As more details emerge regarding the upcoming Windows Phone 7 series, it seems to be defined more by the features and functions it lacks than the ones it delivers. Microsoft did throw out the playbook and start over with Windows Phone 7—but the new playbook may have been stolen from Apple’s locker room.
Business professionals anxious for the renewed Microsoft mobile operating system to launch this fall may be disappointed with the news that Windows Phone 7 does not provide a copy and paste function, won’t do true multitasking between applications, and will not support Adobe Flash. Sound familiar?
The iPhone initially did not include the ability to copy and paste, did not support Adobe Flash (there is support now for Flash-based apps, but still no Flash within the iPhone Web browser), and still doesn’t allow true multitasking for third-party apps. However, these were calculated design decisions, not flaws—so Apple has been reluctant to change the iPhone.
Competitors are quick to point out these perceived gaps in iPhone functionality as marketing tools to set their devices apart—essentially drawing a distinction between a consumer gadget, and a business tool. Verizon’s marketing campaign for the launch of the Motorola Droid was built around talking about everything “Droid Does”—with the not-so-subtle implication that what Droid does, the iPhone doesn’t.
Business users in particular—the true, or at least original, audience for high-end smartphones—have come to expect that the smartphone devices perform as micro computing platforms. The expectation is that anything you can do on a desktop or notebook computer, you can also accomplish on the smartphone—albeit with a virtual or very tiny keyboard, and a much smaller display.
I don’t agree that Flash is a necessity. On the contrary, I see the Web’s reliance on Flash as a weakness that needs to be addressed by adopting a standards-based approach like HTML5 to deliver the sort of functionality currently being delivered by the proprietary Adobe technology. Until that happens, though, Flash is still a big part of the online experience.
Unlike Apple, however, Microsoft is working with Adobe to develop Flash for the Windows Phone 7 series—just not in time for the launch. That, in and of itself, is a little mind-boggling considering that Windows Phone 7 is a year or two behind schedule. If Microsoft rushed it out, I could understand launching with some missing functionality, but it seems that there has been plenty of time to work these things out with the repeated development delays for the new platform.
C’est la vie! The other two functions, though—copy and paste, and multitasking—are conscious design decisions by Microsoft. Microsoft has replaced the traditional copy and paste functionality with smartlinks. Basically, Microsoft determined that copying and pasting is most often used for things like moving an address from an e-mail to a mapping program, or transferring a phone number from a Web site to the phone function.
Rather than providing standard copy and paste, Windows Phone 7 recognizes things like addresses and phone numbers and makes them into links that anticipate what the user will want to use that information for. According to some reports, true copy and paste is another function that might be added later, but just won’t be ready for the (repeatedly delayed) launch of Windows Phone 7. Smartlinks sound nice, but won’t help me copy and paste a sentence in a Word doc, or cut and paste a formula in an Excel spreadsheet.
Despite marketing hype from iPhone competitors, Microsoft’s decision on multitasking seems to validate Apple’s position for the iPhone—ironic given the increased speculation that Apple will finally cave and add true multitasking in the next major release of the iPhone OS. While the current Windows Mobile operating systems can multitask, Microsoft is mimicking the iPhone unitasking by automatically terminating third-party apps each time the Start button is pressed.
Like Apple, Microsoft feels that the potential battery drain from too many apps running, especially apps that the user doesn’t even realize are still running, has too much of an impact on the user experience for Windows Phone 7. There are also security implications of multitasking, and mobile-based malware attacks can be minimized by restricting multitasking.
The iPhone is iconic and Apple has established it as the smartphone device to beat. I am not sure that copying its weaknesses—real or perceived—as well as its strengths is a sound strategy for creating a true “iPhone killer”, though.