Windows Phone 7 goes on sale, with interest expected to grow steadily

Marketplace sees double the number of apps that Microsoft expected

Windows Phone 7 smartphones went on sale today at AT&T and T-Mobile retailers in the U.S., although customers are not exactly breaking down doors to buy them in the early going.

Analysts said they expect WP7 sales to build slowly as the holidays approach, especially with a record $500 million TV advertising campaign for the devices.

Neither carrier responded to a request for comment on WP7 sales midday Monday. However, one sales representative for the AT&T store in Framingham, Mass., said a reporter's phone call at about noon today was the first inquiry about WP7 phones at all. He predicted growth in interest in the next two weeks.

Verizon Wireless, the largest U.S. wireless carrier, expects to sell WP7 phones next year, a spokeswoman confirmed.

Analysts said they don't expect WP7 phone sales to ever have the major buzz that accompanies iPhone first-day sales, where hundreds of buyers line up outside of major Apple stores.

"I haven't seen any crowds lining up outside AT&T and T-Mobile stores, so it clearly is not a cultural event, but that only means that Microsoft has its work cut out for it re-entering an exceptionally competitive market," said Avi Greengart, an analyst at Current Analysis.

But Greengart noted that crowds don't line up for Android phones, either, even thoughAndroid phones are outselling iPhones in the U.S. He said the "tremendous buzz" and sellouts of Microsoft's Xbox Kinect should have some residual effect on WP7 phones.

Analyst Jack Gold of J.Gold Associates said it will be interesting to watch reaction to WP7 sales. "Microsoft spent lots of money on advertising, but I'm not sure how effective it's been," he said. "I don't think there will be a groundswell of users rushing to WP7, certainly not to the extent of every new iPhone release."

Gold said Microsoft doesn't need to have the same reaction that the iPhone has gotten.

"What they need is a steady stream of adoption over time that amounts to a credible installed base, and I think they can achieve that," he said.

Microsoft marked the first day of sales with a Windows Phone developer blog update by Todd Brix, senior director of Windows Phone Marketplace. Brix said WP7 customers will have access to nearly 2,000 apps and games in the marketplace, double the 1,000-apps goal that Microsoft set in early October. That number pales in comparison to the Android Market's more than 100,000 apps and the Apple App Store's more than 300,000.

Still, Brix noted that WP7 is "only the beginning" for Microsoft, which suffered a black eye for stopping shipments of its Kin phones in June, just weeks after putting them on the market, and abandoned a Windows Mobile OS effort earlier.

"Windows Phone 7 is a fresh start for Microsoft and our developer community, and we know we still have a long way to go before we win back the kind of market presence we all expect," Brix wrote.

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 e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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