Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 Series: Just like Apple?

This week Microsoft released details on its new Windows Phone 7 Series operating system for smartphones, timed to be commercially available by the critical fourth quarter holiday shopping season. First unveiled at last month's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, the platform supports a range of advanced features packaged in a touch-friendly user interface.

So how has it been received by the analyst community? Avi Greengart with Current Analysis gave it a resounding "negative." Greengart wrote in a scathing research note that "Microsoft is recreating the iPhone instead of transcending its limitations." Added Greengart: "Microsoft has precisely copied Apple's approach in so many ways that we are coining a new acronym: JLA (i.e., Just Like Apple)."

In a detailed assessment of Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 Series revelations this week, Greengart noted the similarities between the software giant's new platform and Apple's three-year-old iPhone effort:

  • Consumers can only download applications from Microsoft's store, JLA.
  • With a few exceptions, third party multitasking is not allowed, JLA.
  • Removable memory is not allowed, JLA.
  • The user interface is locked down, JLA, and VoIP apps will not be allowed.
  • JLA, Microsoft's services are deeply embedded in the phone, including its Bing search engine, Xbox Live gaming service and Zune music and content market.
  • "Cut and paste" functionality isn't supported, JLA (or at least JLA circa 2007-2008, before Apple added "cut and paste" in its iPhone 3.0 update).

To be clear, Greengart does view Microsoft's overall mobile effort as positive; Microsoft's current Windows Mobile platform appears ancient next to the likes of Android, iPhone and webOS. Further, Microsoft is following the closed system approach it took recently with its Xbox and Zune efforts. "Microsoft needed to make radical changes to the OS and its strategy," Greengart wrote. "We just wish it didn't include aping Apple's vertically controlled experience so closely."

On judging Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 Series effort, Strategy Analytics analyst Bonny Joy took a broad view. "In terms of the longer-term strategy of Microsoft, they are going in the right direction." Joy argued that Microsoft's refreshed mobile efforts draw on the company's successes in gaming (Xbox) and Web development (Silverlight) and are well positioned thanks in large part to Microsoft's vast business ecosystem.

But, Joy added, "Microsoft is increasingly looking toward a closed architecture. ... Microsoft is more going in the direction of Apple."

Based on Apple's incredible successes in the mobile market, it's not necessarily a surprise that Microsoft would try to imitate some of the iPhone maker's strategies. However, as Greengart points out, Microsoft "risks being left behind should (when) Apple innovates further." --Mike