vast majority of early reviews being quite negative.


Most reviews are happy with some of the cosmetic changes, such as better touch screen functionality and Web browsing ability, but are critical of the lack of any significant changes under the hood. One reviewer said the OS was strikingly similar to Windows Mobile 6.1 and even shares a strong resemblance to PocketPC 2002.


Ramon Llamas, senior research analyst with IDC Corp.’s mobile devices group, was more optimistic than most pundits, saying that the OS meets a lot of the criticisms of previous releases and highlights the company’s commitment to pushing more user intuitive devices.


At the Paris launch event, Microsoft announced that 30 newly rebranded “Windows phones” will be available in over 20 countries before the year’s end.


In the U.S., the new OS is now available on the HTC Pure device from AT&T and the HTC Imagio from Verizon Wireless, with other models from Samsung and HTC on the way in the coming weeks.


There is still no word on whether these phones will be picked up by any Canadian carriers.


For Rosoff, the best aspect of the release was the launch of two key back-end services: My Phone, a Web-based back-up and media sharing service; and Windows Mobile Marketplace, an application store.


While neither of these services are part of Windows Mobile 6.5, they are the type of services that the company should continue to push as it prepares to launch next year’s Windows Mobile 7, Rosoff said.


My Phone will not only allow users to back up their photos, apps, content and text messages to their PC, but it will allow that data to be downloaded back onto a new handset.


Another key for Microsoft to gain ground in the smart phone market will be how well the company works with handset-makers for its Windows Mobile 7 launch next year, he said.


“Microsoft should take a lesson from Zune HD,” Rosoff said, referring to the portable media player’s impressive hardware design.


But for other mobile industry watchers, the real key will be how well Microsoft gets the word out about its new mobile products.


“(Microsoft) is really going to have to market this as, ‘This is not the old Windows Mobile devices,’ otherwise this is going to come and go with a whisper,” Llamas said.


“If Microsoft, its partners, and its carriers are serious, we’ve got to see more consumer-oriented marketing that highlights how intuitive the OS is.”


Earlier this year, Microsoft was successful in gaining ground in the online search space after a US $100-million advertising push for its Bing search engine. A similarly large push might be needed to create a buzz around future Windows phones, Llamas added.


Related to that will be the need to engage the app developer community, he said. At the press time, Microsoft launched its app store with only 246 — a paltry number when compared to the tens of thousands of apps in the Apple’s store.


Llamas pointed to Apple’s iPhone marketing campaigns, which he said basically revolve around its apps, as a key area for Microsoft to learn from its biggest rival.

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