Microsoft’s ‘Back Against The Wall’ With New Zune Phone

Jul 19th, 2010 | By | Category: iPhone, iPods & Portable Media Players

Several readers were incensed last week when we highlighted InfoWorld’s early negative impressions of Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7.

InfoWorld’s take was scathing – suggesting that Microsoft should kill the project.

Now Engadget’s Joshua Topolsky has offered his in-depth preview of Windows Phone 7, and he’s also skeptical about the viability of the platform:

What we’ve been presented with here doesn’t exactly feel like a complete mobile operating system in many ways.

On one side, we’re still really excited by the prospect of Metro as a viable, clean-slate approach to the mobile user experience, and there are lots of smart moves being made that could lead to greatness. On the other side, Microsoft has to turn this into a viable retail product that can hang with the fiercest competition in the history of the cellphone in just a few months’ time, and there are some serious issues that need to be addressed. Frankly, it’s a little scary.

By any measure, Microsoft’s got its back against the wall in the mobile game, and becoming competitive quickly is vital to the company’s success — and in that regard, we understand why they’ve been so adamant about getting Windows Phone 7 on shelves in time for Holiday 2010. The thing is, putting out a product that’s half-baked risks alienating early adopters at the worst possible time, especially considering that we see a clear-cut (and pretty painless) path to fixing the most egregious shortcomings. Seriously, if the WP7 team put their heads down and added a clipboard and some rudimentary multitasking, Microsoft could have an exceptionally solid version-one product in Windows Phone 7 — especially when coupled with the company’s fierce outreach to developers.

While Topolsky’s preview uses a lot of negative language, he does see Windows Phone 7’s Zune media player capabilities as one of the platform’s key features:

The Zune integration is rather seamless on Windows Phone 7, allowing you to browse and play what you have in your library, sync music and video back and forth to your PC, and if you have a Zune Pass subscription, you can grab whatever you like (well, almost) right on the phone without hesitation.

In general, we like the combo here, but there were times when the Zune interface was a bit confusing. Sometimes it was hard to know what section of the player you’re in — the line between previewing and listening is very fine here.

That said, we love having almost limitless access to new music on a phone, and the Zune Pass subscription certainly adds that capability, though you’re adding another $14.95 on top of your existing phone bill if you decide to go that route. Ultimately it’s a question of how voracious of a music buyer you are — but something tells us we’re going to see a marked increase in Pass users when these phones hit the market.

For Zune fans, moving to Windows Phone 7 could be a no-brainer.

And, while Windows Phone 7 may seem “half-baked” compared to the standard set by the latest iPhone and Android phones, it will probably fare a lot better in comparisons to current Enterprise phones.

If Microsoft releases Windows Phone 7 before it’s ready for prime time, though, the company risks doing what it did with the Zune – create a brand with baggage.

What are your impressions of Windows Phone 7? Do you think it has what it takes to become an important new media platform?

Note: You can see Microsoft’s preview announcement here.

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3 Responses to “Microsoft’s ‘Back Against The Wall’ With New Zune Phone”

  1. arjun says:

    My guess is that this gets decent by version 2 and then Microsoft will compete with Android phones for the low-end of the smartphone market.

    • voicer says:

      Android on the low end? Surely you jest. Android has some low-end phones, but is, and will be, a heavy hitter on the high-end.

  2. james k says:

    I find it puzzling that so many people have read the Engadget review and come away with different takes. Your article says the Engadget review was “skeptical about the viability of the platform,” which is what he said, but my take from the review was very positive and actually got me excited for the phone. Some of my takes from the review:

    “We were extremely surprised and impressed by the software’s touch responsiveness and speed. In fact, this is probably the most accurate and nuanced touch response this side of iOS4. It’s kind of stunning how much work Microsoft has done on the user experience since we first saw this interface — everything now comes off as a tight, cohesive whole. It really put one of our major fears about Windows Phone 7 to rest. We haven’t seen any substantial lag while using the device, and the short transitions between applications or pages are well suited to the overall experience”

    “Still, those issues aside, Windows Phone 7 is easily the most unique UI in the smartphone race right now, and the real perk here is that it doesn’t just seem like an arbitrary decision to make things look different than other OSs — there is real purpose and utility to a lot of what Microsoft has come up with”

    “Let’s just put this up front: the keyboard in Windows Phone 7 is really, really good. We’re talking nearly as good as the iPhone keyboard, and definitely better than the stock Android option. It’s one of the best and most accurate virtual keyboards we’ve used on any platform — and that’s saying a lot”

    “The email app on the phone is pretty terrific on the whole, providing a clean, clear layout and upfront options for your most-used functions.”

    “For as much crap as Internet Explorer gets (less, admittedly, now that the debacle of IE6 is finally starting to fade), we’ve got to say that web browsing on Windows Phone 7 is actually a really pleasant experience. ”

    “Though it’s not quite as full-featured as the latest renditions of Google Maps on Android have been, Microsoft’s Bing Maps implementation on Windows Phone 7 is pretty great — they’ve done a fantastic job of blending the experience of using a mapping app into their so-called Metro design language”

    So there are many other positives besides the Zune intergration.

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