On eve of Windows Phone 7 launch: all hat and no cattle?

I’ve played with Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7. I’ve read all the reviews. I’ve talked with Microsoft’s head of PR. Starting tomorrow morning you will hear more about this new OS and OEM’d product line like nothing since Xbox.

I’m just worried it’s all hat and no cattle.

First, the “hat.”

This OS is beautiful. Unlike Nokia or RIM, Microsoft threw out the old OS and started from scratch. For the first time in a while they didn’t just copy Apple, either. They did a whole new UI from scratch. It uses tiles instead of the little icons on my iPhone. It has a very nice contact manager. It shows you all sorts of information from services and your social network up front.

Buyers who see it in stores will be very impressed and we haven’t really seen the final hardware yet (although tonight on Techmeme some of those details are leaking out as well).

Microsoft has also, according to developers I’ve talked with, spread money out to get the hottest applications ported to Windows Phone 7. I’m sure you’ll see nice Twitter and Facebook apps, along with a good selection of the other kinds of apps that have gotten popular on iPhone and on Android.

Tomorrow we’ll watch to see just what kinds of apps will be released to match those that I love on iPhone. I’m sure that a high percentage are available out the door, and ones that aren’t, like Angry Birds seems not to be, will face a lot of pressure from Microsoft’s money to get on board.

So, what’s the “no cattle?”

1. It doesn’t look like it’ll be available on Verizon. Sorry, but T-Mobile is worse than AT&T (T-Mobile doesn’t even work in my house, while AT&T does). Most of the people who are anti iPhone are that way because of AT&T, not because the OS doesn’t have cool tiles or their Facebook news feed isn’t displayed on the home screen.
2. I would be surprised if there are close to 30,000 apps available to start. Compare to Android, with more than 100,000, and iPhone, with 270,000. In fact, I’ll be amazed if they ship more than 3,000 apps to start. More on why this matters in a second.
3. There will be bugs. One thing I learned while working at Microsoft is that it ships software with bugs. Duh. But so does Apple. The thing is Apple has had several years now to “harden” its OS. Plus, every app developer has shipped many bug fixes. So the whole ecosystem over on Apple is much stronger and less buggy. In just the past week more than 30 of my 356 apps on my iPhone 4 have updated. Most of my favorite apps like Twitter, Facebook (which still sucks on iPhone), Foursquare, etc have had more than five iterative releases.

So, why do apps matter so much?

Because when customers go into their favorite cell phone stores they will be comparing phones to ones their friends have. They do not want to look stupid with their friends. Imagine on Thanksgiving dinner the conversation happens like this:

“Hey, I just got one of those new Windows Phone 7 devices, wanna check it out, I bet it kicks your iPhone’s butt.”

“Sure, but does it have the ‘Bump’ app?”

“Whoa, what’s that?”

“It lets me bump my contact info to you. In fact, another app, the PayPal one, lets me bump you some money. Do you have that? I’ll bump you five bucks.”

“Um, not sure.”

“How about the Twitter app, does your support lists and search? Can you, like Seesmic lets you, post to Google Buzz, Ping.fm, Facebook, and multiple Twitter accounts from one app?”

“Not sure.”

“Do you have the CNN news app that lets you watch live TV? I watched the San Bruno fire live on it. How about SkyGrid? NYTimes? NPR? BBC?”

“Not sure.”

“Can you use RunKeeper or Cyclemeter while you jog or ride your bike?”

“Not sure.”

“Can you check in on Foursquare, Gowalla, Whrrl, Loopt, DeHood, MyTown, Brightkite, to get deals and tell your friends where you are?”

“Not sure, but why would you do that?”

“Can you use Trapster to see where the cops on the freeway are? How about Waze to see driving conditions from other people? Goby to find hiking trails and parks near you?”

“Not sure those are on Windows Phone 7 yet.”

“Can you use TripIt or WorldMate to see flight info? TripAdvisor to find vacation spots? GateGuru to find out what gate your flight home is at? FlightTrack to track your nephew’s flight? Layar to see augmented reality info of that city you’ll visit next? Is Kayak or Hipmunk available to help you find the cheapest and best flights?”

