Windows Phone 7: Too Much Like the iPhone?

Windows Phone 7 Series will not come with cut-and-paste functionality, according to a wide number of reports citing information Microsoft reportedly revealed during a Q & A session at its MIX10 conference late Tuesday. Microsoft believes that people don't need copy-and-paste on their phones, according to Engadget.

Instead, Microsoft will offer functionality the company believes people actually want instead of cut-and-paste. For example, the new Microsoft handsets will identify addresses and phone numbers, and you will reportedly be able to send this information to different applications such as the phone or your contacts manager.

This is only the latest feature that Microsoft has pulled from the Apple playbook. You may recall that the original iPhone didn't ship with copy-and-paste either, and was only added to iPhone devices with the introduction of iPhone OS 3.0. Come to think of it, there are a lot of parallels--too many, some might argue--between Windows Phone 7 and the iPhone. Let's take a look at the top five ways Microsoft has taken cues from the iPhone, and why that may or may not be such a good strategy for Redmond.

Flash Coyness

When the iPhone first launched, it came without Adobe Flash capabilities, meaning it was severely limited when it came to displaying online video and animation. In early 2008, Apple CEO Steve Jobs quashed any hopes for Flash on the iPhone by calling the browser plug-in "too slow to be useful." Ever since then, there have been many rumors and debates over Flash on the iPhone, but Adobe's animation capabilities still aren't available to iPhone users.

Microsoft's stance on Flash is a little less harsh than Apple's. Instead of disqualifying Flash for Windows Phone 7, Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer has said he has "no objection" to seeing Flash on Microsoft's new mobile platform. Adobe has already started working on a version of Flash for Windows Phone 7; however, there's one little snag to Adobe's plans: Windows Phone 7 third-party apps will be based on Microsoft's Flash competitor, Silverlight. Since that's the case, I have to wonder how interested Microsoft really is in seeing Flash on its devices.

Whether you like it or not, Flash is the dominant platform for online video, but once again we may see a number of mainstream mobile handsets that can't truly access the full Web. The coming HTML 5 Web browsing standard is supposed include a new video capability to replace Flash, but HTML 5 video is still being tested by video sites like YouTube and is not in widespread use. For now, Flash rules the Web, and should really be a standard part of mobile device capability.

Multitouch

Considering Apple's current willingness to protect its patents in court, I have to wonder if Apple will allow Microsoft to deploy multitouch on Windows Phone 7 without a fight. Apple, you may remember, received a patent for mutlitouch in 2009. In fact, Google reportedly backed off from unlocking multitouch capability on its Android platform at the request of Apple, but the search giant eventually went ahead with deploying multitouch on the recently released Nexus One. Now, Apple is suing HTC, the Nexus One's manufacturer, for a host of purported iPhone-related patent violations. However, it's notable that multitouch is not one of the supposed patent complaints.

Nevertheless, if Apple feels cornered by so many multitouch devices including Android devices, Palm's WebOS devices and now Windows Phone 7 devices, perhaps they'd finally be willing to protect this patent in court.

Push Notification and Multitasking

One of the most highly criticized points against the iPhone is its inability to multitask, which prevents you from using more than one third-party application at a time. You can't for example, use Blip.fm, while reading something on your Kindle or New York Times app. This is also a problem for the usefulness of some apps, since you can't get pinged by a friend on AIM or receive breaking news from a news application unless that specific app is running.

Apple's solution to this problem was to create a push notification system where the content provider pushes information to your phone, instead of having applications on your phone call the content provider to get it.

Windows Phone 7's will follow this same set-up, but I hope Microsoft and its partners pay close attention to device speed and app place-marking. One reason critics are able to live with Apple's strategy is that the iPhone can switch between applications fairly quickly, and most developers make sure their iPhone apps can open up where from where you left off. So the downtime between closing and opening different apps, and finding the content you need, isn't that significant on the iPhone. If Windows Phone 7 apps aren't as equally fast and smart as their iPhone counterparts, Microsoft could end up being heavily criticized for its no multitasking-push notification system.

Hardware Control

Windows Phone 7 device manufacturers will have to follow some basic hardware guidelines from Microsoft, such as only sporting three physical buttons -- Home, Back, and Search. Microsoft also won't let hardware manufacturers change the Windows Phone 7 interface.

Apple has succeeded in building a loyal following in part by controlling software and hardware pairings, so this may be a good strategy for Microsoft to imitate. The problem for Microsoft may come down to the wide number of hardware partners that will want to use the Windows Phone 7 operating system, and whether Microsoft can really control hardware specifications the way Apple can.

One Stop Shop

Microsoft wants to imitate Apple's iTunes App Store success by creating its own retail app store called the Windows Phone Marketplace. The new store will be the only place to get apps for your new Microsoft device, and at least some applications will have to be approved by Microsoft before showing up in the Marketplace, just like Apple.

Apple has been heavily criticized for its murky app approval policies, and Microsoft should be very careful not to fall into the same trap. Microsoft is reportedly working to avoid Apple's mistakes with a more transparent approval process, according to PocketNow. But I have to wonder if this new Microsoft strategy will backfire, and end up encouraging some people to jailbreak Windows Phone 7 devices so they can use whatever apps they want to, just like the iPhone.

Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 Series promises to be an interesting addition to the wide range of smartphones already available, but it feels like Microsoft is copying Apple's strategy just a little too closely. Windows Mobile phones have had copy-and-paste for years -- they used to be called Pocket PCs for goodness sake -- and I think Microsoft has made an error in dropping this functionality. The Windows Phone Marketplace makes sense, but does Microsoft really want to get into the business of controlling and approving thousands upon thousands of mobile applications? Why not hand off this responsibility to approved partners instead?

Apple's iPhone is a great product worthy of emulating, but I wonder if Microsoft should reconsider basic things like the lack of multitasking, copy-and-paste and its murky stance on Adobe Flash.

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