Microsoft leads with consumer play on Windows Phone 7

Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) is expected to wait until next year before directing any significant attention to enterprise IT shops regarding its new Windows Phone 7 platform , according to some industry analysts.

The small market share of its previous Windows Mobile OS, coupled with the failure of its Kin device launch earlier this year, prompted a complete redesign from Redmond, Wash.-based software giant. The company unveiled 10 new Windows Phone 7 devices during a Monday news conference that was exclusively geared toward the consumer space.

During the event, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer continually stressed to users that Microsoft’s latest offering would be “different” than the mobile platforms from Google Inc. and Apple Inc.

Rob Enderle, principal analyst for the Enderle Group , agreed with Ballmer, saying the OS was different than anything he’s seen from Microsoft in years.

“Windows was an Apple clone, but this is quite different,” he said. “This is unusual for Microsoft to diverge as dramatically as they have. This is much closer to what they did with the Xbox, which was unique in its time.”

In addition to releasing a unique platform that feels different than other mobile OSes on the market, Enderle said Microsoft has recognized that their prior approach of focusing on the “business first and consumer second” just wasn’t working.

He said that while the platform still offers back-end support for Microsoft Exchange, more centralized management options will probably come further down the line next year. Enderle added that Microsoft could be banking on IT departments who want less responsibility for end-user devices and just want to facilitate users connecting back into their ecosystem.

Enderle said 2010 will primarily be the year that Microsoft will try and get consumers and developers excited about the platform. If successful, he said, enterprise apps and relevant would follow in 2011.

Al Hilwa, a program director covering application development software for IDC Corp. , said he was impressed with how competitive Microsoft appears to be right out of the gate with their devices. He added that the development environment and the new user interface will probably be the two strongest aspects of the platform.

On the app side, Hilwa said that significant developer interest should lead to the release of “several thousand” apps within the next six months.

“The new angle, which is a bit of an outflanking strategy, is the gaming angle and the ties to Xbox Live,” he said. “This is going to allow a lot of .NET people to freelance building consumer, gaming and social networking apps where previously they were cut out of that market. I think it will unleash the inner gamer of every enterprise .NET developer.”

“It has the potential to bring a specific segment of users and MS is smart to play to them.”

Despite this early consumer focus, Hilwa said it will be critical for Microsoft’s long-term goals to ramp up enterprise support to at least the same level of its older Windows Mobile OS. He added that the set of capabilities more suited for enterprise apps is certain to come in a future release.

“Pretty much in the next round they have to deliver cut-and-paste, multi-tasking and allow developers to get at the database inside the devices,” Hilwa said.

Follow Rafael Ruffolo on Twitter: @RafaelRuffolo.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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