Reaching the Third Screen

Microsoft revamps mobile strategy with Windows Phone 7.

Last year, Microsoft officials started talking about "three screens and a cloud." The screens were a PC, a TV and a smartphone, and use of the slogan signaled that Microsoft hadn't given up on challenging Apple Inc., Research in Motion Ltd. and Google Inc. for mobile market mindshare.

At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer unveiled what Microsoft has been working on to regain momentum in smartphones and outlined an ambitious new approach.

The UI is now based on the company's Metro UI, familiar to Zune and Windows Media Center users. Microsoft expects Windows Phone 7 devices in time for the holiday season from several manufacturers. The new OS will be tied to chip sets from Qualcomm Inc., which is defining interfaces with Microsoft to avoid the performance inconsistencies that plagued Windows Mobile.

 Microsoft executive Joe Belfiore points out details of the new interface in Barcelona.

While Apple and RIM control all hardware and software design for each of the companies' respective iPhones and BlackBerry devices, Microsoft exerted minimal control over devices based on Windows Mobile. The new strategy aims to provide the best of the Apple-RIM model, while affording developers and OEMs broader options. All Windows Phone Series 7 devices must be touch-enabled, support GPS and have a specified screen size. Keyboards are optional.

"I think we really have a unique opportunity if we bring that together in the right way, if we understand and recognize the difference between the phone and the PC, with the new user interface," Ballmer said.

Directions on Microsoft analyst Matt Rosoff described Windows Phone 7 Series as a radical departure for Microsoft and the industry because the platform's apps are integrated into functions rather than an end in themselves. "They're not creating an iPhone clone," Rosoff said, "they are really trying to do something entirely different."

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.