AT&T will launch Windows Phone 7 withthree separate models. From left to right, Samsung Focus, LG Quantum and HTC Surround.
By Wilson Rothman
updated 10/11/2010 9:27:49 AM ET 2010-10-11T13:27:49
News & Commentary

With the unveiling of nine Windows Phone 7 phones to be rolled out on four continents this holiday season, Microsoft's re-entry into the smart phone business is nearly underway.

Of the nine, five are coming to America — three from HTC, LG and Samsung go to AT&T, while T-Mobile will sell an additional two, from Dell and HTC. Though the big reveal is today, the first of the phones won't be available until November 8.

Image: Photo of HTC HD7
T-Mobile's main Windows Phone 7 model, the HTC HD7, will have a 4.3-inch screen, one of the largest around.

As for the two other major U.S. wireless carriers, Microsoft promises that Verizon and Sprint will have phones in 2011, and that "select models" would be sold at Microsoft Stores and on Amazon.

The hardware
AT&T's phones include the HTC Surround, LG Quantum and Samsung Focus, all pictured up top. They all have 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processors, capacitive touch screens and 5-megapixel cameras. They will each sell for $199.99 with a two-year contract.

The HTC Surround has pop-out speakers and uses Dolby's mobile technology, for better sound when watching movies. It has a "kickstand," so that it can be propped up on, say, an airplane tray table, without the use of severely bent paperclips, intricate origami or a $30 case.

The LG Quantum has a slide-out real QWERTY keyboard, so it will be favored by BlackBerry converts and people who don't like software keyboards. AT&T says it will also play music and video wirelessly via home networks to compatible devices, so you can, say, stream a song to a Sonos wireless music system with a tap of the screen.

The Samsung Focus, scheduled to be the first Windows Phone 7 device to hit retail in the U.S., on Nov. 8, is the thinnest. At 9.9mm, it's nearly (but not quite) as thin as the iPhone 4.

T-Mobile's core offering, due out mid-November, will be the HTC HD7, also with a 1GHz processor and a 5-megapixel camera. The HD7's distinguishing feature is a 4.3-inch touchscreen, which is the same spacious size as the HTC Evo and Motorola Droid X. Like the Surround at AT&T, T-Mobile's HD7 also has a kickstand. (Here's more info on the HD7; pricing isn't yet announced.)

Another T-Mobile handset will actually be sold by Dell and "select retailers," says the carrier. Out in time for the holidays, the Venue Pro will have the requisite 1GHz processor and 5-megapixel camera, but also a vertical slide-out keyboard and a nice large 4.1-inch screen. The Venue Pro is likely the previously leaked slider referred to by Engadget and other blogs as "Dell Lightning." Why the name changed — for the lamer — is a mystery.

HTC prematurely announced the HTC 7 Pro for Sprint. The attractive clamshell-style slider has similar specs to the other models above, but Sprint tells us it won't be available until the "first half of 2011" — a rather nebulous timeframe indeed.

The other major U.S. carrier, Verizon Wireless, has yet to announce (or even spill) any of its WP7 phone lineup, though it will have them in 2011 as well.

The sales pitch
Today's press release quotes Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer as saying that Windows Phone 7 is "a different kind of mobile phone and experience — one that makes everyday tasks faster by getting more done in fewer steps and providing timely information in a 'glance and go' format."

Clearly, the marketing strategy Microsoft is employing is to show how different Windows Phone 7 is, interaction-wise, from Apple's iPhone and Google's Android. The trouble is, Android is doing gangbuster business precisely because it resembles the iPhone (while selling on all four carriers and in many configurations). Microsoft's zag-while-everyone-else-zigs strategy may be risky, but no more risky than being perceived as more of the same.

