Windows Phone 7 at CES: Hellooooo? Anyone there?

A rehash, vagueries, and a commitment to setting low expecations

The Big News for Windows Phone 7 coming out of this week's Consumer Electronics Show was captured in a single, brief blogpost at MobilityDigest: the first software update for the mobile UI will be ready in 30-60 days. For the calendarically-challenged that would be early February. Or perhaps early March. Somewhere in there.

That's not much, but it was enough to trigger a spasm of vitriol in comments at sites like WMpoweruser: Microsoft is lazy, immature, slow, etc.

There are other...tidbits or crumbs or odds-and-ends reported by the Website but they're about as exciting to read as presumably they were to write, since all of the main ones have been posted already on Microsoft's Windows Phone Website: copy/paste, better search capabilities for the online Marketplace, and CDMA phones.

There are a few items that seem like news. Unnamed members of the "Windows Phone Team" revealed to the MobilityDigest Team that the first CDMA models will be HTC 7 Mozart (not currently available in the US) and Samsung Omnia; official Amazon and Flickr apps will be available in Q1 2011; some stuff about XBox Live game titles, and (pardon my yawn) so on.

There are two things not happening, according to MobilityDigest: first, "there are no plans to advance SkyDrive" -- the Windows Live online storage service, some features of which can be used by Windows Phone 7 handsets but others, like two-way synchronization of documents (other than those created with Microsoft OneNote), can't be; second, updating the Bing search experience on WP7 will take place later in 2011.

Both of these are disappointing, because both offer Microsoft the chance to advance its approach of integrating the "phone experience" with the "online experience." My own expectation is that both will be part of a much-expanded effort by Microsoft over time.

Microsoft's overall tone for Windows Phone 7 was set by CEO Steve Ballmer's CES keynote, which revealed nothing new for the mobile platform. Weirdly, it was largely backward-looking: simply reiterating or regurgitating data like the number of WP7 models launched and the number of carriers offering them, and re-demonstrating the now-familiar WP7 UI features. "Weirdly" because Balmer deserves credit for re-prioritizing the mobile platform, and pushing it into the forefront of the company's focus, where it potentially dovetails neatly with the Microsoft's online, Web, and virtualization efforts.

The marketing or "visioning" ineptness was also on display in Las Vegas by Microsoft Windows President Steven Sinofsky, at an invitation-only meeting with reporters ahead of Balmer's keynote. Sinofsky said that on his flight to Vegas, he sat next to an Apple user who cycled through his iPhone, iPod, iPad, and MacBook doing a raft of different, but inter-related tasks. “That’s not particularly converged,” Sinofsky said. “In fact, it was clear some of the same [user's] scenarios were happening across devices.”

But when pressed by Network World reporter Jon Brodkin about how Microsoft would address that "problem," Sinofsky begged off. “I just know that there’s a better future than the guy next to me on the plane,” he said.

Possibly Microsoft is planning WP7 announcements at the upcoming February 14-17 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, where the redesigned UI was unveiled a year ago. It's not as though Apple or Google are any more forth-coming about their own platform plans or time frames, as witnessed in the endless drip of speculation about when Apple will announce iPhone 5 or the next iOS upgrade.

Windows Phone 7 is pretty much missing in action at CES, which I think is a missed opportunity. Microsoft's approach, as revealed in this platform, has the potential to be an industry-changer, leading to a rethinking and recreating of the way users can interact with and through their smartphones.

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