The shape of Microsoft's new mobile strategy is starting to become clear following the official launch of Windows Phone 7, and it looks like the firm could win back some market share thanks to lessons learned from rivals such as Apple.
Windows Phone 7 was launched in a blaze of publicity on 11 October, although only a handful of handsets have so far gone on sale in the UK following the official availability date of 21 October.
The platform itself is a complete break with the Windows Mobile software that came before it, introducing a focus on delivering the information that an end user needs, and making it easier to accomplish key tasks.
Microsoft has gone to great lengths to point out that the new Windows Phone user interface, especially the tile-based home screen, is different from anything else around. The company even talked disparagingly about other smartphones showing just "a grid of application icons" in an obvious dig at Apple.
However, it seems clear that Microsoft has been influenced by Apple in creating Windows Phone 7, even if the resulting platform is very different from the iPhone.
In particular, Microsoft seems to have observed how Apple is penetrating the enterprise market by creating a compelling device that many professionals have acquired as a consumer purchase and then lobbied their employer into supporting in the workplace.
Likewise, Windows Phone 7 is primarily aimed at consumers, at least in its first incarnation, but many of its most important features play strongly to Microsoft's existing strengths in the business market, such as Office and its Exchange email system.
"You would be crazy to ignore consumers after the iPhone's success, but Microsoft's coming from the business sphere puts it in a prime position to integrate with back-end infrastructure better than anybody else," said Tony Cripps, principal analyst for devices and platforms at Ovum.
Office is regarded as Microsoft's cash cow, and for good reason; the applications are among the most commonly used in the world.
With the Office hub in Windows Phone 7, Microsoft has put a great deal of effort into making Office usable on a mobile device and ensuring that users can access their documents easily. It does this by linking with SharePoint Server, Microsoft's popular business collaboration platform, but it can also save OneNote documents automatically to the user's Windows Live account for access on a PC later, according to Microsoft.
The versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote included with the new platform have much less functionality than their desktop counterparts, but do allow workers to view and edit documents in the new XML file formats and the older, but more widely used, Office 2003 format.
In fact, Aaron Woodman, director of Microsoft's Mobile Communications Business, claimed that Windows Phone 7 devices "will be the best phone for users of Office".
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