Is Windows Phone 7 really a "disaster?"

As in: Microsoft's Katrina, or its Deepwater Horizon, or its American Recovery & Reinvestment Act?

It was obviously a pretty bad 30-40 minutes for InfoWorld's Galen Gruman. He was at the recent Mobile Beat conference and sat through an "in-depth" demonstration of Microsoft's redesigned mobile OS, Windows Phone 7.

Gruman was traumatized. In-depth. And he did what anyone living in the Digital Age would do: he blogged about it. The headline to the post is: "Windows Phone 7: Don't bother with this disaster." Here's how he started his July 15 Mobile Edge post: "There's no kind way to say it: Windows Phone 7 will be a failure."

Just in case that wasn't completely clear, his second paragraph said the same thing, several times: "Windows Phone 7 is a waste of time and money. It's a platform that no carrier, device maker, developer, or user should bother with. Microsoft should kill it before it ships and admit that it's out of the mobile game for good. It is supposed to ship around Christmas 2010, but anyone who gets one will prefer a lump of coal. I really mean that."

I believe you Galen. I mean, I believe you really, really, really mean that. Partly because you go on to say "I was appalled, flummoxed, and stupefied by what I saw...."

The chief problem with Gruman's conclusion is that he didn't provide much in the way of, you know, facts to justify it. I was a bit appalled, flummoxed and stupified by what I read.

For example, part of the "evidence" he presents to prove that WP7 is a "big pig" behind the "lipstick" of the new UI is this: "...it should be noted that minuscule attendance and the utter lack of passion in the room spoke volumes about Windows Phone 7's ultimate fate as well. By comparison, about five times as many people attended a session on WebOS."

I guess if you can't wow'em at a Mobile Beat demo, the fat lady has sung, the show's over and you should just pack it up. And expect a lump of coal for Christmas.

Windows author and developer Paul Thurrott, news editor at Windows IT Pro, did a thorough fisking of Gruman's screed, in a post at his Windows Phone Secrets blog.

The whole thing is worth reading, but Thurrott picks up one particular of Gruman's many generalizations: "The bottom line is this: Windows Phone 7 is a pale imitation of the 2007-era iPhone."

Thurrott: "No, it's not....Windows Phone is not the same kind of phone, or a copy of the iPhone at all. In fact, the Windows Phone interaction model is so unique and innovative, and it’s global access to online services information so seamless, they’re not really even the same kind of device. (Or in the same league.)" The iPhone, he says, is a "mini-PC, where you jump in and out of apps to get things done. You do the hard work of remembering which app does what."

By contrast, "With Windows Phone, properly-written apps can blend seamlessly into more general experiences. So if you want to look at pictures, you tap the big Pictures tile. On the iPhone, you could have any number of apps with pictures capabilities, because on that device, pictures are siloed in whatever services you care about—local pictures on the phone, Facebook pictures, Flickr pictures, etc."

Based on my own reading and talks with other developers who've been working with WP7, Thurrott is right: the more one works with WP7, the more apparent are its deep, and important, differences from iOS.

More support for that conclusion emerged this week, with the reviews of the latest build of Windows Phone 7, the "Technical Preview." I wrote up a summary of several reviews of the OS. These are more "end-user" reviews -- interacting with the WP7's Metro UI. Overall, I'd say these reviews and developer feedback support Thurrott over Gruman. Yes, WP7 will ship without multi-tasking initially enabled, nor without copy/paste. None of those, individually or altogether, guarantee failure. They didn't for the iPhone.

Thurrott explicitly says he has no opinion on whether WP7 will be successful in the marketplace. Nor do I. Microsoft clearly faces major challenges in relaunching itself as a serious, competitive, and even path-breaking mobile platform player.

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