Microsoft Unleashes Windows Phone 7

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer officially launched Windows Phone 7 today, with the first smartphones running the do-or-die new mobile operating system available in the U.S. in three weeks on AT&T and T-Mobile networks.

At an understated rollout in New York, Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) Ballmer and AT&T (NYSE: T) Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega, showed nine Windows Phone 7 handsets from four manufacturers -- LG, HTC, Samsung, and Dell. All of the new phones use Qualcomm's (NASDAQ: QCOM) Snapdragon processor.

"After today, we think you'll agree with us that we have built a different kind of phone," Ballmer told the audience.

A long-smoldering question, though, is what market is Microsoft's make-or-break bet on smartphones really targeting?

Eventually, phones will be available from more than 60 operators worldwide in more than 30 countries. Initial phones will be available in the U.S. on Nov. 8, Ballmer told a gathering of press and media in attendance for the launch. Phones will become available in Europe on Nov. 21.

The list of mobile operators that will be carrying Windows Phone 7 include América Móvil, AT&T, Deutsche Telekom AG, Movistar, O2, Orange, SFR, SingTel, Telstra, TELUS, T-Mobile USA and Vodafone, Microsoft officials said.

In the U.S., Microsoft officials said that both AT&T and T-Mobile will have Windows Phone 7 devices for sale in time for holiday sales. AT&T will have the HTC Surround, Samsung Focus, and LG Quantum phones, while the other major GSM (Global System for Mobile Communication) operator in the U.S., T-Mobile, will offer the HTC HD7 and Dell Venue Pro.

However, AT&T will only have the Samsung Focus for sale on Nov. 8, with the other two phones becoming available for purchase by the holiday sales season, de la Vega told the audience. All three will cost $199.99.

Meanwhile, T-Mobile will offer the HTC HD7, which it claims will have the largest touch screen size -- 4.3 inches -- of any Windows Phone 7 handset, in mid-November. The Dell Venue Pro is also expected to ship in time for holiday sales.

Customers on Verizon Wireless and Sprint, however, will have to wait until 2011 for Microsoft to deliver a version of Windows Phone 7 that supports Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) networks, which those two operators use.

Notably, Ballmer never mentioned the pending arrival of any slate computers based on Windows 7, as had been expected by many observers.

In a play to try to win new converts in the business users category, Microsoft has provided Mobile Office on board, and built-in SharePoint connectivity.

Additionally, in early 2011, Windows Phone 7 will add a feature that many iPhone users complained is missing so far -- the ability to copy and paste.

Despite a nod to the enterprise smartphone market, where until the past two years Microsoft had been making inroads, Windows Phone 7 is also clearly a aimed at the consumer sector. The phones support Xbox Live, the Zune music player and service as well as part of the Zune UI in Windows Phone 7, games, social networks, and Bing.

Further, many of the demos at the launch event featured phones and videos, which are not necessarily what the boss wants IT workers focusing on.

Despite all of Microsoft's billions being spent on Windows Phone 7, however, it's survival is still in doubt.

"Much of the announcement event centered on showing just how radical a change WP7 is from previous Windows Phone devices, and indeed it is. It’s far sleeker, more user friendly," Jack Gold, principal analyst at J. Gold Associates, said in an e-mail to InternetNews.com.

Gold said one of the losers could be enterprises.

"Especially for those with specialized applications built to the Windows Mobile platform ... it will be hard for apps to be ported unless they are already Silverlight compatible or built in standard .Net mobile protocols. The majority of enterprise apps are not," Gold added.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @stuartj1000.


Microsoft, smartphone, Windows Phone 7, AT&T, T-Mobile