Year in Review 2010: Microsoft introduces Windows Phone 7 to mixed developer and consumer response

Less than six months after the fall 2009 release of its much-maligned Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) went back to the drawing board, descending on February's Mobile World Congress event to announce Windows Phone 7, a top-to-bottom overhaul the software giant promised would reinvent its mobile identity. Touting a differentiated, user-friendly experience highlighted by a Start screen touting active and configurable interface elements (or "tiles") that update with real-time information like social media alerts, Windows Phone 7 also integrates signature offerings from other Microsoft platforms, including Xbox, Zune, Office and Bing.

Microsoft actively courted the mobile developer community to build Windows Phone 7 apps from the time the OS was still little more than a gleam in its eye, even offering financial incentives to stir developer interest in the new platform. But the early evidence doesn't indicate that developers are champing at the bit to build Windows Phone 7 apps: Only 28 percent of devs express strong interest in writing for the platform according to a recent survey conducted by mobile software platform provider Appcelerator and research firm IDC. By comparison, a whopping 91 percent of developer respondents say they are "very interested" in creating apps for Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS, with 82 percent targeting Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android 2.3. It's far too early to write off developer interest in the OS, however--more than 12,000 Windows Phone 7 developers registered to market their applications via Microsoft's Windows Phone Marketplace storefront in advance of WP7's U.S. launch, with registration increasing 40 percent over the month of October alone.

Consumer interest in Windows Phone 7 is another matter. Microsoft isn't releasing sales data, but reported first-day WP7 sales in the U.S. totaled only about 40,000--compare that to Apple, which sells about 270,000 iPhones per day, or to Google, which activates 300,000 new Android devices every 24 hours. You've got to crawl before you can walk, of course, and no one expected Windows Phone 7 to surpass or even rival iOS and Android out of the gate--its progress looms as one of the major stories to watch in the year ahead, and the extent of that progress will determine whether or not Microsoft is a legitimate player in mobile's future. But the early returns aren't promising.