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Is the PSP Phone a Eureka Moment For Microsoft?

Pictures of the upcoming Sony Ericsson Zeus smartphone leave little doubt that Sony has a good shot at attracting an influential group of young customers that should have gone to Microsoft. It may be time for Microsoft to go back to the drawing board already and rethink what Windows Phone 7 really is.

A serious question: If you were asked to describe what Windows Phone 7 (WP7) is and what makes those phones Windows Phone 7 devices, what would you say? Personally, I'd be tempted to quote Microsoft's commercials that state that WP7 phones target those people who really don't like spending time with their phones. They are tools, rather than entertainment devices, designed to "get you in and out" of your communication tasks as quickly as possible. It's for all those who consider communication on a phone a distraction.

Could there be a more boring way to promote a new gadget? Aren't we generally happy with our smartphones and aren't we generally enjoying the connectivity those phones provide us with? Maybe there are some who actually respond to Microsoft's message, but I am not sure that those are the customers who actually drive technology adoption (and download apps to spend time on their phone) and I am wondering: If this is the unique selling feature of WP7, does WP7 really have a tempting identity?     

If you simply look at what meets the eye, the WP7 lot consists of a bunch of hardly distinguishable smartphones (does anyone actually remember the differences?) that are conservatively designed to reflect current smartphones, but it would be a stretch claiming that Microsoft in fact is creating a trend or is even carving out a lucrative niche. It remains to be seen what the $500 million promotion pot can do, but so far, Microsoft did not do an especially good job positioning WP7 in the market. In fact, the platform may be in an identity crisis already.

We have seen this before with the Zune. It was an emotionless attempt to recreate the iPod that was amplified by the idea of a brown MP3 player, which I still believe was pure product sabotage. WP7 has about as much identity as the Zune, which is slightly above zero. Given the financial implication Microsoft can't be happy with WP7.

Identity

One way to create an identity for WP7 would have been a close tie to the Xbox 360 and leverage the entertainment capabilities of the successful console. It's a shame that Microsoft did not develop a fresh and dynamic phone that would do exactly that and appeal to a user crowd in the 20s and 30s.

I wonder how Microsoft reacted to the first pictures and videos of the Zeus, Sony Ericsson's Playstation phone. The slider phone does not feature a keyboard, but a familiar gaming-pad like layout. I had no issues identifying this phone as an entertainment device right away, while I am still struggling to remember the different features of individual WP7 devices. The Zeus is narrowly targeted, but highly emotional and transports its identity before Sony Ericsson has said a single word about it.

If Microsoft ever wanted to develop an Xbox 360 phone, this should have been the model. Within the WP7 line, this could have easily been the flagship model to carry the excitement and emotion WP7 needs so desperately. Of course, it would have contradicted the WP7 marketing message. People may actually want to spend time with the Zeus as opposed to WP7 users who are described as hiding their phones mostly in their pockets.

The Zeus is a solution for an aggressively designed, innovative and forward-thing mobile entertainment-communication device today's smartphones generally are. In comparison, the design approach of WP7 phones is underwhelming and lacks the necessary spice that would make them enticing. If no one at Microsoft has said it yet, I'll say it: Eureka! This future is a pure entertainment and game console phone!

Sony Ericsson is making a big bet with the Zeus, but it found a way to combine the functionality of an Android phone with the added entertainment functionality for those who want it. Should Sony Ericsson have used a more traditional keyboard? No. According to Mobclix, 46 percent of Android users anyway prefer a touchscreen over a keyboard anyway and it appears that this is especially true for younger users. While the survey of Mobclix revealed that 37 percent of Android users spend most of their time on the phone for emails, 21 percent spend most of their time in games. Does Sony have a case here? Absolutely.

The Zeus speaks to a very specific customer group and there is a chance that it won't be selling very well because of that. But this almost feels like Apple's original iPhone, which was built by Motorola and was a first shot at getting access to iPod users. Sony has a good chance to go down the same path and define future portable game consoles with a device that may not look much different than the Zeus. Microsoft missed that opportunity by slapping Xbox integration on to boring phones. Will the average WP7 buyer use Xbox Live on those phones? Unlikely. Will Xbox enthusiasts be interested in a WP7 phone? That may depend on what features Microsoft will add, but the design of the current devices is surely a turn-off.                     

Fixing Windows Phone 7

Seriously, Microsoft. It's not that hard. Just give us something what we don't have already. There is no need for a device that is better than Android or the iPhone. Why don't we see something different that pulls in the vast research resources and technologies that exist within Microsoft? The last time I held a WP7 phone in my hands, I was wondering if this was really the best Microsoft could do with its partners and if this is the best that a billion dollar budget could deliver.

