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Windows Phone 7 Gets it Wrong

Microsoft’s just released Kin phones will probably sell well enough for Redmond to be able to claim their releases successful. There are plenty of microsofties out there who’ve drunk the Kool-Aid and won’t buy any computing product unless it has either Intel inside or Windows on the screen. And the teen crowd, Kin’s targeted market, will most likely turn the Zune based phone into a fad for fifteen or twenty minutes, until the wrong people get one. Also, there’s the cheap factor. With rebates, the Kin One can be had for fifty bucks.

But the Kin will most likely only be a blip on the sales charts. The real test for whether Redmond will be able to reenter the mobile market successfully will come later this year with the release of Windows Phone 7. Although many tech writers are already boosters of this OS, I’m betting it barely gets out the gate.

The problem, as I see it, isn’t the operating system. All indications are it’s a very impressive implementation that could give both the iPhone and Android some competition. But Microsoft might have already crippled the OS by outlawing most carrier or partner GUI customizations. In other words, Redmond will allow very little if any branding. One company’s Windows phone will have the same look and feel as the next company’s Windows phone.

This would be fine if Windows was only going to compete with phones from Apple, RIM, Palm and the like, companies who’s handsets are welded to their operating systems. But Windows will also be competing with Android, which is not only available to the same phone makers as the new Windows mobile OS, but it’s free and already an established winner in the marketplace.

More importantly, because it’s open source, phone makers who build phones around Android are free to change the GUI and the feature set in any way they please. They can brand the phones, they can design the OS to appeal to different markets, they can make their phones stand apart from even other Android devices.

Unless Ballmer & Company change their minds and offer their partners a more liberal deal, this will not be the case for phones built around Windows Phone 7. To be sure, there will be differences in the hardware, one phone might come with a keyboard, one phone might flip open, etc., but once the user fires-up the phone, the experience will be nearly identical.

If I was a handset maker, I think I’d go with a proven operating system I could make my own and not make a “me too” Windows phone. And if I was looking to purchase a new smart phone, I think I’d prefer something that seemed tailored to my particular needs, not a one-size-fits-all offering.

Time will tell, however.

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