Microsoft Shows Off Upcoming Windows Phones

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At its developer conference Microsoft talked up big plans for its smartphone platform

Microsoft executives used the second day of the company’s Worldwide Partner Conference in Los Angeles to offer a few glimpses of upcoming Windows Phones.

Acer, Fujitsu, ZTE, and Samsung had manufactured the devices on display for part of the 12 July keynote speeches, all of them embracing a thin-and-light design style that will apparently drive the Windows Phone franchise going forward. Although executives have spent the conference highlighting Microsoft’s partnership with Nokia, which will see Windows Phone ported onto the latter’s devices, no smartphones from the Finnish manufacturer have made an appearance.

Mango

Microsoft also offered attendees a glimpse at its wide-ranging Mango update, which will appear on Windows Phones later in 2011. New features include a redesigned Xbox Live Hub, home-screen tiles capable of displaying up-to-the-minute information, the ability to consolidate friends and colleagues into groups, and visual voicemail – a supposed 500 elements in all.

According to some outside analysts, Microsoft’s smartphone ambitions face some serious headwinds. For the three-month period between the end of February and the end of May, research firm comScore estimated Microsoft’s US share dipping from 7.7 percent to 5.8 percent. If accurate, that comes despite the marketing push behind the Windows Phone platform.

However, Microsoft seems to be readying to push back – hard. Andy Lees, president of Microsoft’s Windows Phone Division, told the audience assembled to hear his 12 July keynote that advances in technology would halve the price of a smartphone capable of running Windows Phone to between $100 (£63) and $150.

“We’re at an inflection point in Moore’s Law where you can put everything needed to run a computer on a single chip,” he said, which in turn is bringing PC-level power to a variety of form-factors. “There won’t be an ecosystem for PCs and an ecosystem for phones, one for tablets; they’ll all come together.” Devices within the resulting stack will prove capable of swapping key pieces of technology; for example, the version of Internet Explorer 9 running on Windows Phone has the same software underpinnings as the browser running on PCs.

“We can take the advantages we provide the PC and immediately provide those across devices,” he added. That being said, there will be separations: producing a tablet that dual-operates as a phone would be “in conflict with this strategy” since Microsoft views tablets as “sort of a PC” with a need to connect to networks and the like.

Anemic adoption

Nonetheless, based on comments delivered at the WPC, it seems as if Microsoft is more determined than ever to bake Windows Phone thoroughly into its portfolio. But whether such efforts can help the platform’s anemic adoption rates remains to be seen.

During his 11 July keynote speech at the WPC, chief executive Steve Ballmer went so far as to describe Windows Phone’s market presence as “very small”. Nonetheless, he went on to insist that other metrics boded well for the smartphone platform, which Microsoft is counting on to counter the competitive threat posed by the likes of Google Android, Apple’s iPhone, and Research In Motion’s BlackBerry franchise.

Ballmer seemed far more willing to talk other Windows Phone metrics. “Nine out of 10 people who bought Windows Phone would absolutely recommend it to a friend,” he said, reiterating a talking point voiced by many a Microsoft executive over the past few months. “People in the phone business believe in us.”

Despite the possible softness in Windows Phone’s market-share, Microsoft is actively seeking another way to profit off the smartphone market: extracting royalties from Android device manufacturers. According to a new research note from Jack Gold, founder and principal analyst of J. Gold Associates, Microsoft’s claims that Android violates its patent portfolio could result in a revenue stream that dwarfs anything the company can collect from its own Windows Phone franchise.

HTC has already agreed to pay Microsoft royalties for Android, along with a handful of small companies including Wistron Corp, Onkyo Corporation, Velocity Micro and General Dynamics Itronix. According to a 6 July Reuters report, Samsung is also a target of Microsoft’s efforts.

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