Microsoft Exec Admits Windows Phone 7 Was a Reaction to The iPhone

In a rather candid chat with The New York Times, Joe Belfiore, an engineer on the Windows Phone team, admitted that the platform was indeed a response to the iPhone.

In his own words:

“Apple created a sea change in the industry in terms of the kinds of things they did that were unique and highly appealing to consumers. We wanted to respond with something that would be competitive, but not the same.”

At a time when the entire industry was largely inspired by Apple’s work, it was very unlike Microsoft to start off with a strategy to do something different.

The NYT article offers an interesting look back into the history, specifically the inception, of Windows Phone:

in December 2008, Terry Myerson, who had just taken over engineering for the mobile group, convened a meeting that members of his management team came to call the “cage match.”

With a prototype of a new Windows Mobile phone on a table, Mr. Myerson, a no-nonsense engineer , led a heated debate over whether any of the software could be salvaged. No one was leaving the room until the issue was resolved, he said.

Seven hours later, the meeting finally adjourned, after Mr. Myerson got a call from his wife saying a pipe had frozen at his home. By then, a consensus had emerged that there wasn’t much technology worth saving. “We had hit bottom,” Mr. Myerson, who is now 39.

The mobile group decided to start with a blank slate and the freedom to “try new things, build a new team and set a new path.” This obviously delayed Microsoft’s full fledged dive into the “modern smartphone” era, and Google capitalized on this delay to roll out improved versions of Android and gain market-share.

Metro, the User Interface that sets Windows Phone apart from its competitors, arose from the ashes of Zune, Microsoft’s (now dead) response to the iPod. Bill Flora, one of the designers of Windows Phone, tells NYT that signs in airports and other transportation hubs served as an inspiration for early prototypes:

He [Flora] borrowed the emphasis on clarity, clean typography and broadcast-quality transitions between screens from Zune, which he had worked on with Mr. Belfiore.

Subway Map, source of WP7 design inspiration

(A subway map. An example of the “signs on transportation hubs” Bill Flora talks about. via Smashing Magazine)

Sample app using the Metro UI

(A WP7 app using the Metro UI)

Along with the new Metro design language, Microsoft set minimum requirements for a device which would run the Windows Phone OS. Their view on computers in general started sounding similar to that of Steve Jobs:

“It’s not just about software,” said Albert Shum, general manager of the design studio for Windows Phone. “It’s about the whole end-to-end experience.”

The NYT article goes onto say that, this year would be crucial for Microsoft to establish Windows Phone as a smartphone OS for the masses, and not just the tech community.

Going forward, Nokia would play an increasingly important role in Microsoft’s efforts to raise the bar of Windows Phone hardware. Other OEMs like Samsung and HTC majorly rely on Android, and Nokia is the only company which has bet its entire (smartphone) future on Windows Phone and who could forget that Stephen Elop, Nokia’s CEO, headed Microsoft’s Business Division before moving to Nokia.

Nokia is indeed, as Stephen Elop tells NYT, doing their best work for Windows Phone, and the Lumia 800 is a perfect example of that. The Finnish company is rumored to introduce the Lumia 800’s successor, dubbed Lumia 900, at CES in a few days.

[via NYT]