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Want Windows Phone 7? You're not alone

While Android and iOS are still the favored choices among those looking to buy smartphones, Windows Phone 7 is driving interest. What can Microsoft do to close the gap between those considering WP7 and those who see it as their leading choice?

Microsoft has dismissed critics who say that Windows Phone 7 is too little too late and that the company has missed its opportunity to be the kind of operating system powerhouse in smartphones that it has been in PCs. "Au contraire," say the Redmondians, "we are still early in the game."

The Samsung Focus was one of the first Windows Phone 7 devices to hit U.S. shores. Microsoft

At least in the U.S., the critics can point to early validation. According to NPD's Mobile Phone Track, 58 percent of the handsets sold to consumers in the second quarter of 2011 were smartphones. Android, aided by a presence on all four major U.S. carries, maintains a commanding lead in the marketplace, while iOS is now an option for Verizon customers, as well as the dominant operating system at AT&T. Windows Phone, on the other hand, continues to languish at about 2 percent of the market and hasn't moved much since its debut.

Among those looking to purchase smartphones in the next six months, Android and iOS are still the favored choices as well. According to the "Connected Operating System Survey" conducted by NPD Connected Intelligence, though, Windows Phone 7 is driving interest.

Eleven percent of those planning to purchase a smartphone said they are most interested in Windows Phone 7. If they follow through, that could result in a jump in Windows Phone 7's market share. In contrast, 8 percent said they are most interested in a BlackBerry, and 6 percent say they didn't know.

The survey also found 44 percent of those who planned to purchase a smartphone in the next six months had Windows Phone 7 in their consideration set, which is markedly larger than the 33 who say that they were considering a BlackBerry.

What can Microsoft do to close the sizeable gap between those who are considering Windows Phone 7 and those who have identified it as their leading choice?

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The company enjoys strong awareness of its mobile OS, with more than half of consumers saying they have heard of Windows Phone 7. That percentage jumps to 80 percent among those intending to buy a smartphone for the first time. On the other hand, the company could do a better job driving a hands-on experience among first-time smartphone intenders. A greater percentage of them report that that they have neither tried a phone with the operating system nor viewed a demo.

Indeed, not knowing enough about Windows Phone 7 was by far the most common reason for consumers' lack of interest. Forty-five percent of consumers who said they were not interested in a phone with that operating system cited lack of knowledge as the reason, which is more than twice the number of consumers who cited the next most common reason: having too much time or money invested in a current smartphone OS.

Microsoft may still have more serious marketing work to do on the third and fourth most popular reasons--an aversion to Bing as a search engine, and simply not liking Microsoft itself. As for apps, though, where iOS and Android have large leads, only 10 percent of those not interested in Windows Phone 7 said that there weren't enough apps for the operating system, and even fewer cited concerns about the quality of those apps.