Microsoft announces Windows Phone 7 launch partners

Nine phones, from HTC, Dell, Samsung and LG Electronics, will be available in November. (See video, below)

Microsoft today announced the Windows Phone 7 OS for handheld devices, taking a step forward in the company's efforts to strengthen its position in the still-growing smartphone market. CEO Steve Ballmer unveiled the first phones to run the OS, and named the network operators that will distribute them.

"We wanted the Windows Phone to be delightful across a range of hardware devices, through a range of scenarios, and a [range] of different software experiences," Ballmer said.

The company wanted to make Windows Phone 7 "always delightful" and "wonderfully mine," he said, emphasizing the way that users will be able to customize the user interface. "Everyone should look at the phone and represent themselves on the device," he said.

Microsoft has already owned up to one curious omission from the first release of Windows Phone 7. The OS lacks copy and paste functions: Microsoft plans to add them in the first update, due for release next year. Apple drew heavy criticism for leaving those same functions out of the first few versions of its iPhone software.

Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president, Windows Phone Program Management, said the unique features of WP7 phones takes "all the capability of Web services and puts that in the phone experience...We tried to build a smart design where the phone anticipates things you need."

WP7 builds on the concept of grouping items and data in a phone on a home screen called "hubs," and inside those hubs provides live "tiles." Under the "People" hub, for example, a person's status change in Facebook would be automatically updated inside the live tile, placed where a user wants it on the phone, such as the home screen.

Belfiore announced an array of capabilities with WP7 phones, including voice search. Using the TellMe service, he was able to say, "Search for Alaska Flight 7" and then get back a live Web update on the status of the flight. It took two tries over the network in the demo center, however.

The company has partnered with many phone makers and wireless carriers to bring Windows Phone 7 handsets to consumers in early November, Ballmer said at the OS launch event in New York City.

Sixty mobile operators will be offering it in 30 countries, Ballmer said.

The operators include América Móvil, AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, Movistar, O2, Orange, SFR, SingTel, Telstra, Telus, T-Mobile USA and Vodafone.

Nine different phones, from HTC, Dell, Samsung and LG Electronics, were announced today. Five of them will be available in the U.S. in November.

The phones will be able to take video, access social media applications, gaming and access streaming movies and TV shows, Ballmer said.

Michael Gartenberg, a Gartner analyst, said Microsoft "showed it can play" in the smartphone arena with the announcement. "Now they have to build on it."

Gartenberg said the various Microsoft Office integrations in WP7 will be important to workers needing smartphones. "Don't underestimate the power of Office, since it means the phones work with Sharepoint servers. Microsoft has natural ties to the enterprise, but the enterprise isn't the group of people who buy smartphones."

He said that links between the WP7 phones and Xbox live will be a differentiator, as well as the general support for gaming, with features like high resolution screens. EA was also announced as a partner, helping Microsoft reach the coveted gaming community.

Independent analyst Jack Gold said that despite Microsoft's launch, he was pessimistic that Microsoft can win back its enterprise base of customers, or get a high number of apps deployed to WP7 in the next few months. He also predicted there wouldn't be many Verizon Wireless WP7 devices in the short term.

In Europe, Orange plans to launch three Windows Phone 7 devices. The HTC 7 Mozart, which will be exclusive to Orange, will be available in France, the U.K., Spain, Poland, Switzerland, Romania, Portugal and Austria. The Samsung Omnia will be available in France, the U.K. and Switzerland, with the LG Optimus 7 available in France about six weeks ahead of other operators, Microsoft said. The phones will be available first in the U.K. and France.

T-Mobile said it will distribute the HTC HD7 in the U.S. in mid-November, in time for the year-end holiday shopping season. The phone has a 4.3-inch touchscreen display and has includes Netflix, T-Mobile TV, Xbox LIVE and Zune software. AT&T will be launching Samsung's Focus smartphone on Nov. 8 in the U.S.

Microsoft showed off on Monday the first handsets to run Windows Phone 7, its new operating system for cell phones.

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