Microsoft is coming back to the smartphone OS wars with the launching of Windows Phone 7 officially today. Microsoft currently holds 5% of the global smartphone OS market share with Windows Mobile according to Gartner research. Windows Phone 7 would need to gain 9% to catch the Apple iPhone and 12% to take on Android according to Gartner’s smartphone OS research.
“Launching,” in this case, is not synonymous with shipping. The first Windows Phone 7s are expected to debut two weeks from now in Europe, and not until November 8 (on AT&T) and mid-November (on T-Mobile). But Microsoft will be showing — and sharing more about — the coming phones on Monday, starting with a 9:30 a.m. ET kick-off here in New York.
According to a tipster writing to Engadget, one good piece of news when it comes to Windows Phone 7 is that when it launches, there will already be 2,000 applications waiting to be bought and downloaded from the Windows Phone Marketplace. Okay, that’s just a drop compared to the overflowing ocean of content provided by Apple’s App Store, but given how important apps are to a smartphone’s success these days, Microsoft at least is trying to make a strong showing out of the gate.
Ultimately, though, what will matter isn’t whether Microsoft launches with a small but respectable app library. it’ll be whether or not developers continue to make new content for the marketplace. Until Windows 7 Phone handsets actually start shipping, that will continue to be the big unknown.
Some of the biggest differences in Windows Phone 7 revolve around Microsoft’s tighter control of the entire ecosystem: developers will build in Silverlight, XNA and .Net; apps will only be supported via Microsoft’s Marketplace; and there are a minimum set of hardware requirements for phones. The hardware basics include 256 MB of RAM, with a minimum of 4 GB Flash, WiFi (802.11 b/g), multi-touch capacitive screens and sensors for GPS, accelerometer, compass, proximity and light. Also, every phone will have the exact same feature buttons in the exact same places on the phone, including the hardware Bing button that will be one of three “power” buttons on the bottom of the phone.