Phone 7 last throw of the dice

Local software firm develops apps for Microsoft's mobile platform

Wellington software firm Intergen is developing applications for Microsoft's new Windows Phone7 operating system but doubts the platform will become an iPhone or Android "killer".

Vodafone will begin selling the first handset with Windows Phone 7 – the HTC 7 Trophy – later this month, while Telecom's Gen-i will have the LG Optimus 7Q from next month.

Analysts say Windows Phone7 is Microsoft's last chance to crack the smartphone market, which will otherwise be dominated by Apple and Google's Android operating system.

Intergen strategy director Chris Auld said its Gear Snatcher application should go live in the Phone7 application store, Windows Marketplace, in the next few weeks.

"It is focused primarily on US customers. It's basically a search engine for outdoor sporting equipment. If you're wanting to find a particular type of ski jacket for example, this application will search various sites for you in the background and notify you if it finds this jacket on special."

Microsoft is touting the software's interface as the main point of difference from other mobile operating systems, and has included "tiles" on the homepage so users can easily see and access their main applications.

"When my phone is in locked mode it's showing things like my next calendar appointment on that homescreen whereas on the iPhone I've got to power up my iPhone, slide and punch in my passcode to unlock and then go to my calendar," Mr Auld said. "The focus is on getting into your phone, seeing what you need and getting out again."

The operating system also outstrips the iPhone's iOS in productivity as it has superior email and calendar tools, he said.

"For people like me who do 200-300 emails a day, it's the ability to rapidly work through your mail box, flag messages ... those sorts of things that allow you to work on your phone much more in the way you work in Outlook on your desktop."

Windows Phone7 would not be an "iPhone killer" as different software approaches appealed to different consumers, Mr Auld said.

Apple tightly controls software updates and what can be downloaded to the iPhone, while Android's approach was more laissez-faire and it was up to device manufacturers whether they provided updates.

"Microsoft's taken the middle-ground. It's a bit more liberal than Apple but with a smaller subset of device vendors and a commitment that they'll update the operating system."

Technology commentator Colin Jackson said that Microsoft needed Windows Phone7 to be a success.

Earlier attempts by the software giant to catch the smartphone wave – including the launch of the Kin phone earlier this year – had bombed badly. "They've lost a lot of mindshare."

Windows was not big in the mobile phone space but that was where all the growth was, with many of the new and increasingly popular tablet computers running off smartphone operating systems, he said.

"Microsoft need people to believe that Windows runs on everything."

Some people might be turned off by the absence of an inbuilt Twitter application in the Windows Phone7 operating system, "but it does sound like it's a credible attempt. I'm hearing people say that the Microsoft Windows Phone7 user interface is new and interesting."

Tony Cripps, principal analyst at market researcher Ovum, said the commercial launch of Windows Phone 7 devices was the most important watershed in the smartphone market since the arrival of the iPhone.

"If it fails to claw back market share lost to iPhone and Android, then Windows Phone7 may well mark the point at which Microsoft turns its back on smartphones forever.

"Targeting its mobile resources at creating compelling services and attracting advertising may prove a better option than beginning again with another mobile operating system, in that instance."

But a brief roadtest of the operating system showed it was intuitive and responsive, and its integration with XBox Live – so users could synch games scores and levels across their home console and phone – would attract gamers, Mr Cripps said.

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