If you had asked me a year ago whether the Windows Phone 7 mobile OS and smartphone would be as wildly successful as Silverlight, I would have said, "No way!" It is widely known that Silverlight adoption is the best success story in Microsoft developer division history. Plain and simple, Silverlight is a great technology that hit a market when it desperately needed one. And to keep it fresh and relevant and packed with features, Microsoft has versioned Silverlight four times over 2 1/2 years. Silverlight is a great success story. We love Silverlight, and what frustrations we have with it usually are rooted in the fact that it just doesn't run everywhere like it should.

When the Windows Phone 7 hype started a year ago, I was skeptical. And even after Windows Phone 7 shipped and went into general availability last fall, I was still skeptical. I have been frequently known to say: "BlackBerry owns the enterprise, Apple owns the consumer, and Android owns the technology elite. There is not much room for Windows Phone 7 to make a dent anywhere."

I've been using a Windows Phone 7 smartphone for a long time now… well, long in technology time: close to a year. I used a prototype device in production for a number of months, and for the last four months I've been using an LG device with AT&T as my provider. Since I get to hang with the technology elite, I am frequently asked about my Windows Phone 7. I typically say, "I love the OS. Microsoft did an awesome job." Then I typically continue by saying something like, "My device is okay, and new, more powerful feature-packed devices will continue to enter the market as it matures. And since in my job I have to actually talk on the device by using it as a telephone, I am less than pleased." Then the conversation quickly moves to "carrier bashing." At which point I show a few of the unique features of the device, such as the social networking integration, to swing the conversation to positive again.

A Sea Change for Phone 7 Adoption
But two interesting things happened to me recently that serve as "market indicators" for me:

1. I sat in a meeting last week with all "business people." No one in the room was technical… at all. These people are financial types—not my types. So, during the meeting when it got a bit boring and over my head, I discreetly took numerous peeks at email on my Windows Phone 7. When the meeting adjourned, one of the guys said in front of the entire group, "How do you like your Windows Phone 7?" Shocked, I retorted, "I'm surprised you actually know what a Windows Phone 7 is, let alone recognize it." And I gave my usual answer (mentioned previously). Interestingly, every one of them agreed. And here is the shocking part. They all showed me that they each carry two phones: an iPhone and "one to talk on," which is a simple Verizon phone with no Internet access. At that point I said, "Well, when this one is available on Verizon, you'll be able to carry one device."

2. Both my teenagers expressed a desire to get a Windows Phone 7. These are pretty well-rounded kids who have carried Androids and iPhones forever and who would rather die than have anything consumer-related from Microsoft. Surprised, I asked them both why and got basically the same answer: "I have a friend who has one, and it's awesome." I thought to myself: "A grassroots Windows Phone 7 swell within the elite teenager community? No way!"

Is this Windows Phone 7 adoption going faster than I thought? Significantly faster than I ever predicted? Faster than Silverlight? Well, after doing some research, I've found that the answers are "yes" and "yes" and "maybe," which shocks me. Here are the relevant stats:
 

 



Windows Phone 7 is now available from 60 mobile operators in 30 countries around the world. To date, more than 28,000 registered developers have published more than 8,000 apps and games. Windows Phone Developer Tools have been downloaded one million times from countries around the world. Clearly the Silverlight (and XNA) developers are building apps for the Windows Phone Marketplace… at a rate that far eclipses the Apple Marketplace. 8,000 applications shipped in basically three months is a staggering number. Couple that developer popularity with Microsoft's announcement of its partnership with Zones.com to sell phones to developers without requiring a voice or data contract from the handset OEMs and mobile operator partners. And then there's Microsoft and Nokia's February announcement of a joint partnership making Windows Phone 7 the exclusive OS for all Nokia phones. Let's add all the pieces together:

 

  • great tools in Visual Studio and the Expression Suite to help build Windows Phone 7 applications
  • a Windows Phone 7 marketplace with low barriers to entry
  • easy and cost-effective access to devices for developers
  • a dedicated phone device provider in Nokia

Those pieces add up to a tidal wave of adoption coming. Who knew? Certainly, it wasn't me. I was totally wrong.

Microsoft shipped more than two million copies of the Windows Phone 7 OS in fourth quarter 2010. That doesn't mean that many phones made it to market. That means Microsoft delivered that many licenses to the providers in anticipation of those phones shipping into the market.

And for people like me who have the phone already, customer satisfaction for the product is at 93 percent, and brand awareness has jumped 22 points to 66 percent since Windows Phone 7 was released, said Greg Sullivan, a senior product manager at Microsoft, in an interview, citing internal measures. I guess that explains the encounters I had with business people and teenagers.

Windows Phone 7's Future Is Bright
But what about the future? What about the road map? What really excites me are the features announced just today (as I write this) at the 2011 Mobile World Congress. In his keynote, Steve Ballmer announced that the Internet Explorer 9 browser will be available for Windows Phone 7 in the second half of 2011, offering "a dramatically enhanced mobile web browser experience." Yes, draw conclusions: That means HTML5 compatibility. Other features that Ballmer announced:

  • copy-and-paste functionality via first major update, coming in March
  • Twitter integration directly into the People Hub in 2011
  • support for Office documents in the cloud in 2011
  • a new wave of multitasking applications in 2011
  • targeting of a significant volume of Nokia Windows Phones in 2012

And finally, it was also announced that the Windows Phone 7 will be available soon on US networks, such as Verizon and Sprint. Thank goodness.
 
What are we to make of all this? Well, let's be clear that I was flat out wrong. Adoption of Windows Phone 7 is happening a lot faster than I ever dreamed or predicted. Frankly, short of a few visionary Microsoft people, no one predicted this. I believe a lot of this success has to do with the Silverlight developer ecosystem. I believe it also indicates that the reports of Microsoft's death in the phone space to be a bit premature and grossly exaggerated.

Meet Tim Huckaby at the Mobile Connections event, April 17-21, 2011, colocated with the Cloud Connections and Mobile Connections events, at the Bellagio, Las Vegas. Tim is presenting two sessions on Windows Phone 7: Screens and the Cloud, on natural user interface (NUI) technologies based in the cloud, and Jump into Windows Phone 7 Silverlight! ...and Become Immediately Effective.

Tim Huckaby (timhuck@interknowlogy.com) is CEO and founder of Actus Interactive Software and InterKnowlogy, experts in .NET and Microsoft platforms. He has worked on and with product teams at Microsoft for many years, has coauthored several books, and is a frequent conference speaker.