Microsoft launches Windows Phone 7
NEW YORK -- Microsoft says it's answered the call of the iPhone and Android with Windows Phone 7, the written-from-scratch smartphone platform it introduced at a press event here this morning.
Well, the Redmond, Wash., company's executives didn't say those exact words. But the context of today's announcements -- eight months after Microsoft staged the equivalent of a Chapter 7 liquidation of its aging Windows Mobile platform, and only three months after it junked a separate smartphone attempt called Kin -- didn't need much interpretation.
Said chief executive Steve Ballmer as he opened the press conference: "I've been looking forward to this day... for some time, you might say."
Ballmer pitched Windows Phone 7 -- available starting Nov. 8 on three phones to be sold by AT&T for $199.99 each and one later on from T-Mobile -- as "a very different kind of a phone," focused on minimizing the time spent bouncing from one application to another.
Instead of switching among different programs. Windows Phone 7 devices will feature six "hubs" that group related functions. For example, its people hub will show everybody with whom you've recently communicated; a tap on their names will bring up shortcuts to e-mail them, text them or write on their Facebook profile. Its photos hub will group photos saved on a device and those stored on such sites as Facebook or Microsoft's Windows Live. The music and videos hub doubles as a front end to such music services as Slacker and Microsoft's Zune Pass.
Joe Belfiore, a Microsoft vice president, said the company had thousands of third-party applications available but demonstrated only four: programs from eBay, Amazon's IMDb and AT&T's U-Verse Mobile (the latter will allow any AT&T customer to watch some of that TV service's programming for $9.99 a month if they don't subscribe to the service or can't get it), plus a version of EA's "The Sims 3" game.
Windows Phone 7 will connect to Microsoft's Xbox Live gaming service and its Office productivity software. The former may help convince gamers to give this platform a shot; the latter should make office IT departments more comfortable with it. Win Phone 7's Office linkage also gives it a robust to-do list app -- a gaping hole on the iPhone and Android.
The event featured a brief display of nine Windows Phone 7 devices from Dell, HTC, LG and Samsung offering a variety of screen sizes; some included slide-out physical keyboards. Belfiore demonstrated the software's auto-correcting software; it fixed all but one typo in two lines of hurriedly typed text. A demo of a voice-search feature -- apparently confined to the phone's Bing search application -- did not go so well, failing once because of insufficient bandwidth before working in a second test.
Belfiore's demo concluded with an IOU of sorts: He said a free software update would add support for copy and paste functions in early 2011.
Now, take a note to consider the topics unaddressed in this morning's presentations: support for multitasking; battery life; support for carriers beyond AT&T and T-Mobile; how much carriers can "improve" Windows Phone 7 with their own software tweaks; whether the initial allotment of Win Phone 7 apps will include all the name-brand offerings you'd expect; how or even if you'll be able to sync a Windows Phone to a non-Windows computer or to non-Microsoft Web services.
How much do those questions concern you? What else would you like to do about Microsoft's attempt to reboot its smartphone business? Post your questions in the comments, and I'll try to get them answered later today.
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