“Not sure.”

“Is Pandora, Shazam, NPR Music, Boxee, Sonos, Last.fm, available on your phone yet?”

“Not sure.”

“Can you play all that music you bought on iTunes?”

“Not sure.”

“Can you use PogoPlug to get access to files on your home computers the way I can?”

“Not sure.”

“Do you have all these photo apps? (Points to an iPhone group with SmugShot, Animoto, Hipstamatic, Instagr.am, Pixelpipe, Flickr, PS Express, Best Camera app, and many more)

“Nope.”

“Do you have all these popular games?” (Points to a group with Doodle Jump, Tap Tap Revolution, Angry Birds and more).

“No, but I have some cool games here.”

“Do you have Hulu Plus, Fandango, Netflix, Clicker, and other apps to help you enjoy TV more?”

“Not sure.”

“Do you have UberCab?”

“What’s that?”

“Well, I guess I’m gonna order the cab for you tonight.”

“Do you have Google Voice? How about this cool Star Walk app that shows you the stars.”

“Well, the World Wide Telescope is on my phone.”

“Oh, cool, win one for you, except I’ve had that for a year.”

“Should we just keep going down the list of apps on Chomp that are popular and see if you can find the same ones on Windows Mobile Phone 7?”

“Nah, I already get the point that my phone isn’t as good as yours is.”

You get the point. The long tail of apps DOES matter. It matters for the same reason why Microsoft wasn’t able to remove features from Excel. Each app has hundreds of thousands of users. I met one developer last week in San Antonio, who built FastMall, shows you how to navigate shopping malls. They just released an update few weeks ago. They already have 250,000 users on iPhone. They said they won’t port to Windows Phone 7 until Microsoft proves that their phone can sell lots of units and that users on its platform are willing to download apps. That’s something I’m hearing from around the third-party developer world.

This is why on Fox last week I said that Microsoft is in a deep hole and we need at least six months to know whether they have a chance at digging out of the hole. In the meantime, damn that UI sure is pretty! It’s all hat and possibly no cattle time.

Of course, that’s a whole lot better than the situation Nokia and RIM find themselves in. At least when developers want to build apps for Microsoft’s OS they’ll find very nice developer tools and lots of help (Channel9 will have lots of info tomorrow, and Microsoft is holding a PDC later in October that will be live streamed on the Internet). The few developers who are building apps for Windows Phone 7 are praising the tools as easier to use than Android, or especially Nokia or RIM’s tools.

So, while tomorrow might be a little light on apps Microsoft does hold hope that it’ll have enough cattle in its farm. We’ll see. The event starts at 6:30 a.m. Pacific Time and I’ll be retweeting the best info.

Comments

    1. Welcome to 2007, a new phone launches with great new UI, features and no cut & paste, MultitaskingHell yeah! Goodbye Microsoft, you lost power users, no iPhone & android user would switch either.

  1. In short, Apple should be prosecuted as a monopoly, because nobody can realistically break into the market anymore.

    1. That’s not true. Google is doing a good job and has more market share. Monopoly requires also having total market control, and Apple isn’t even close to that.

  2. I hear ya Robert. I wonder where that phrase came from? I have never hear “all hat and no cattle” before.

    But, I think we may know even soon than 6 months about the fate of Microsoft and Windows Phone 7.. I’m sure that MS is incredibly antsy about the prospects of another failure in the phone space and may have cash in hand ready to try in buy RIM?

    I have seen a bit of the new OS and I agree, it is indeed pretty, but this may not be the most inspiring platform to develop on (behind iOS, Android, and RIM).. without inspired developers, what do they have? What would Windows have been if MS hadn’t inspired developers?

    Thanks for the article!
    Kevin

      1. That’s great.. thanks.. very interesting.. I like the “all lime and salt.. no tequila”.. lol..

        I was also checking out your interview/talk on FOX (http://bit.ly/dzMqLQ) and I noticed they spelled your name as SCOBEL: http://bit.ly/buwwbU – that’s not very nice! (though an easy mistake to make).

  3. A year or so ago you were super-gung ho on WebOS even though it had a paucity of the apps mentioned above. Now you’re dogging on Windows 7 Phone because it has no apps. Which is it? Did your opinion evolve or is this a double standard?

