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Carriers Set To Start Shipping Windows Phones

Microsoft launches Windows Phone 7, but will smartphones based on Redmond's new mobile platform get noticed in a market dominated by Droids, iPhones and BlackBerry devices?

The first smartphones based on the Microsoft Windows Phone 7 platform will make their debut in the United States this month.

At a launch event in New York on Oct. 11, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said devices based on Windows Phone 7 will be available in 30 countries via 60 mobile operators. AT&T will be the first carrier to offer the first three phones in the United States on Nov. 8, followed by T-Mobile USA Inc., which will release two different phones toward the end of this year. Sprint and Verizon Wireless will offer Windows Phone 7 devices next year, according to Microsoft.

The launch is a pivotal move for Microsoft, which has seen its share of the mobile phone market plummet as it failed to keep pace with rivals, most notably a slew of devices based on the Android platform from Google Inc. and the Apple iPhone. The Research In Motion BlackBerry platform also remains a strong force in the mobile market.

Microsoft has put its own design imprint on Windows Phone 7, one that emphasizes its ability to allow individuals to personalize their experience around the concept of hubs, which include Office, photos, video and music, people and games.

"We set out to build a phone that was thoroughly modern -- modern in the hardware that it used, modern in its design principals, modern in the way that it embraces what people do today with Internet services and the like," Ballmer said at the launch. For example, individuals can associate people with photos and social networks as well as traditional messaging and voice functions.

"They're focusing on what it allows you to do, as opposed to what the phone does," says Forrester Research Inc. analyst Jeffrey Hammond.

The three U.S. phones to be released next month include the LG Electronics Quantum, a phone with a QWERTY keyboard; the HTC Surround, with Dolby surround sound speakers; and Samsung Focus. The latter boasts the sharpest display of the three phones with a 4-inch Super AMOLED screen and a 5 megapixel camera. All three will be priced at $199.99 with a two-year service contract.

T-Mobile said it will offer the Revue Pro from Dell Inc., a phone that also has a QWERTY keyboard and a 4.1-inch AMOLED touchscreen, which Ballmer described as a ruggedized phone. The carrier will also offer the HTC HD7, which -- like the Surround -- has surround-sound speakers and a 4.3-inch display. T-Mobile did not disclose pricing.

The Samsung Focus is one of three phones based on Windows Phone 7 that AT&T will offer in the United States starting Nov. 8.

While Microsoft is positioning the phones as those that can be used for both personal and business use, there was a decidedly consumer-focused tone to the launch. That's no surprise, given the initial crop of phones -- and the Windows Phone 7 platform itself -- are not enterprise-grade, says Hammond.

"Enterprises are thinking the first release is not necessarily an enterprise-class device," Hammond explains. "There are some challenges around security that I think enterprises are going to take a wait-and-see attitude."

One area of promise, he points out, is the Windows Phone 7 SharePoint support. Users can access Microsoft Office documents connected to a SharePoint server, edit them and save them back to the repository.

"The SharePoint connectivity could really be a key differentiator for Windows Phone once the security features -- token-based authentication and capabilities for remote management at the enterprise level -- and dedicated provisioning of enterprise apps through the apps store are added. Once those things are there I think it will be more attractive," Hammond says.

Microsoft placed little emphasis on the Windows Marketplace for Mobile, though Ballmer said he expects there to be thousands of apps available when the phones ship. But Forrester's Hammond points out that Microsoft's first priority should be to sell lots of its new phones.

"It all comes down to developers," Hammond says. "If you want developers you've got to put units into the market, so Microsoft needs to do whatever it has to to get as many units to market as quickly as possible. If they do that, the rest of it will take care of itself."

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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