Microsoft drops mandatory camera from Windows Phone 7 specs

Microsoft quietly downgraded the hardware requirements for its Windows Phone 7 operating system in late September to make optional the inclusion of cameras in mobiles using the operating system.

The move came just prior to the arrival on the market of phones runningthe latest version of the OS, WinPho 7.5 or “Mango.” During the first iterationof the OS, Microsoft kept a hard line on what it wanted to see in WP7phones, but now it seems to be backing off its standards.

While high standards may not be popular with some phone makers, they doset the floor for a device so consumers can get a consistent experienceacross a platform. If you make your own hardware, as Apple does, that’snot a problem. But if you only make the software for a device, asMicrosoft does with WP7 or Google does with Android, ensuring that kind ofconsistent experience can be problematic.

When Windows Phone 7 was introduced, itwas apparent that Microsoft was going to take a harder line on what itwould allow hardware makers to call a WP7 phone than it did with itsprevious smartphone OS, Windows Mobile. That was seen by some observersas a good thing — something that would allow WP7 to avoid the pitfallsthat have beset Google’s Android since its introduction.

Pitfalls of Android phones
You see, when a bunch of hardware makers compete for market share andthey’re all using the same operating system software, they’re inclinedto do things to differentiate their product from rivals. That usuallymeans the user experience takes a back seat to crappy code that makesapps crash, drain battery life, and generallydegrade a consumer’s experience with a phone.

That’s not to say that Google isn’t aware of what’s being done withAndroid and has its own ways of getting what it wants from its hardwarepartners. While Google denies it, there’s evidence that it’s perfectlywilling to give partners who play ball with it aleg up on those who don’t.

In court papers filed in its lawsuit with Oracle, for example,it states that in order to drive the Android standard it will “Giveearly access to the software to partners who build and distributedevices to our specification. They get a non-contractual time to marketadvantage and in return they align to our standard.”

Why is Microsoft apparently backing off its standard to require camerason the front and back of WP7 phones? It  allows phone makersto produce mobiles better suited for government and corporateenvironments concerned about security.

Most of all, though, it allows handset makers to make low-costsmartphones. That certainly would be appealing to Microsoft’s hardwarepartners, who want to hawk smartphones in new and developing marketsthat are sensitive to price.

That’s a concern of all smartphone makers who want to push the handsetsaround the world, including Apple, which is why Apple watchers say acheaper iPhone is inevitable.

However, it seems that Apple’s strategy is not to downgrade itshardware, but to offer older models at lower prices. That strategymaintains the integrity of product’s brand without cheapening theproduct. It’s a strategy Microsoft should think about before the WP7brand becomes tarnished by crippled handsets that don’t deliver on theexperience that the company wants its WP7 consumers to have.

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