    1. The world has changed. You can’t judge things based upon how the world was in 2008. The world is almost 2011 now and these platforms are much more robust and competing with them is going to be a LOT tougher. Hell, Palm WAS better (it did sell to HP for more than a billion, remember! and you haven’t heard the end of Palm yet) but I didn’t see that dealing with Apple would be so darn difficult and that Palm would make so many mistakes.

      It also teaches me to be far more skeptical of industry hype, especially hype that comes before we can even play with a final device and see how many apps will ship. See ya in the morning!

  4. Tiles vs Icons is innovative. If you and I know you might have seen the Nokia’s failed N97 device, it tried something similar, live updates.

    As for Windows Phone 7, I am possibly going to sleep on it, for me Windows Phone 7 will play catch up with RIM and Symbian^3, which are both outdated OSs which companies think are brilliant technologies in the mobile segment. Oh wait a year ago MS said Windows 6.5 was brilliant, so just hooking onto an Xbox device is not going to change my mindset.

    1. The thing is my Sprint EVO (when I had it, I’ve since given it away) had something of a mixture of icons and tiles. I do like the new Windows Phone 7 UI, though. Nokia N97? That failed because the only thing redesigned was the home screen. It still was ugly underneath. For the most part Microsoft’s new OS is pretty nice all the way through. It does fall apart here and there, but not in a big way like Nokia’s OS did (and does).

      1. And that though is innovative. I went to Nokia World and slammed the world out of those folks because they though that the new media scrolling was innovative, it was a copy of what iPhone did all along. In fact most of what Nokia N8 does is nothing to really talk home about.

        Same with WP7, it is bragging about tiles and things like Office and Exchange? Come on which smartphone does not do Exchange these days, and as for office, I can very well read documents on my iPod Touch without having to use MSs proprietary shit.

        Tiles is nothing but a wrap up on what they couldn’t do all these years, using Android and iOS as opposed to a WP7 makes more sense, because they are not catching up with the crowd, the crowd is catching up with them… too many periods out there, for me WP7 is just another OS, unlike Windows 7, MS has lost it in the mobile segment.. period.

  5. Robert,

    Great post. I am one of the few die-hard Windows Mobile users (back to the days of the Pocket PC) and am looking forward to WM7. I hope the OS is tighter in its initial release like Windows 7 was and that the HTC HD7 / Mondrian rumors are true.

    I wonder about your comments regarding the app market. The consumer push on apps is certainly valid nowadays, but I wonder if MS has an advantage in its legacy application development community that Apple and Android did not. The strength of 3rd party apps has always been a plus for Windows Mobile; I know I have my personal list of apps that I depend on and pray get ported to WM7 rather quickly (PI, eWallet, ListPro, NewsBreak, Twikini).

    Interesting days ahead. I’m encouraged that MS can get back into the game.

    1. Nope, no advantage. Visual Basic and C# developers DO NOT DO mobile apps. If they try they will find they need new skills and new approaches. Might win some enterprise accounts, though. We’ll have to see.

      1. Robert, I think you underestimate what C# devs can do, and overestimate how different mobile apps are. I’d only written one mobile app in my life up until about 3 months ago. Over the span of three months, I’ve cranked out about half dozen that I would say are on par of top 100 class iPhone productivity apps (not games).

        I think we’ll actually see the app market by mid-Nov at around 25k apps.

        Regarding the applications… I don’t think WP7 needs to have total app parity. While the list you rattled off is impressive, I’ve never had that discussion before. Unless Scoble or Topolsky is your friend, I really doubt you’re having it. When I showed off my EVO to my friends, people just looked at the screen. No one asked about a single app. Not a single one. And had you asked me about any of those apps with my Evo, I would have given you the same answer that you gave in that post, “Umm… I have no idea… dude, I just got the phone”.

        But in any case, good fun post.

        1. I know what they CAN do, but as a group they are focused on enterprise problems. The innovative ones who were into mobile left and learned some other language long ago to build cool things for iPhones or Android phones. Will those innovators come back? We’ll see.

