Windows Phone 8 smartphones, which officially launched Monday and will ship in November on three U.S. carriers, will support 46 of the top 50 most popular smartphone apps with a Data Sense app for more efficient data usage that will first be supported by Verizon Wireless.
CEO Steve Ballmer described the Windows Phone 8 mobile operating system as offering personalization that other smartphones don't have through the use of live tiles and other features.
"People all over the world are about to fall in love with Windows Phone," Ballmer said in a Webcast presentation. "It has killer hardware and is the most personal smartphone available."
Ballmer made a mild dig at Apple with its successful iPhone, which hasn't varied much in size or shape until the launch of the larger iPhone 5. "We have a different perspective on what a smartphone should be ... and didn't want just a single phone for all of us but wanted to build a phone that could be personal for each of us."
Verizon will carry the Windows Phone 8X by HTC for $199.99 with a two-year contract and the Nokia Lumia 822, exclusively, for $99.99 with a two-year contract. Both will ship by Thanksgiving. In December, Verizon also will have the Samsung ATIV Odyssey smartphone.
AT&T will carry the Nokia Lumia 920, the Lumia 820 and the Windows Phone 8X by HTC, all going on sale in November, with precise pricing and launch dates coming later.
T-Mobile will have the Windows Phone 8X by HTC starting at $149.99 for the 16GB version and the Nokia Lumia 810 from $99.99, starting Nov. 14.
Joe Belfiore, the head of the Windows Phone effort at Microsoft, described the Data Sense feature in WP8 as providing 45% more Web browsing on a data plan than without it. Data Sense conserves a data plan's allowance by compressing images, deferring data tasks to free Wi-Fi and automatically adjusting a person's usage as he or she gets closer to a plan's limits, Microsoft said. Verizon will be the first carrier to offer Data Sense in the U.S.. Other details weren't available.
Both Ballmer and Belfiore stressed that the 46 top apps in Windows Phone 8 will include Pandora, with an ad-free version for a year. There are 120,000 apps to choose from in the Windows Phone store.
Other features announced Monday in WP8 include a concept called Kid's Corner. With this feature, a parent can lock the phone so a child can use it without fear the child will access sensitive information from a parent's employer.
Another concept called Rooms allow users to create private groups with others who have Windows Phone 8 devices and easily connect with them.
The few Windows Phone 8 features announced Monday did not persuade analysts that the platform can go well above 10% market share in 2013, although the features were seen as positive.
"Microsoft has devices with some very compelling features for families with kids who are looking for a simple way to have their content everywhere" and still protected, said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy.
Moorhead said he would withhold judgment on Data Sense until there is independent research that can verify the 45% savings.
Moorhead said the Kid's Corner feature is an example of how Microsoft has sought to distinguish the platform from others, but added: "I do not think that what they have launched will be enough to quickly catapult them into a strong #3 of ecosytems." He said Microsoft needs to more tightly integrate Xbox with Windows 8 to gain more market share.
Ovum analyst Nick Dillon noted that Windows Phone has less than a 5% share of the smartphone market, but can grow to 13% in 2017. He said that support from mobile operators will help, as well as the design of Windows Phone 8 with its connections to Windows 8 tablets, desktops and all-in-one devices.
Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said there was almost no mention at the Windows Phone 8 launch of enterprise capabilities.
"It disturbed me that Microsoft didn't mention business users and the enterprise and that the event was very consumer focused," Gold said. He said that a brief discussion about using Sky Drive as the repository for Office documents should have merited more attention.
He added that the concept of "Rooms" could be applied to a group of workers, as well as to a family, although Microsoft didn't clarify the use.
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.