Windows Phone 7 vs BlackBerry: Can Microsoft Take On RIM?
With the new release of Windows Phone 7, there have been some talks on the fresh operating system and where it stands. It seems to be a general consensus that iPhone(iOS) and Android are in direct competition with each other. Both these two platforms are more geared to consumers while BlackBerry still remains a strong choice for businesses. What about Windows Phone 7(WP7)? Where do they stand and how are the being marketed? Microsoft wants to make it clear that they are still in the market with WP7. With a huge marketing campaign, they have created a buzz with WP7. Many people are asking: Can WP7 take on BlackBerry? What are the advantages? What are the differences? Lets have a look.
First, just what is WP7? WP7 is a smart phone OS. There is no official “Microsoft” phone. Much like Android, WP7 can be used by many different manufacturers. Samsung, HTC, Motorola, etc can all use WP7 however, Microsoft have put in some guidelines or requirements.
Tough But Fair
Microsoft has issued what they call, “tough but fair” hardware requirements on all Windows Phone 7 devices. Currently, these include the following:
1 GHz ARM v7 “Cortex/Scorpion” processor or better
DirectX 9 capable GPU
256MB of RAM with at least 8GB of flash memory
Accelerometer, compass, GPS, FM radio, and proximity sensor
At least 5MP camera with LED flash
- 6 dedicated hardware buttons – back, Start, search, camera, power/sleep, Volume Up and Down
At first glance, these requirements seem to be high. From a marketing standpoint, this means all WP7 will adhere to the highest standards in smart phones. What this means is lack of fragmentation. For example, Android is available on many devices from 528 MHz to over 1 GHz processors. There are also different flavors and versions of Android. The experience of Android vary with each device. The apparent goal of these strict requirements is to allow manufacturers to produce WP7 phones while maintaining a high user experience. Microsoft may have set up these requirements in order to protect the long term reputation of WP7. I see this as a good thing. If the phone runs WP7, its hardware won't be crappy.
Microsoft Has Set The Bar High
In comparison to BlackBerry, there are no official standards. For a long time, there was an unwritten rule that all BlackBerry smart phones had to have a physical keyboard. This “rule” was relaxed with the release of the Storm line – their touch screen smart phones. Now they have the Torch, a touch screen phone with a physical keyboard. While RIM continues to make BlackBerry phones their way, there are some things its customers come to expect. A physical keyboard, good battery life, push email/messaging, 2 convenience keys, and excellent reliability. Most of these are subjective but they're key reasons why RIM continues to sell BlackBerry smart phones today. Many loyal BlackBerry customers are complaining about outdated hardware and software. In terms of setting standards, Microsoft has set the bar higher than what BlackBerry owners are used to. If hardware is an important issue, RIM needs to step it up in order to compete.
Email comes in reliably on BlackBerry with BIS or BES. Most people will be using BIS while businesses will use corporate BES. WP7 offers push email, calender, and contact syncing through Exchange ActiveSync. User interface is subjective but I found the UI on WP7 to be very clean. The start screen is made up of “tiles”. These tiles are dynamic and update in real time. Emails tiles will display the number of unread mail. Organization is logically arranged and sorted in “hubs”. Contacts are consolidated with Gmail, Facebook, and Windows Live. The touch screen interface makes navigation quick and natural.
The UI on BlackBerry is optimized for the trackpad/trackball. With the increasing demand for a better touch screen experience, BlackBerry has introduced OS6 to compete with the other platforms. RIM have been widely criticized for playing too “safe”. Some people say OS6 is just a slight upgrade from OS5. OS6 has all of the features of OS5 with a few minor upgrades. It has a new notification bar that consolidates all new activities such as missed calls, Twitter updates, and new emails. They also added what the call “Universal Search”. Those familiar with Linux will find it very similar to Gnome-do. Basically, you start typing and results will appear dynamically. This means you can open the browser by typing as little as 2 letters. Besides a few other minor changes, one much needed upgrade is the browser. "B" and "R". BlackBerry OS6 features the Webkit browser. This makes the browsing experience much more enjoyable than the previous version. BlackBerry users will see this as a huge upgrade but it is worth mentioning that iPhone and Android users have been using it for years.
On the other hand, the browser on WP7 is noticeably better than BlackBerry's browser. The browser in WP7 is Internet Explorer Mobile which uses the Trident layout engine. Some people claim that the Webkit layout engine performs better than Trident but my impressions were the opposite. Maybe it's because the minimum requirements Microsoft imposed on manufacturers gave it the brute force it needed to outperform BlackBerry. I found browsing, scrolling, and pinch-to-zoom to be smooth and responsive. On the under hand, the BlackBerry Torch's browsing experience had some noticeable stutters. This may be due to it's underwhelming 624 MHz processor.
Multimedia And Gaming
In the category of multimedia and games, I'll keep it short. WP7 kills BlackBerry. Music playback on WP7 is a zen-like Zune experience. Very nice and professional. Music on BlackBerry is fair. For gaming, BlackBerry has a poor selection. WP7 is integrating Xbox Live with their platform. Although it is not going to win any console wars, WP7 will give the iPhone a good run. Looking back at their strict requirements, is this why they pushed for DirectX 9 support? Yes. Yes, it is.
Battery life is important for any serious user. WP7 phones are on a good roll so far but I think this is where things get tricky. BlackBerry smart phones have a good reputation for their long battery life. It is not uncommon for users to go through a full day of heavy use on their berries. In their long list of requirements, Microsoft should have added a battery clause. Having had some extensive knowledge on batteries, I believe all slate-style smart phones should have a minimum of 1800 mAh. Battery life is the most common problem people have with smart phones. RIM has addressed it with their efficient OS, while other manufacturers put it in the back seat. This is where WP7 draws a wild card. Most phone manufacturers(RIM included) build battery compartments around the phone's design. As a result, consumers get a small, cramped battery that is good for 8 hours. I say this is a wild card for Microsoft because they leave it up to the manufacturers. To be fair, the Dell Venue Pro has been tested up to 14 hours of use before needing a recharge. That's very good considering the design. However, we don't always get dealt a royal flush. This is where professional consumers may polarize.
Interestingly enough, Microsoft have added content restrictions on their apps. To sum it up, they will not allow “adult” related apps. Things they may find “sexually suggestive” will not make it into their marketplace. Maybe this was done to protect its image.
It's also worth mentioning that some features not supported but confirmed to arrive on WP7 is cut, copy and paste. Full multi-tasking. And Adobe Flash Support.
Windows Phone 7 is a very interesting platform. By interesting, I mean good. It is polished, clean, and well thought out. Bing search is deeply integrated as well as hubs. The tile theme is simple yet professional. The more I use it, the more it becomes obvious. WP7 is not revolutionary. It is not aimed at impressing iPhone and Android users with its UI. It will not blow the minds out of BlackBerry users who are used to push emails. Choice seems to be the goal of WP7. WP7 is a solid choice for people who are looking for something different. It won't blow you away if you are used to smart phones, but it is a solid alternative. Is WP7 enough to lure faithful BlackBerry users? If it can prove its reliability, then yes.