Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's characterization of the new Windows Phone 7 OS as "always delightful and wonderfully mine" may go down in tech marketing-speak history. But what exactly did the company launch this morning, and exactly how is it taking aim at competitors like Apple's iPhone and iOS, Google's Android, and RIM's BlackBerry?
There are nine announced Windows Phone 7 devices that U.S. customers will soon be able to choose from, with T-Mobile and AT&T handsets coming out of the gate as early as November 8. The diverse array of handsets, geared toward target markets as disparate as gaming freaks and "rugged" phone users (as well as keyboard loyalists), stands in stark contrast to Apple's vision of the iPhone as a single, simple device that can ideally be used by just about anyone.
Customization and convenience ("a phone to save us from our phones") are what Microsoft is going for here, hoping to offer a higher level of personalization than your average smartphone while still keeping Microsoft-centric experiences. When Windows Phone 7 devices hit the mass market, we'll see if consumers think their aim was accurate.
There's deep integration with Microsoft's Zune service for music and Xbox Live for gaming, including a partnership with EA Mobile. For the three Windows Phone 7 devices running on AT&T, there is also access (for a fee) to its U-verse Mobile media service. There's Office 2010 and access to Microsoft's Bing search engine and mapping tools, which are all closely tied into the software.
So is Facebook, the social network in which Microsoft bought a stake in 2007. Open up your contacts in Windows Phone 7, and you'll be able to see their Facebook-tagged photos.
One of the biggest software disappointments: the Windows Phone 7 OS can't handle copy-paste functions. Well, it can't yet. That's slated to arrive in a January 2011 update.
Microsoft executives spent a significant amount of time talking about the Windows Phone 7 e-mail features, which are perhaps its most prominent example of how they intend the operating system to be highly effective for both personal and business use. This is a strategic jab at both Apple, which was initially criticized for not making the iPhone e-mail function business-friendly enough (it's since improved it), and RIM, which continues to work to make the BlackBerry less synonymous with corporate use.
In the U.S., the Windows Phone 7 handsets on the immediate horizon come from AT&T and T-Mobile. Handsets on Sprint and Verizon are on the way. This puts Windows Phone 7 already one step ahead of Apple, which still has yet to make the iPhone available on U.S. carriers other than AT&T (though rumors about Verizon persist).
Around the world, carriers include Telus in Canada and Orange, O2, and Vodafone around different countries in Europe.
Perhaps because of the emphasis on Microsoft-grown products like Xbox Live and Zune, there was less of a focus on third-party developers and apps than one would expect from an announcement about the iPhone or Google's developer-centric Android. Aside from games and a quick peek at music apps that tap into Zune, only eBay and IMDb's Windows Phone 7 apps were demonstrated. More have been announced, but it's going to be a while before the breadth of apps offers anything like the iTunes Store or Android Marketplace.
Still, Microsoft exec Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president in charge of the Windows Phone program, said that "hundreds of thousands" of developers were at work on Windows Phone 7 apps.