This isn't going to be another Kin, the too-smart-for-its-own-good teenager phone that Microsoft launched with Verizon and then squashed a few months later. Windows Phone 7 is a phone operating system with plenty of hardware partners, third-party developers and worldwide carriers. By comparison, Kin was a garage-built science project. Still, it doesn't take a market analyst to see that Microsoft may have trouble selling WP7 to the masses.

( is a joint venture of NBC Universal and, yes, Microsoft, but that doesn't mean we're going to portray WP7's chances as unreasonably rosy.)

Why you'd buy
So what does make Windows Phone 7 "different"?

For starters, there's the "glance and go" interface of "Live Tiles," customizable plates on the home screen that update regularly, so that users don't have to open apps, or wait for pop-up alerts, to receive new information. (Android users could argue that "widgets" serve a similar purpose, though they tend to be app-specific.)

Dell's entry into Windows Phone 7 will have a slid-out QWERTY keyboard.

Another differentiator is the Xbox Live integration. Microsoft is definitely sticking it to its gaming console competition, Sony and Nintendo, by rolling out a way for game developers to sync up the living room and mobile game experience. And with monster game publisher, EA, pushing out titles at launch ranging from "Need for Speed: Undercover" to "The Sims 3." I have argued that Xbox nuts may make up the first wave of WP7 adopters.

Dudes who went around saying "I'm a PC" last fall are the other likely converts. Microsoft is using the platform to leverage a bunch of their existing software products. Not only is Exchange right there at the core, you also get an Office hub with light versions of Word, Excel and OneNote, the critically praised Zune client with its Zune Pass subscription music, and free services like Windows Live's Find My Phone, which lets you track your phone's location on a map, and ring, lock or erase it remotely. Most of these things can be mimicked on an iPhone or Android phone, but besides Exchange support, neither of these comes with all this stuff built in.

Why you'd pass
Even given all of that, there are plenty of reasons why people wouldn't jump ship. No matter how many third-party apps Microsoft announces, WP7 will likely never catch up to Android and iPhone when it comes to developers. Most of Apple's 250,000 apps are junk, sure, but the momentum matters.

And it's not just about the apps, it's about the so-called "ecosystem." People who buy iPhones buy iPads — and it's not just fanboys. There's a comfort in two different devices that use the same OS, and even share apps. Android tablets are only slowly poking out of the dirt, but just like Android phones, I suspect the tablets will eventually shoot sky high.

Microsoft has declared straight-up that it's not going to use Windows Phone 7 for tablets; rather, they'll use the bulkier, desktop-oriented Windows 7. If the phone and tablet have a different OS, owners of one have no real incentive in buying the other.

In the end, there may not be room for yet another smart phone option. Ever since Windows Phone 7 was revealed, reviewers and pundits have lauded its design. We all want to like it — on its own. But Android and iPhone compete mostly for the same consumer customers, generally people who pay out of their own pocket for phones and service, while BlackBerry absolutely dominates where there's a company paying the bills. Things will get very bloody in the spring, when, according to multiple reports, Verizon gets its own iPhone. WP7 may end up just getting caught in the shootouts.

Visit Microsoft for more details about the Windows Phone 7 experience.

Catch up with Wilson on Twitter at @wjrothman. If you've got a bulletproof argument for WP7's success, you're under legal obligation to share it.

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Video: Microsoft unveils new Windows smart phone

  1. Transcript of: Microsoft unveils new Windows smart phone

    MATT LAUER, co-host: We are back now at 8:20 with Microsoft 's latest attempt to make a splash in the cell phone market. This morning the software giant is unveiling its brand-new Windows Phone 7. Here to do the honors, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and senior product manager Greg Sullivan . Guys , good morning. Nice to see you both.

    Mr. STEVE BALLMER (CEO, Microsoft): Nice to see you.

    Mr. GREG SULLIVAN: Good morning.

    LAUER: Fair to say -- I hate to start on a bad note, but fair to say that the smartphone category, the cell phone category, has been your company's Achilles' heel over the last many years, true?

    Mr. BALLMER: Over the last year or two, I'd agree with that.