The Seabird phone that recently was published on the Mozilla Labs website is an example of progressive thinking that seems to be lacking at Microsoft. Apple has clearly created an identity for the iPhone as the origin of the modern smartphone and app landscape, Google is defining Android with a foundation of fantastic applications and enormous functionality. Microsoft needs to create its own identity. Otherwise it will go down the path of Zune and get lost on retail shelves.

For Microsoft, the Zeus is the best example yet how to break into the buzzing smartphone market that is dominated by a few, but incredibly very strong players. Microsoft needs to realize that it is the underdog and hundreds of millions of marketing dollars will evaporate in thin air if its products are plain, boring and lack identity.

Perhaps someone from Apple could help Microsoft out?

  • darkchazz
    Don't underestimate the power of android !
    Reply
  • eyemaster
    I disagree with what you are saying. The WP7 commercials talk to me greatly and have me considering one. In and out quickly is what I would want in my next phone. I hate spending time getting to some peice of information on a phone, I would rather have it there within one click (touch) than having to type in anything or go through any menu system.

    I have yet to try out a WP7 device, but the commercials are speaking to me and I can't wait to try one out to see what I will pick next (WP7 or Galaxy S type of phone).
    Reply
  • falchard
    I think thier failure was in their carriers. People are tired of AT&T. The pricing is a bit too high and it fails to do what Microsoft accels at. Offer a wide array of people a superior device for less.
    Reply
  • CsG_kieran_2
    Only thing that we can call successful from MS is windows, even though its a half hearted copy of OS/2 (IBM). Credit to there first full blown OS.... yeah, it was Vesta.

    Nice view you giving there :) my WF7 sucks...
    Reply
  • cadder
    Maybe they are just saying it wrong. I don't think people mind spending time with their phones, they just don't want to spend more time than required. I had a previous incarnation of the Windows phone, and found it took too long to find things and do things with the phone. It was much quicker with the iphone to pick it up and for instance find the calculator. I switched for this reason. Now MS has gone even one better with their live tiles. Rather than having to go through several steps to do something, you can get to it directly through the live tile.

    But their advertising still needs to be more "cool" and "hip" to attract the braindead masses that buy most of the phones.
    Reply
  • miloo
    Xbox 360 phone ? sounds good ~
    anyway i had no idea why sony would come up with a psp phone since its own psp go is crap
    it sell cheaper than a psp 3000 now

    Dont get me wrong, PSP go is a cool device, what make me think that psp go dont work out is those fxxking game that I cant get, like those latest big title etc "monster hunter portable 3rd"
    even those game company are not supporting digital download or may be delay the release on PSN, whatever. just make me want to sell my psp go for a psp 3000.

    I m not sure how psp phone gotta survive

    peace ~

    Reply
  • sultansulan
    And last time, Microsoft won the OS war, this time it's Google - that's great for consumers, as it's an open source OS that wins, meaning Android's monopoly won't hold back innovation (unlike the Windows monopoly, where only Microsoft could drive things forward; this time everybody can).
    Reply
  • angelraiter
    I agree with Falchard, but I also am confused about what the WP7 is. The article pretty much says it all, imo. I've seen commercials, I've seen some demos and whatnot and i must say, I feel more attracted to other devices. I have an iPhone 4 and my mother has a Sony Ericsson X10, so I've had some contact with Droid, also, a couple of friends just got the Galaxy S and it looks great! I don't really see microsoft battling out for their space in this market. Also, technologically, the WP7 also leaves room for improvement, especially in the graphics chip and battery life, from what I can tell. The phone and the marketing behind it just feel weird to me, feels rushed.. IDK.. I thought about waiting on the WP7 but I got a great deal on the iPhone and I already had the 3GS so I ended up going for it, mostly cause of the apps I had, but I must say, the screen and battery are awesome! Nothing out there can beat the iPhone in those 2 criteria! I couldn't be happier with it! When you put the iPhone 4 or the galaxy s next to a WP7, it makes it a really hard buy..
    Reply
  • The price of AT&T is too high? I think all the plans are too high, but they're sustained because of their oligopoly. That said, I found AT&T's family plans cheaper than Verizon's, but more expensive than T Mobile's. I'm less sure about Sprint's plans. Nonetheless, AT&T and Verizon are clearly the "big dogs" of U.S. mobile. I do wish Google had followed through on their bid to own the 700 MHz spectrum and become a mobile carrier, but I'm not sure how much you have to dilute an oligopoly before there is real competition....
    Reply
  • hixbot
    I'm waiting for a smartphone with cutting edge CPU and GPU, dual analog controllers, and an open gaming platform.

    Let me know when it's available.
    Reply