          And, actually, my brother who owns a bar compared his Android apps to mine on iPhone and my brother’s on Blackberry. You miss just how much influence those of us who are early adopters have on the rest of the market. But we’ll see.

          If you’re right, why won’t Nokia win then? They have the best distribution, best camera, and most users already. Most of the market is used to not buying Microsoft and we’ll have to be convinced via a HUGE ad spend (read very unprofitable for Microsoft) to try out its phones.

          1. Programming language is not the only factor for application success. Most programmers use several languages over the course of a career. Understanding of first priniciples is what makes good development happen and is one reason why many iOS applications have been successful. Microsoft has done a very good job with their development toolchain, which should help with developer adoption going forward. Granted, they have an uphill battle. (Also, there are more C# apps for iOS than you think.)

  6. Well, except back in 2007 I +was+ a Nokia user (one of the few in Silicon Valley, too) and its apps sucked. So, that wasn’t the same comparison as Windows Mobile Phone 7 is to Android and Apple is today.

  7. The average iphone user has 40 apps installed. I think you listed the 40 that everyone else is using right now. I am sure you can list an equally large list of apps that people do not use on iPhone anymore because something better came along. My point is, as true a statement you have that Windows Phone will not have them at launch, the platform will grow and at launch will also have apps that you could make the same argument for inversely. The platform will have 3000+ plus in the first thirty days after launch and will grow very quickly.

    I guess we should use the same argument for never using Mac, Linux, UNix… I mean they only have so few apps and can never catch up to Windows.

  8. I lived in Texas for a while; there are infinite variations, like “all belt buckle and no truck”

    As a recent convert to Android, I mostly see Microsoft as dividing up the already-weakening competition.

    1. Yeah, it isn’t going to be good to be RIM or Nokia. Microsoft is far stronger than those and can stay in this game for years, where the others can’t because they don’t have two cash cows feeding their mobile projects.

  9. Nice try. Macintosh shipped before Windows did and when Mac OSX came out there were still many important apps running on Macs only (Quark XPress, etc). So, nice try and comparing things but I don’t think you’re seeing clearly. I am not saying not to try something new, just that they are in a deep hole and have a long way to dig out of that hole. If you talk to folks at Microsoft they agree that it’ll be years before they really are back in the game totally. The one impressive thing about Microsoft is they are willing to spend billions to get out of that hole, so they probably will. But not tomorrow morning.

    1. Exactly. That OSX has survived (and in its own way, as a part of a quite “premium” computing value proposition, flourished) is a testament to the fact that Apple is to general consumer applications as Nintendo is to games – years ahead in seeing what consumers will want. iLife has been years ahead of its Windows equivalents for the better part of the 00′s. They found a potent niche – consumer content creation -that MS essentially ignored.

      An important question here is if MS can find that niche. Games? Please – with id, EA and an army of indies in the iOS camp, the best MS can hope for is a tie. Productivity? With iWork and Google Docs coming any minute, nobody under 35 has a hard time imagining life without Office. Etc. etc.

    2. “when Mac OSX came out there were still many important apps running on Macs only (Quark XPress, etc)”

      Ahh… just to pick you up on a minor factual point, Robert, the first version of XPress for Windows came out in 1992 (QuarkXPress 3.1). I can’t think of any major design, publishing or professional creative applications that were Mac-only when OS X was released in 2001.

      That’s one of the reasons why Apple got heavily back into the applications game with Final Cut and later Logic – to ensure that there were compelling applications that were Mac-only for creative professionals.

  10. I’d think that the success would hinge on Microsoft convincing the handset manufacturers to adopt Windows 7 OS instead of Android (or at least along with Android). There are enough Windows 7 desktop users who would like the same experience on their mobile. The developers will go where the handsets are – it’s not that difficult to switch between software stacks.

  11. I work for a high profile software house that builds flash/flex, iphone/ipad, silverlight/wpf/surface/wp7 apps. I can tell you know that the apps we’re building for WP7 (now and in the pipeline) are big ticket existing iPhone apps BUT done the WP7 way, and they have the advantage of being written today as opposed to several months ago. Basically the WP7 version of these apps kick the iPhone versions ass!

