Microsoft today showed off its revamped mobile operating system: a fresh take that won’t get mistaken for the competition. Windows Phone 7, which Microsoft showed off for the first time today, is certainly different, and that’s a good thing.
Showing up late to the smartphone game meant Microsoft couldn’t just do a me-too product, and it couldn’t repeat the past sins of Windows Mobile, whose appeal was limited to corporate users, pro-sumers and a smattering of consumers. To its credit, Microsoft (s msft) has thrown out the old playbook and is now working to carve out its own territory in the smartphone competition with Windows Phone 7, positioning it as a very different modern phone that aims to be “delightful,” personal and very connected.
The new platform, launching Nov. 8 in the U.S., is Microsoft’s attempt at regaining relevance and broad appeal in the wildly competitive smartphone market, which has passed the company by with phones from Apple (s aapl) and Google (s goog) leading the way.
“We’ve focused on the way real people really want to use their phones on the go,” Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said at a launch event in New York. “We want to let you get in, get out and back to your life and have that be as fast and as simple as humanly possible.”
The platform does look distinctively different, with its collection of tiles and hubs. With its many connections to web services, and support for its own products and other online services, Microsoft has created a phone that’s trying to be unique while incorporating a lot of what’s already been working with competing devices.
Ballmer said there will be nine phones available running Windows Phone 7, including models from Samsung, LG, HTC and Dell (s dell). The phones will work on 60 carriers in 30 countries around the world. AT&T (S T) and T-Mobile will launch Windows Phones this year and Sprint (s s) and Verizon (s vz) are on tap for next year.
Ralph de la Vega, AT&T’s CEO of mobility and consumer markets, highlighted three phones, the LG Quantum, the Samsung Focus and the HTC Surround, which will sell for $199.99 each. T-Mobile also announced two WP7 phones: the HTC HD7 and the Dell Venue Pro.
Much of what Microsoft talked about has been previewed at some point, but Ballmer and executives worked to show off the details of the phone, playing up how much thought has gone into the different features and how well the phones connect to Internet services and existing Microsoft apps.
In the Pictures Hub, there’s a quick way to upload pictures to Facebook and other online services, which can be set up to receive all the pictures you shoot. The Pictures Hub also allows you to see all recently uploaded pictures from friends from their various online services.
The People Hub allows you to post directly to a contact’s Facebook page or see all their recent social networking activity. You can also have your to-do notes in the Office Hub synced to One Note online. The Music Hub connects to Slacker and iheartradio as well as a Zune Pass account, so you can pull up new music at any time.
Event invitations alert you to conflicts on your schedule, which can be automatically pulled from Exchange, Hotmail, Google or Yahoo (s yhoo). The search button can pull up local results, but also reveals news and web results as well. Users can do voice searches with one click calling up information like airline flight data. The Games Hub connects users to Xbox Live, allowing them to share their achievements and gamer score and create avatars. There’s also an AT&T U-Verse Mobile app so U-Verse customers can watch some of their programming from their phone.
This is Microsoft’s best chance at getting into the smartphone game, and they’ve done a good job creating something that looks and feels distinct. We still need to put the phones through their paces but the basic building blocks are there. A lot will depend on how much developer support Windows Phone 7 gets, how fast the phones will spread from launch partners AT&T and T-Mobile to other carriers like Verizon and Sprint. And I think Microsoft will also have to spend a lot of money to get its message out there, especially with so much awareness now of iPhone and Android devices.
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