Note that I said “the next Palm WebOS,” not “the next Palm Pre.” That’s because Microsoft Windows Phone 7 is an OS, or operating system, not a phone itself. Just like WebOS runs on the Palm Pre and Palm Pixi, and Android runs on a whole slew of phones, Windows Phone 7 is being designed to work on different handsets. And handset makers will license it from Microsoft, just like Android handset makers license the Google branding, Android Market and Google web apps from Google.
We all know how Palm turned out, though, compared to the companies that make the iPhone and Android phones. Is that Microsoft’s mobile department’s future? Let’s take a look.
Palm used to be a big name in mobile electronics. Anyone remember the Palm Pilot? By 2007, though, their Treos and Centros were still running basically the same software, while Apple had just come out with the iPhone. It wasn’t until early 2009 that Palm, with the help of poached Apple employees, managed to create the Palm Pre running WebOS — a polished, worthy competitor to the iPhone.
Likewise, Microsoft used to be a big name in smartphones and PDAs, with their Windows Mobile OS that borrowed ideas liberally from the old Palm OS. Even today, “Windows Mobile 6.5” phones are still being sold in stores, while Windows Phone 7 has yet to come out. Like the old Palm OS, Windows Mobile is (relatively) clumsy and inelegant; but like Palm WebOS, Windows Phone 7 looks sleek and intuitive.
While the indie Palm OS app market used to be pretty big, Palm was unable to stem the tide of developers defecting to Apple’s iTunes App Store. Even Astraware, which made its name selling games for Palm OS, has evolved into an iPhone shop.
Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 is going to run Silverlight apps — if you haven’t heard of Silverlight, it’s basically Microsoft’s version of Adobe Flash. It’s going to run games written with XNA, their toolkit that also lets you make games for Windows PCs and XBox 360s, and Windows Phone 7 developers will be able to use Microsoft Visual Studio to write apps for it. But will any of that be enough?
Despite the obvious parallels, I wouldn’t count Microsoft out just yet. First off, even if there are fewer developers who know how to write Silverlight apps and XNA games than there are who know web programming, Microsoft knows how to treat “developers, developers, developers, developers.” They give programmers some seriously neat stuff to play with, and a lot of programmers are very loyal to them.
Second, when Microsoft’s determined to enter a market, they’ve shown a willingness to spend as much money as it takes to buy market share. The XBox 360 was basically subsidized by Microsoft, all the way down to its “red ring of death” replacement program. If Microsoft’s set on making phones, there are going to be Microsoft phones, even if they have to bribe people to write apps for them.
What do you think? Will you be buying — or writing apps for — a phone running Windows Phone 7 in the near future? Leave a note in the comments! And whatever phone you use, or are planning on getting, have fun with it.