Windows Phone on a Nokia smartphoneMany people don’t seriously consider Windows Phone 7 (WP7) when they’re looking into smartphones these days. (I wrote many people, not necessarily us who are educated and tech-savvy. Read the rest of this article to find out what I mean.) Microsoft’s mobile operating system is the underdog in a land filled with iPhones running Apple’s iOS and just about every other smartphone riding on one flavor or another of Google’s Android. Though now basically an afterthought in the US, Nokia still rules the roost in the rest of the world with its own mobile operating system Symbian.

All of this may change this year. Though it’s doubtful WP7 will overtake iOS or Android by the end of the year, Microsoft’s mobile phone operating system is certain to take a bite out of its competitors’ market share in the upcoming months. Whether or not WP7 will ultimately fail in the marketplace is anyone’s guess at this point, but WP7 devices have been in their infancy up until now, and 2012 appears to be the year they will finally start talking and walking on their own. WP7 may surprise you this year, so it’s not time to throw this baby out with the bathwater just yet — this kid has a lot of potential. In this article we’ll list the top 10 reasons you shouldn’t ignore Windows Phone 7.

Productivity

Windows Phone 7 may not have the plethora of applications that iOS and Android devices run, but it has the one that really counts: Office. Particularly for business users and anyone running their own business, Microsoft’s Office is still the suite of productivity applications for anyone serious about getting work done. Though Office is available in some form or another for the other mobile operating systems, does anyone seriously think Microsoft is going to provide its very best implementations of Office to its competitors? Even the most widely used tablet device, the iPad, has yet to receive a version of Office (and may never see one). As well as one may be able to play with Office apps on other mobile devices, Microsoft is certain to continue to focus most of its efforts making its productivity apps most useful on its own mobile operating system.

Perseverance

Windows Phone is certainly the underdog now, but Microsoft has a record of catching up and meeting or overcoming its competitors. Exhibit A: the Xbox. When Microsoft first introduced its answer to Sony and Nintendo, plenty of doubters disregarded the company’s entry into the the console gaming world. Microsoft had failed spectacularly with some of its operating systems, after all. Yet Microsoft persevered, continuing to focus its efforts on improving its foothold in a territory that was relatively unfamiliar to the company (even though it had developed some successful PC games), and today Microsoft’s Xbox is the dominant console in many parts of the world.

Play

Speaking of the Xbox, console game players and even those who now primarily use Xbox LIVE to communicate or watch streaming video and TV are already enjoying Windows Phone’s integration with the “game” platform. Xbox LIVE is such an engaging service that Windows Phone offers its own implementation on its phone, enabling consumers to connect and play with other Xbox LIVE users when they are away from home (or simply taking a break from using the console).

Platform

The next generation of Windows for desktops, laptops, and tablet devices will be tightly integrated with Windows Phone. Windows 8 is certain to introduce a paradigm shift regardless of consumer response to Microsoft’s Metro user interface. Whether or not Metro turns users on or off, there’s no doubt that the new operating system will make consumers take another look at Windows Phone once Windows 8 arrives later this year.

Plenty

Windows has plenty of money to compete with Google and Apple. Though throwing money at a problem doesn’t always work (see Zune portable media player), Microsoft has the resources to make it work if the company focuses on its product as well as it did with the Xbox. Product failures are not always a bad thing, particularly if you have the resources an organization like Microsoft has to take what’s good about a product and introduce them into other products — which it is already doing with Windows Phone 7. Even with the Zune device’s demise, Zune software became a contender shortly after its initial release and is now considered by many to be a better media management system than Apple’s iTunes. Zune for Windows Phone 7 will continue to evolve and could one day soon surpass iTunes’ place at the top of the digital media mountain.

Possibility

There is a real potential for developers to find success in Windows Phone. Not only is there plenty of room for development at this time, but Microsoft is providing what many would say better financial incentives for developers choosing WP7 over iOS or Android. Some developers already make far more money selling mobile applications through Windows Marketplace than in Apple’s App Store because, as one successful developer of WP7 software has stated, there’s “much less competition on Windows Phone 7.” Less competition means more developers will turn away from iOS and Android and begin developing games and applications for Windows Phone.

People

Windows Phone 7 users are not only more well-educated, but poorer than Android and iOS users. Though statistics like these are always a point of contention, accepting this evidence indicates that WP7 consumers can’t afford to move on to other phones and buy new apps ever year (as many iOS and Android consumers do). They’ll stick with Windows Phone as long as they can, and by the time they find they can afford to move on to another platform they may find they’re hopelessly addicted to the Windows Phone ecosystem. This will ensure that developers continue to make and improve applications for WP7.

Participation

Applications such as People Hub are and will become invaluable to consumers. This “one-stop shop that keeps you up to date with your social networks” is only available on the Windows Phone, much like Apple’s much-touted Siri is now only enjoyed by iPhone 4S users. Windows Phone user Ruben Alanis tells us “the People Hub feature is truly awesome. I can get updates from all social networks organized by only the people I really care about.” As Microsoft continues to offer utilities that are only available for Windows Phone devices, Windows-based phones will become increasingly valuable.

Phones

Microsoft today has far fewer smartphones running Windows Phone, but that’s about to change. Last February, Nokia and Microsoft announced a partnership and the fruits of that alliance were demonstrated at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. Today ZTE just added to its own Windows Phone line-up and more smartphone makers are sure to follow. Nokia, well-known for its quality hardware, is certain to offer smartphones providing a unique Windows Phone experience — especially with its fate in the US smartphone marketplace now riding on Microsoft’s mobile operating system. ZTE is aiming to become one of “the top three handset companies by 2015.”

Pastimes

Microsoft’s partnership with Nokia also brought another must-have application to WP7 phones: Nokia Music. Some have likened Nokia Music to Spotify: It allows you to listen to music and even download a number of songs to listen to when you’re offline. Best of all, it’s free for Windows Phone users. But you don’t have to purchase a Nokia phone to freely enjoy music on your WP7 phone since Last.fm is free to use on Windows Phone. iPhone and Android phone users aren’t offered a free subscription to this service. If you’re a music lover (and really, who isn’t?) and don’t want to spend money downloading expensive iTunes, a Windows Phone is the way to go.

Even if Windows Phone eventually fails (as did the Zune hardware), Microsoft will come out ahead in one way or another. Zune succeeded in lassoing more users into its own digital media ecosystem, and Windows Phone — even if here today, gone tomorrow — will provide Microsoft with the experience that will equip the company for a future effort (whether it be in smartphones or some other future venture we haven’t even thought up yet). It’s best not to dismiss Microsoft’s forays into areas detractors say it seems not to understand. Microsoft understands the mobile market all right; whether or not it chooses to implement Windows Phone in a manner that enables it to pull in more revenue — either directly or through product awareness — is up to the company itself. I seriously doubt Microsoft would ever want to see one of its products fail, but it undoubtedly will learn from its Windows Phone experience, regardless of its success in the marketplace. We’d all do well to pay attention to Windows Phone — whether it’s investing in Windows-based phones or simply observing the platform’s behavior in the marketplace — in order to benefit and succeed in our own enterprises.