At one time, having the ability to receive e-mail messages and to browse the Internet from a cell phone were huge selling points. Today these capabilities are expected from all smart phones and have become little more than checklist items.
The one capability that seems to be the most important on any smart phone platform is the capability to run a compelling set of apps. After all, there are many who argue that it was the availability of apps that made the iPhone so successful.
So if apps are really so critical to a smart phone's acceptance in the consumer market space, one cannot help but wonder what apps are currently available for Windows Phone 7 and what the future holds for this mobile platform.
The History of Windows Mobile Apps
Before I get started, let me just clarify that every mobile operating system that Microsoft has ever produced (including Windows CE and Windows Mobile) has offered support for running third party apps. Even so, a lot of the Windows Mobile users that I have talked to in the past (IT professionals not included) do not seem to even realize that their mobile devices can run applications beyond those that are included on the device at the time of purchase.
So how is it that both the iPhone and legacy Windows Mobile devices are capable of running third-party applications, and yet almost nobody uses Windows Mobile as an application platform? I think that there are two main factors contributing to Windows Mobile not being used as an application platform.
First, from the very beginning Apple has marketed the iPhone as an application platform. Many of the iPhone commercials showed all the cool things that could be done using the iPhone. Furthermore, Apple makes its own App Store available on the iPhone's main screen.
In contrast, prior to the release of Windows Phone 7, I don't remember ever seeing a commercial for Windows Mobile. If anything, Windows Mobile devices were relatively obscure. For example, this year after Thanksgiving dinner I pulled out my phone to make a quick call. One of my more tech-savvy relatives asked me what type of phone I had. When I told her that it was a Windows phone, she was surprised because she didn't even realize that there was such a thing as a Windows phone.
Not only are the devices themselves somewhat obscure, but Microsoft hasn't done a lot to let people know that it can run applications.
As I was preparing to write this article, it occurred to me that although Apple makes the Apps Store a centerpiece of its iPhone offerings, I can't remember ever seeing an apps store on my Windows Mobile 6.1 device. After taking a look, I discovered that my device does have an apps store, but it was put there by my mobile carrier, not by Microsoft.
My point is that even though Windows Mobile devices have always included application support, they have been a victim of ineffective marketing, whereas Apple has spent an untold fortune marketing the iPhone.
The other reason why I believe that Windows Mobile has never caught on as an application platform is because compared to the iPhone, Windows Mobile hardware has always been somewhat lacking. I have seen friends play high-resolution 3D games on their iPhones.
While I will admit that I don't really remember what my Windows Mobile 6.1 device has under the hood, I guarantee that it does not have sufficient hardware capabilities to run some of the applications that have become routine for iPhone users.