    LAUER: Yeah. Why?

    Mr. BALLMER: But we're...

    LAUER: Why has it been so hard to compete with the likes of Apple and BlackBerry ?

    Mr. BALLMER: Well, I don't know. But right now we're pushing forward, and that's the key is to push forward and to do things a little bit differently than the other guys do.

    LAUER: The company has a huge stake in what you're introducing today. On a personal note, so do you, Steve . There was a report issued in September, your bonus last year was not what it could have been, and they went right out and said one of the reasons was problems in the cell phone area. Have you fixed it?

    Mr. BALLMER: Oh, look at these beautiful new Windows phones.

    LAUER: You're looking at me going, 'You had to bring that up?'

    Mr. BALLMER: The Windows phone. It's that great? Yeah.

    LAUER: Right? Yeah? All right, talk to me about this. Why is it different?

    Mr. BALLMER: Well, what we've really do is tried to make it really about you. Wonderfully yours, as we say.

    LAUER: Intuitive?

    Mr. BALLMER: Intuitive, but your life. You go to the start screen, and right there on the screen, your friends, what's new with them, what's going on should be right there, wonderfully yours, always consistent all the way through the experience, whether you're in Xbox , whether you're in your own contacts or whether you're just checking in on a friend.

    LAUER: I want to mention that you have different companies making different versions of this phone that will be available. Why'd you go that route?

    Mr. BALLMER: Well, we think that if you really want to have the phone be individual, people have different needs. Some people will want keyboards, some people will want very thin and light, some people want more music, sound, different kinds of cameras.

    LAUER: One of the things key to this phone, the software, is the hub. You've shown me the start page . So in other words, if you go to the, you know, the phone or whatever, you hit a hub and this is -- kind of sets up everything in that category right in front of you.

    Mr. BALLMER: That's right . So if I want to see all my pictures, I can browse through what I've taken, what's been posted to me on Twitter and Facebook , whatever the case may be .

    LAUER: The -- it seems the litmus test these days, Steve and Greg , and you can chime in here, is is it sexy as the iPhone ? I mean, that's what people want to know. Is it as sexy? Is it going to create the buzz -- you smile every time I mention that word, but it is what people consider to be the standard.

    Mr. BALLMER: No, that's right. That's right . I mean, lot of good things out there. And yet, I think when people look at the Windows phone they'll say this is a different kind of phone. This phone is about me. This phone is delightful.

    LAUER: You have -- you continue to say that the PC -- not the phone, but the PC is still the most incredible smart device on the planet. But are we fast approaching a time where people do all of their computing -- all their computing needs can be met with one of these phones?

    Mr. BALLMER: Well, I just think people are going to have a different set of needs when they want to be productive, when they want to be on the go, when they want to sit back and watch the TODAY show . And we're going to have some kind of computer help us with all of those, phone, PC , TV .

    LAUER: You're buttering me up.

    Mr. BALLMER: Yes, I am.

    LAUER: I like that. You said recently in an interview that you are -- you're enthusiastic about the economy, that it's going to recover and you see good things, even hiring. Is Microsoft hiring people? Want to know where the jobs are. Is Microsoft hiring?

    Mr. BALLMER: We absolutely have openings.

    LAUER: Yeah?

    Mr. BALLMER: Absolutely. We got to build great products like this.

    LAUER: So in other words, if the success of this is what you hope it to be, you'll be hiring even more people?

    Mr. BALLMER: You got that right .

    LAUER: All right, that's good to know. Greg , anything you want to add to this? I don't want to make you a potted plant here. You're the guy making magic up here.

    Mr. SULLIVAN: Well, I was going to say when I demo this, I have a tough time getting the phones back from people. So, I mean, that's a good sign about the excitement.

    LAUER: It's a good sign. Microsoft unveiling its new addition into the smartphone category. Steve , Greg , nice to have you both here.


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