Windows Phone Launch Demo Shows Competitive Device -- But How Competitive?

I don't have a Windows Phone so let me get say that up front. The demo at the launch this morning from New York was impressive in several respects though I'm not among those who think that the "OS is beautiful." I like the bold appearance of many of the pages and appreciate the design is a departure from what already exists (read: iPhone) but I do not like the layout of "live tiles" on the homescreen.

This is one of the key features of the new OS and it struck me as a more fully realized version of what Motorola and HTC are trying to do with their proprietary software on top of Android, which I don't think is successful in either case. I don't like the largely monochromatic look (Green, Red or Blue) of the Windows Phone live tiles or the scrolling. We'll see how consumers respond. The pages beneath "live tiles" are much nicer to look at. 

Kin, released earlier this year, was a major bomb. And that failure hangs over Windows Phones. But these devices appear to be better all the way around, with a large number of hardware and carrier partners out of the gate: 60 mobile operators in 30 countries offering 10 different handsets to start.

Here's the global carrier list and corresponding devices at launch:

Screen shot 2010-10-11 at 8.48.49 AM

What's interesting is that there was no Internet Explorer mobile demo at this morning's press conference. There were search results displayed and Bing Maps but we didn't see any sites rendered on the device (although I gather the mobile Internet experience is pretty good). Indeed, there are a number of unanswered user-experience questions that will only be answered when users can play with Windows Phones and see how they stack up against the iPhone and Android. 

There are also very few actual reviews from people who've been using the device. Robert Scoble wrote something very incomplete and vague about the user experience last night. There were previous demos and quasi reviews from Engadget and CNET's Ina Fried that were generally complementary. I would have expected several high profile reviews to come out today (Baig, Mossberg, Pogue) to help build buzz for the device. I haven't seen them. I'm sure there will be some in the next few weeks, however. 

Here's a promo video showing the user experience: 

Screen shot 2010-10-11 at 8.55.59 AM

Initial sales will be critical. Like a movie opening the first weekend will be important. If sales are good, you'll see headlines like "Microsoft is back." If not . . . people will be writing the device's epitah and comparing it to Kin. Yes, that's all very premature either way but that's the way tech journalism is now. 

Microsoft is very conscious of this and so is supporting the device with, according to some estimates, hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising and merchandising. If early sales are good carriers will continue to promote and support the device. If they fail to sell well and Windows Phone is perceived to be weak that will impact carrier enthusiasm and future sales accordingly. Witness the Pre -- or perhaps more appropriately the Kin. 

What defines success here? Windows Phones will be bench-marked against the iPhone and Android. That will be a tall order and very challenging for Microsoft to match -- unless it truly does deliver the "breakthrough" experience that was promised this morning.