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Windows 7 Phone Attempts Its Last Laugh

AT&T (ATT) has leaked initial advertisements for a Microsoft (MSFT) Windows 7 Phone, which is rumored to launch in the next 60 days. The ads show the same robust-looking OS we've seen here and here -- but they shed light the new Windows Phone marketing strategy, which may be the most important thing of all.

Windows phone looks gorgeous, but then, so does the iPhone (and Android and Blackberry 6 aren't bad, either). But that doesn't change the fact that Microsoft has some serious explaining to do. That is to say: consumers need to be told why Microsoft, the maker of over 90% of the world's computers, took so long to push out a viable and competitive smartphone OS. This ad attempts just that.

The story Microsoft is going with is something like a "last laugh" story. Here are the other smartphone users, Microsoft shows us, pecking away and squinting at small fonts. (Another, similar message is seen in this ad.) Windows phone is supposedly more straightforward.

They have an excellent point. The very fact that freakish enormities like the HTC Evo exist (it has 4.3-inch screen) means there is something fundamentally wrong with the visual design in these phones. The head-down amble of the Crackberry addict is familiar to most of us, and it's true that a lot of tasks take too many clicks. The visual elements of popular smartphones are often too small and too laborious.

Microsoft would have consumers believe that the new Windows 7 Phones are designed to get information in front of you more quickly and more readably. And perhaps it is. But the advertisements also suggest that Microsoft has only deigned to produce a smartphone because the others weren't "easy" enough. Maybe consumers will buy that message. Maybe not. But a more crucial question is: will this "advantage" draw third-party developers?

Windows 7 Phone has anticipated on one of the burgeoning segments of the smartphone market -- smaller devices -- and maybe that paradigm will draw app coders. The Windows Phone OS has big, readable "tiles" on the display instead of tiny little apps, and these tiles auto-update with information instead of requiring clicks. As I've written here, the emergence of the tablet (Apple's iPad as well as the coming Android and Blackberry tablets) may push consumers to prefer smaller, lighter and more durable smartphones -- and that of course means smaller screens. That presents a novel challenge to the people who make apps.

But finding a way to sell the Windows 7 Phone consumer story (i.e., readability and straightforwardness) to app developers will be hard when they're already making decent money on the iTunes App Store.

Microsoft needs to find a way to show the developer community that there is something salient and unique about the way Windows 7 Phone presents data to users -- otherwise, there isn't any new ground to be broken. What new mobile software is possible with such transparent notifications? Can this kind of display help people sift through their RSS feeds? Can it help them prioritize email? If not, Microsoft will have an even harder time getting decent apps for the Windows Phone platform than they think.