Don Sambandaraksa was with the Bangkok Post for seven years. He now writes for the tech blog Amitiae.com
When Windows Phone 7 launched late last year, it had a big problem. Only five languages were supported out of the box. One would have thought that most of the Romanized languages would have been included but only English, German, French, Italian and Spanish were included.
News later appeared that an upcoming version would include Russian, Japanese, Korean and Simplified and Traditional Chinese.
Only much later, as the Mango launch came nearer, did we learn that it would now feature a total of 22 languages and now includes, as a variant of the English keyboard, Malaysian and Indonesian. Microsoft uses the term 22 display languages so Malaysian and Indonesian are conveniently under English in this respect.
The full list of the extra 17 display languages are - Brazilian Portuguese, Chinese (simplified and traditional), Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Hungarian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian (Bokmål), Polish, Portuguese, Russian, and Swedish.
The lack of localization support has no doubt hurt Windows Phone 7 sales so far, and it is fine for a first cut to test the waters. But I am sure some are starting to question Microsoft’s commitment to their market if they are still left out in Mango - Thailand and Vietnam being the glaring omissions here.
Microsoft also repeatedly says that while the OS supports 22 display languages, it is up to the manufacturer and carrier to decide which to install. In other words, do not buy your Windows Phone 7 phone while on holiday and no grey imports. One wonders if the people working at Microsoft still think they own half the market the way they did before the iPhone came along.
Now, the other half of the Windows 7 Marriage is Nokia. In retrospect, they could not have launched a Windows 7 phone even if they had one when the deal was signed as Finnish is one of the new languages supported in Mango.
Localization was one thing they did well back in the day. The cutting edge Symbian smartphones such as the 6820 might seem archaic in this day and age, but Nokia at least got the localization right. The text input worked well without too much fuss, the menus worked well in whatever language and it just was a pleasant experience that earned them the top spot in many countries.
Contrast it to the poor Ericsson P800 users who were lumped with the indignity of a separate app to read their local language text messages or the Windows Mobile 2003 users who had a similarly torrid time installing third party language packs that worked most of the time, if not quite all the time.
Now, one can only wonder what Nokia is going to do in Thailand and Vietnam to bide time until the next version of Windows Phone 7 arrives. Perhaps brushing up their CV might be a good place to start.