Will WP7 live up to Microsoft's 'Really' ads?

With first U.S. Windows Phones set for release Monday, Microsoft's interface promise of 'in and out and back to life' will be tested

AT&T and T-Mobile will start selling Windows Phone 7 smartphones on Nov. 8, a date Microsoft recently began promoting in clever, if questionable, TV ads labeled, "Really?"

AT&T and T-Mobile will start selling Windows Phone 7 (WP7) smartphones on Nov. 8, a date Microsoft recently began promoting in clever, if questionable, TV ads labeled, "Really?"

One of the ads (see video, below) depicts various ways that existing cell phones are keeping people from living their lives normally, including one clip of a man dropping his phone in a urinal and fishing it out while another man looks on and asks, disgustedly, "Really?"

Others trip over or bump into strangers while jogging or walking at the same time they are talking on a cell phone.

A voiceover at the end of the ad notes that "it's time for a phone to save us from our phones." The voiceover adds that new Windows Phones are "designed to get you in and out and back to life." The written slogan: "Be here now."

Whether Windows Phone 7 handsets and the new user interface, with its hubs and tiles concept, can "really" get a user "in and out and back to life" all that skillfully or quickly will surely be debated once the phones are being sold.

Some analysts praised Microsoft for spending the money to promote the new phones with slick ads, but they also questioned how the hub and tile approach in WP7 will be received by average consumers.

The hub and tile interface is different from the interfaces in Apple 's iPhone and phones the use Google 's Android, but not all that different from their use of a series of icons on a home page, some analysts have noted.

Despite such questions, the phones and the software have generally received strong initial reviews .

Another interesting but confusing element of the "Really?" ads is how Microsoft and the first WP7 phones have focused so heavily on the consumer, when business users have been the company's traditional mobile customers.

"The ad is cute and attention-getting and it's good news that Microsoft at least is advertising," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. He noted how the failed Microsoft Kin phones that were discontinued in June just weeks after being introduced didn't get much wide advertising.

"Microsoft is getting aggressive, and if they stand any chance of making any impact, they have to do a lot of advertising," Gold said. "There's a lot of noise in the market with all the smartphone players."

Still, Gold and some other critics weren't sure the "Really?" ad works on several levels. For one, Gold said the "Really?" ad on a quick first viewing is confusing and makes it seem like the WP7 phones are the ones that are causing the people in the scenarios to trip over and bump into one another, or otherwise ignore a person standing right beside them.

But even when it becomes clear that the new WP7 phones are supposed to prevent users from ignoring life happening around them, Gold said that message is inconsistent with what most people really want from their smartphones.

"Most users who buy smartphones spend more time searching apps and other things," he said. "Most phone manufacturers want to suck you in and keep you on the phone a lot. At least the carriers do."

In that sense, Microsoft seems to be suggesting WP7 won't even fulfill what buyers may really want from a smartphone.

Gold has used the new WP7 interface and generally likes it, but questioned if it will be appreciated by all that many users. "Microsoft is trying to organize your life for you with hubs and tiles, and a hub is really just a super-folder and a tile is a sub-folder," he said.

"For organizing stuff, it's not a bad way to do it, but what if it doesn't fit somebody's lifestyle?" he asked. "The danger of those hubs is what if they don't resonate with somebody's life?"

Microsoft's 'Really?' ad. (Click arrow button to play video. Adobe Flash is required. Some browsers may require two clicks to start the video.)

The hubs are arguably quite large groupings, such as "people" and "pictures," which Microsoft says are "built on specific themes reflecting activities that matter most to people." There are six such groupings, with the other four being games, music+video, marketplace and office.

Gold said Microsoft controls those six hubs, while what goes under or within each hub is somewhat under a person's control. "It's not a bad way to organize, provided there are counterpoints," he said. And whether those hubs function as a way to get on with one's life (as the ad suggests) smoothly or quickly is debatable, he said.

Other analysts were worried that the office hub is just one of six, even though it is where office workers who are most familiar with Microsoft software might do most of their work. "Microsoft's targeting of the consumer market instead of its traditional business customer base may hamper growth," analysts at Technology Business Research wrote in a recent note. "The consumer market is already flooded with popular operating systems ... leaving little space for new entrants," it added.

One commenter on Computerworld's review of Windows Phone 7 , CG, seemed to sum up the dilemma for workers using a consumer-focused phone when he said, "I've always been a Windows fan mainly because the Office software suite. Anxiously waiting to get in touch with WP7."

Sales of WP7 phones started in Europe on Oct. 21, with some carriers reporting quick sell-outs. However, some analysts dismissed those early reports, because the initial supply could have been small.

Gold said it is still too early to judge user reaction to the interface, and online forums so far seem to have focused on some missing elements, such as a cut-and-paste functionality and app multitasking, instead of the overall hub and tile concept.

Europe was a logical place to start the sales, because Microsoft mobile has traditionally been stronger in Europe, Gold said. Even if things go very well for sales, however, Gartner and IDC are both projecting Windows Phone 7, at best, will hold less than 10% of the global smartphone OS market in the next few years, putting it in fourth or fifth place.

"Microsoft will be happy to get 10% of the market," Gold said. "But this is really their last chance at being credible in the mobile OS space."

Since the U.S. is the home of Microsoft, the sales on Monday will likely matter more than elsewhere. Microsoft is taking the "Really?" TV ad theme to greater extremes, with free concert tickets for Katy Perry and Maroon 5 and a giveaway of a free WP7 as a part of a campaign to highlight "bad phone behavior," a spokeswoman said. People are allowed to post a personal "head in phone" story to the Really tab on the Windows Phone Facebook page to enter the contest.

If that isn't enough promotion of the Really? theme, Microsoft is kicking off a "WP7 Really?! Rally Road Trip" with skateboarder Rob Dyrdek and actress Minka Kelly. Dyrdek and Kelly are "challenging people to change their relationship with their mobile phones," the spokeswoman added.

AT&T begin on Monday to sell the LQ Quantum, HTC Surround and Samsung Focus. Also that day, T-Mobile will start selling the HTC HD7. Dell will offer the Venue Pro, although its general availability has not yet been announced.

Other WP7 phones being sold outside of the U.S. are the HTC Mozart, HTC 7 Pro, HTC 7 Trophy, LG Optimus 7 and Samsung Omnia 7. In all, Microsoft and various carriers announced 10 WP7 phones, with nine being sold starting in in 2010.

The Web site Betanews polled readers for what WP7 phone would be most popular and found that Samsung's Focus received the most interest, followed closely by the HD7, one on each of the two U.S. carriers.

Video chat with the Focus' front-facing camera is the kind of feature that "will make most of today's smartphones obsolete in 6-9 months," wrote one commenter , Joel Brache.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at  @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com .

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This story, "Will WP7 live up to Microsoft's 'Really' ads?" was originally published by Computerworld.

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