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Will Partners Embrace New Win Phone 7?

Now that Microsoft has revealed its mobile ambitions, partners must wait to see what's underneath the covers.

Microsoft began its orchestrated rollout of the new Windows Phone 7 Series this week at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The new platform replaces Windows Mobile 6.x with a completely revamped user interface that incorporates Microsoft's Metro, the basis of Zune and Windows Media Center.

Windows Phone 7 Series licensees must adhere to specific integration requirements such as defined screen sizes, support for touch and GPS, among other things. The goal is for Windows Phones that come out later this year to be more architecturally consistent like the BlackBerry and iPhone, while offering a broader ecosystem of devices and form factors.

If you have a vested interest in the current Windows Mobile, you should take a look at the changes that lie ahead. They're not trivial. This 20-minute Channel 9 video provides a good overview of what Windows Phone 7 Series will look like.

But Microsoft is tight-lipped about the underpinnings of its new platform. While company officials say that's by design – to keep focus on the new UI -- it has some wondering whether that portends portability issues.

"I think probably what's going on is it’s a complete break with Windows Mobile 6.5," says Directions on Microsoft analyst Matt Rosoff. "They know that news might not be received well by application developers so they are trying to figure out what the portability story will be."

If Microsoft is headed in a different direction architecturally, it's going to have to shim the old apps to get them to run, says IDC analyst Al Hilwa. "We're talking about various subsets of .NET underneath so it's not that difficult, but the question is whether they have the time to do that," Hilwa says, referring to the planned holiday season release. Partners will get a better picture of what development challenges they face when Microsoft releases the Windows Phone 7 tooling and bits at next month's MIX 10 conference.

"Windows Mobile has a portfolio of business app extensions and, given the new interface, those folks may very well have to re-architect their apps," Hilwa says. "I think they will be more than willing to do that, that’s my sense. They are already partnered and invested in Microsoft technologies. I think they will make that judgment and take the time to refurbish their apps. But as usual with application vendors, not everyone always will, there will be those that can't invest much but I think that's a minority."

More curious: can Microsoft attract those partners who have passed on Windows Mobile but have already built apps for the Apple iPhone, Research in Motion BlackBerry and devices based on Google's Android platform?

For now, Microsoft is emphasizing the consumer aspects of Windows Phone 7 – the Zune interface, the ability to aggregate social networks, photos, games via Xbox Live, and media into a common user interface. Though Microsoft hasn't played up the business capabilities, officials say it will support OneNote, Exchange, Word, Excel and access to Sharepoint. But at this week's debut, Microsoft gave mere lip service to those features. "The amount of time devoted during the presentation to "Productivity" was disappointing," writes Philippe Winthrop, an analyst at Strategy Analytics, in a blog posting.

Enterprises for the most part don't develop mobile apps internally, they rely on the partner community, Hilwa says. The question is will Windows Phone 7 Series win over the partner community? Drop me a line at [email protected].

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on February 16, 2010


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