    As for .net devs, true that the first mobile app will be a learning curve, BUT the 2nd,3rd etc.. are infinetely easier. More so than with android/iOS based apps. The number of WP7 apps will exponentially grow because .NET devs are more seasoned builders of apps, we know how to write reusable frameworks and leverage code in ways that other OS’s have no way of competing against.

    A single developer today will chrun thru dozens of apps in a years time because we can and thats how we roll!

    And the icing on the cake, is that ive seen the state of WP7 first hand and it can easily be sold as a business phone. We are already seeing alot of enterprises using Silverlight as there business technology, hello WP7 is a silverlight phone. We have some pretty impressive business apps in the pipeline that will ship early / mid next year. Don’t underestimate the WP7 device as a business phone, the business apps will come and they’ll come in force!

  12. I think your overview completely misses the point of the phone. The UI isn’t just “pretty”. The UI, Hubs and Live Tiles are designed to make tasks easier and faster to complete. Shouldn’t that be the point of a new UI ?

  13. Robert – It’ll be interesting to see how Microsoft integrates the platform (if they do … and they should) with their growing SYNC car software. That’s one area where they have a good head start and could drive (pardon the expression :) sales to ‘regular users’. “It remote starts your car” etc.

  14. IMHO, WP7 is the slickest OS available. It will appeal to consumers. The toolset is the best development platform available. It will attract developers. The XBOX Live Marketplace is full of XNA games that require very little modification to run on WP7. There will be a solid line-up of apps for launch and a steady flow thereafter. The top apps from all platforms will come to WP7 because there is money on the table and if the DEVS don’t build it then someone else will clone it and take that revenue.

    MS took on Nintendo and Sony in the gaming realm. Everybody thought they were crazy. Nobody thinks that now.

  15. Robert, Do you think MS just releases mediocrity to make us mad, settle our expectations, or maybe the bean counters trimmed the dev budget at the last moment? :) Maybe it is just me, but it seems every time they toss something out the loading dock, it is all but busted.

    I love your “no cattle” idea BTW. MS has become the goat roper of technology cowboys. and it is sad to me. Best – Phil

  16. WP7 has many Apps alreadyIt has at least 2000 Apps at launchI don’t know any smart phone that had this many Apps at launch.No one will have 2000 Apps on their phones, not even 1/10 of thatSo if these Apps were of great quality, then most consumers will be happyAnd they have many quality Apps, many of them you are what you mentioned in the post “conversation”, like Seesmic, Shazam, Google Voice, Pandora, Netflex, …And they also have many great games already.Microsoft has announced 60 games of great quality, some of them are limited to WP7Plus, they have their dedicated mobile games studio.WP7 can simply have a similar conversion with an iPhone user:- “Look at my iPhone, it kicks your windows phone ass!”- “really?, how?”- ” It has great apps!”- “really?, does it have Office?!”- “ummm, no, but i have these notes!”- “ah, good for you”- “But I have this great facebook app!”- “You need an app for that?, it doesn’t come integrated with your phone?”- “integrated?, how?”- “it gives you all the updates of your contacts through a hub: status, comments, added pictures, …” – “Hub?, no, i have this boring contacts list”- “Oh, i see”- “But it really looks cool, i just look for the icon, press on it, and there you have it!”- “icons?”- “yeah icons .. wait! .. you don’t get icons?”- “no”- “LooooooL, i told you my iphone kicks your phone’s ass!”- “I have live tiles”- “umm .. what’s that?”- “It’s these live squares at the main interface, it tells the updates with the need to press on it”- “Oh!, i have these small icons, they aren’t live but they look shiny though!”- “So what you have then?, until now it seems that your phone is the one getting his ass kicked”- “Oh, wait! .. games!! .. no one beats my games!”- “really?, what you got?”- “I have: Assassins Creed, Earthworm Jim, Zombie Attack!, ….”- “hey, i have all these games!” – “Already?!, how many games you have?”- “Well, many: Splinter Cell, Star Wars, Castlevania, Rocket Riot, Twin Blades, Zombies!!!!, The harvest, Iquarium, Bejeweled, Guitar Hero …”- “Woo, stop!, you sure have games, but are they as good as mine?, i mean the quality of the gameplay, the graphics, …”- “Well i don’t know, how about this one, it’s called: Bye Bye Brain”- “Whooooooa! .. that’s really cool!, i’ve never seen such beautiful game!!”- “Well, you can see more in my Xbox hub”- “Whaaa .. ?!, Xbox?!!!!”- “Yeah, you don’t know?. I can play games on my phone, and get achievements, i have my avatar, i can change it from here, i also can play against friends from here ….”- “Wow! .. do you also get Xbox games?”- “Sure, actually there are many exclusives for the phone from Microsoft game studios, like: Halo, Ilomilo, Crackdown, CarneyVale Showtime, and many more”- “OK, i give up! .. you know someone who wants a used iPhone in a good shape?”

