Microsoft touts UI efficiency with WP7

Claim that Windows Phone 7 requires 20 per cent fewer user steps is basis for big TV ad campaign

Microsoft claims its Windows Phone 7 (WP7) smartphones help users get more done in fewer steps than do rival phones.

Microsoft based its claim of greater efficiency -- that WP7 requires up to 20 per cent fewer steps to perform common tasks -- on its own internal research comparing tasks among smartphone users, a spokeswoman said today.

The 20 per cent efficiency claim was offered to Computerworld as a partial explanation of how WP7 phones fulfill Microsoft's TV ad claim that the phones are "designed to get you in and out and back to life."

Microsoft has previously said it plans to spend more on TV advertising for WP7 than any such campaign in history.

One WP7 ad shows how a variety of users are obsessed with their phones, talking and running while using them, and then bumping into or tripping over strangers. One man in the ad drops his phone in a urinal and fishes it out, while another man looks on and says, disgustedly, "Really?!"

Microsoft makes no claim that its WP7 phones prevent collisions with strangers or toilet drops. But the humorous ad does say "it's time for a phone to save us from our phones," implying that greater efficiency while browsing, running apps, reading e-mails or making calls is possible with a WP7 phone. AT&T and T-Mobile will begin selling four WP7 phones on Monday in the U.S.; some European carriers began sales Oct. 21.

One of the claims of efficiency comes from WP7's use of "hubs" and "tiles," which are really superfiles and sub-files designed to organize data. In response, some analysts have argued that while hubs and tiles are different from UI elements used by market-leading iPhone and Android phones, they're not necessarily more efficient.

Microsoft also claims that putting Bing Search on a dedicated physical button on the phone helps efficiency. "With one press, you can either speak-to-search or type in your inquiry and the information is at your fingertips," Brian Seitz, senior marketing manager for WP7, said in an e-mail.

He also said putting Calendar on the start screen helps a user "quickly see your next meeting or event without having to open up your calendar app."

Native integration of Facebook and Windows Live also means users can update their status, check on what friends are doing and see photos online "without having to dive in and out of separate applications, saving...steps and time."

Seitz promoted the tiles concept, noting they are dynamic and updated constantly. "Windows Phone 7 is a different kind of phone designed to bring together what you care about most," he said. "It's the only phone with dynamic Live Tiles so you can quickly see everything you care about on your start screen. One glance tells you what's going on now, what's happening and what you've missed -- easier and quicker -- so you can get on with living your life, in the moment."

Whether the WP7 ends up being 20 per cent more efficient because of 20 per cent fewer steps than other smartphones is hard to substantiate and will vary among users, analysts said.

Microsoft doesn't make the claim about 20 per cent fewer steps in its TV ads, and it's not clear where Microsoft is using the figure in its marketing materials, if at all.

But Microsoft clearly devoted time to developing the new OS as well as the marketing of its efficiencies. Analysts have said the "Really?!" ad could be considered counter-intuitive because it implies users want to improve disruptive phone behavior. In reality, many smartphone users dote on their phones, using them at length and paying for smartphone apps and buckets of data that can cost as much as $2,000 a year, analysts noted.

Todd Peters, Microsoft's corporate vice president of mobile communications marketing, addressed the use of the "Really?!" ad in an interview posted online explaining how the company decided on the campaign's direction.

"This approach is deeply rooted in the Windows Phone 7 experience and how we designed features like Live Tiles to give consumers information at a glance," he said. "At the same time, we were observing this 'head in phone' behavior in our daily lives and saw an opportunity to bring the two ideas together. Capturing moments of bad cell phone behavior provided a perfect way to drive awareness of the benefits of the phone in a way that most people can relate to."

Peters also said that taking a humorous approach engages would-be WP7 buyers. "I don't know anyone with a smartphone who will see these ads and not recognize a behavior in themselves or someone they know. We see this commentary as becoming very mainstream, seeing how smartphones have changed how we interact with one another. What we're saying is 'You're not a bad person. We just think you have a poorly designed phone. Now take a look, consider us, and we'll show you how we're different.'"

The ads started in Europe on Oct. 12, and in the U.S. on Oct. 25. Peters said Microsoft would have "the biggest TV marketing campaign in the history of the mobile business." The ads will run frequently during the upcoming holiday season.

Social media will also be used, as well as a series of promotions that include free concert tickets and more.

Marketing and advertising spending on WP7 phones are seen as critical to Microsoft's success in the mobile arena, following the demise of Windows Mobile and the failure of the Kin phones in June. "This is really their last chance at being credible in the mobile OS space," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates.

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Matt Hamblen

Computerworld (US)
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