Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer delivered a keynote speech focused on Windows Phone 7 at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, on Monday, just days after announcing a major partnership with handset maker Nokia.
Ballmer introduced new features to the mobile operating system, including deeper Twitter integration, multitasking, and the incorporation of Internet Explorer 9 with the ability to runHTML5.
Another new feature will allow Windows-powered phones to interact with the Microsoft’s Xbox 360 Kinect motion game system.
The update will also offer better SkyDrive connectivity on the phone. This will let customers make select files public in order to collaborate with other users.
The new features will show up later this year.
There were some difficulties with the on-stage demo at MWC: IE9 failed to play an HD video; its Bing search engine didn’t work; and the projector briefly stopped functioning.
Microsoft did not respond to the E-Commerce Times’ request for comments by press time.
Updating for an Evolving Market
Microsoft is fighting for relevance in the mobile device market.
“Certainly, these were mandatory updates required of Windows Phone 7 if it is to remain competitive,” Allen Nogee, principal analyst for wireless technology at In-Stat, told the E-Commerce Times. “Features like multitasking have been in other platforms for a while, so the lack of them in Windows Phone 7 was definitely a problem for Microsoft.”
Microsoft’s OS still has a way to go to catch Android and iPhone, and the “fact that some demos bombed is really not good news for Microsoft,” said Nogee.
“One of the criticisms of Microsoft has been that its software is not adequately tested, and the fact that it can’t even work at a demo is really a bad sign,” he continued. “When was the last time that Steve Jobs had a demo fail at a major event? Not very often. But Microsoft demo flubs are quite common on YouTube.”
Still, Microsoft now has a new opportunity to get a better grip on the market through its partnership with Nokia.
“This may be the company’s second and only chance to be taken seriously,” said Nogee. “The mobile phone market is fickle and can change on a dime, so I certainly would not rule out Microsoft as a competitor — but the market has also gotten tougher since Microsoft’s last entry into the mobile market with Windows Mobile. We now have several very competent mobile solutions. I think Microsoft has learned much since those days, but the question is, have they learned enough?”
Microsoft will focus on making its OS more user-friendly, an important factor in the all-out brawl of the smartphone market.
“As we understand, the smartphone ecosystem has become very dynamic and hyper-competitive, and to excel in this environment, attracting consumers and developers is the key,” Neil Shah, analyst for wireless devices strategies at Strategy Analytics, told the E-Commerce Times.
“Microsoft with Windows Phone 7 platform has taken a big leap from its earlier lesser-user friendly Windows Mobile platform,” he said.
“The turnaround is noticeable from a more enterprise-oriented WinMo UX to a more promising and consumer-friendly WP7 UX,” continued Shah. “Though Microsoft is late in the game, I believe recent partnerships from big players such as HTC, Samsung, LG and now Nokia — the largest PC platform vendor, thus with an increased total addressable market — [make it] well positioned to offer significant scale to attract the developers.”
Building the Ecosystem
A strong ecosystem is important for a smartphone, because it connects users in many different ways.
“Apart from an innovative UI, from the applications and services point of view, Microsoft has to still work on expanding its ecosystem with multiple integrations from social networking [and] location-based services to enhanced Web browsing, gaming and a true multitasking experience,” said Shah.
Microsoft will have to update its OS regularly to keep up with the rapid advances in smartphone technology.
“As the platform and handset vendors have started experiencing shorter product and feature lifecycles, a quick and timely platform update-cycle will be pivotal to succeed,” said Shah.
“Bringing newer and advanced features to consumers [in a timely way] will be the top priority for Microsoft to gain the consumer and developer mindshare,” he added. “Mr. Ballmer’s comments echo this form of urgency to integrate popular features into the platform in order to remain competitive.”
The latest feature upgrades represent a solid effort on Microsoft’s part to do just that.
“With the inclusion of HTML5 support, the WP7 platform will offer an improved overall Web browsing and in-browser video viewing experience, which has been one of the top use-cases for smartphones,” said Shah.
Connectivity with Kinect gives Microsoft another way to attract customers to its platform.
“Another important use-case — gaming — remains fairly important and most talked about,” said Shah, “and with Microsoft Xbox integration, the handset vendors with innovative handset form factors should be able to leverage this feature, differentiate, and compete against the likes of Sony Ericsson who recently unveiled its PlayStation certified phone.
“Adding market-necessary and innovative features is rudimentary for Microsoft,” Shah concluded, “but the million dollar question is when and how fast?”