  17. I just don’t get this obsession with apps. Maybe WinP7 can’t win without 100,000, but it seems like obsessive point-scoring rather that genuine utility.

    Apple famously said ‘we dont need any more fart apps’, but we don’t need any more twitter apps either. And how many Facebook apps do you have on your phone?

    I’ve downloaded dozens of apps on my iPhone, but I only use about four, beyond the standard iPhone ones. And all of the four are common ones.

    This apps obsession is getting ridiculous. Far better to look for mobile-friendly websites.

  18. I’ve had an iPhone since the 3G and I’ve never heard of +75% of those apps.
    You’re an outlier on app useage Robert.

    I think you’re underestimating how having ease of developer tool use is going to make app writing easier.
    If Microsoft does one thing well, it’s developer tools.

    Developer tools on Apple are speedbumps. No one talks about how easy it is to write iPhone apps.

  19. “T-Mobile is worse than AT&T (T-Mobile doesn’t even work in my house)”

    I had no idea the reception at your house was such a pivotal factor. Thanks for the enlightenment.

  20. After seeing the presentation today, I can’t figure how they expect to compete with Apple, they may probably push aside Nokia and RIM but still far away to make a real dent on the iPhone market. The UI is not that great and it sucks when you see partial words, pictures and faces cut in the middle. On top of that you have to take in account the applications and what is that thing about cut & paste ?
    If I’ve to choose between MS or Apple, still Apple is the winer.

      1. And you needed today’s presentation to know that?!

        You got to do at least some research on the OS before making such speculations about it.

  21. After seeing the presentation today, I can’t figure how they expect to compete with Apple, they may probably push aside Nokia and RIM but still far away to make a real dent on the iPhone market. The UI is not that great and it sucks when you see partial words, pictures and faces cut in the middle. On top of that you have to take in account the applications and what is that thing about cut & paste ?
    If I’ve to choose between MS or Apple, still Apple is the winer.

  22. Of your 3 “no cattle” points, 2 of those seem to say: after 3 years of iPhone, there’s not ever room for anyone new.

    #2: not as many apps: No one will start with as many as the existing markets and this will only be more true in each passing year. Is it really so bad to come out of the gate with 1/3 as many apps as the number two spot and >10% as many as the number one spot? Remember also that this first batch of Win7 phone apps will be high quality and won’t have the creep of junk-apps yet. Both other phones have a lot of garbage in their app stores. (So these ratios are even more favorable to the new kid.)

    #3: there will be more bugs in new stuff compared to established hardened products: this will also be true of anyone new.

    Other than your point about carriers (which is way too true), your criticisms aren’t about this new smartphone, but rather: ANY new smartphone. And I just can’t believe that there’s not room for competition here. I also think MS is the perfect candidate even if they’re late to the game. There are a LOT of existing Windows dev’ers are aching to program for a smartphone without having to use Objective-C.

    1. Oh, there’s room for competition. Not saying that. Nokia still has most of the market share here, not Apple or Google, although those two are dominant in the more expensive “superphone” category. Microsoft will definitely get some market share here, but the lack of apps is a real problem that they’ll need to solve.

  23. The T-mobile and also lack of CDMA Comment is just so US centric. Think about the rest of the world,

    Microsoft can sell plenty of phones. Thankfully in most European countries careers work in most places so you choose by the tiles etc etc not by the coverage. Coverage is a given in most places.