Microsoft Unveils Cheaper Windows Phones

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Microsoft constructed a gigantic Windows Phone in Manhattan to launch a range of cheaper ‘Mango’ handsets

Microsoft threw a party in New York City’s Herald Square on Monday to celebrate the launch of a series of new Windows Phones from partners such as Samsung and HTC.

But before the big splash right outside the Macy’s flagship shop, Microsoft held a more intimate “Backstage” event for press and analysts to display all of its Windows Phones, and talk momentum and the emerging developer opportunity. At this low-key event in the Hammerstein Ballroom in the New Yorker hotel, Microsoft and its application, handset and carrier partners showed off new wares and talked strategy in the low-lit, black velvet-draped venue.

New phones

“We’re launching four new phones in the US,” said Andy Lees, president of the Windows Phone Division at Microsoft. “In the last month we updated all the Windows Phones, all in less than a month to Windows Phone 7.5.”

The newly launched Windows Phone 7.5, formerly code-named Mango, start at $49.99 (£30) and range to $199.99, Lees said. The Samsung Focus S and Samsung Focus Flash are the newest additions to the Windows Phone portfolio, joining the HTC Radar 4G.

All the new Windows Phones in the US are capable of 4G speeds, and have front- and rear-facing cameras. And to help new Windows Phone customers defray costs, people who purchase the HTC Radar 4G or the Samsung Focus Flash in the US will receive a $25 prepaid app card. This card may be used to shop from the catalogue of 35,000-plus apps and games from Windows Phone Marketplace such as Angry Birds, Facebook, ESPN, and, launching on 7 November, Spotify, the digital music service.

The Samsung Focus S builds on the success of the biggest-selling Windows Phone in the US, the Samsung Focus. It features a brilliant 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Plus display, a 1.4GHz processor, 4G-capable speeds and a thin profile at 8.55 millimetres. It also includes an 8-megapixel camera.

In addition, the Samsung Focus Flash hits the market at just $49.99. Its 3.7-inch Super AMOLED screen will both fit in pockets and be light on pocketbooks, with the full power of Windows Phone 7.5 inside. It runs a 1.4GHz processor and has a 5-megapixel camera.

HTC Radar 4G

Meanwhile, crafted from a single piece of polished aluminum, the HTC Radar 4G offers a unique design along with a vivid 3.8-inch screen.

And soon to come is the HTC TITAN. With the largest screen of any Windows Phone, the TITAN is perfect for multitasking and making your entertainment and photos come to life. It sports a 4.7-inch screen and a 9.9-millimetre design. The TITAN is 4G-capable and is equipped with a 1.5GHz processor and an 8-megapixel camera with dual LED flash.

To celebrate its continued momentum and the launch of the new phones, “We’re taking the trends to bigger screens to the next level,” Lees said, noting that in Herald Square, Microsoft had constructed a 55-foot replica of a Windows Phone with “live” applications and music. “With Live Tiles we don’t give you an icon to play music; we show you the band,” he said, adding that electro hip-hop group Far East Movement would be playing in one of the tiles of the Windows Phone replica.

According to Microsoft’s press release on the new phones, Microsoft designed Windows Phone around the concept that people belong at the centre of the phone experience. To demonstrate this approach, Microsoft put real people inside a giant six-story phone to bring to life the phone’s key features and experiences.

A life-sized “Plants vs. Zombies” battle highlighted the phone’s Xbox LIVE gaming experience, while Far East Movement brought the Music + Video Hub to life with a live lunchtime concert. The theme of the day – connecting people – was underscored when a New York man proposed to his girlfriend from inside the Me Tile of the giant phone.

“Windows Phone will help change the way people look at smartphones,” Lees said in a statement. “Other phones have you wade through a sea of apps, while we bubble up all the things that are important – centred around the people that matter to you most.”

“Windows Phones have a strong fan base among our customers, which has helped us sell more of them than anyone else,” said Jeff Bradley, senior vice president – devices, AT&T Mobility & Consumer Markets, in a statement. “These new devices cater perfectly to both personal and professional use and make it easier for our customers to connect and share information with the important people in their lives. The more intuitive approach to apps, along with the power of Internet Explorer 9 and the ability for users to localise the web based on where they are, combine to give our customers a compelling and differentiated service experience.”

Developer interest

Yet, while Microsoft is making Windows Phone more attractive to consumers, it also is working to make the phone more of a target for developers.

“It’s definitely picking up,” Brandon Watson, director of Developer Experience for Windows Phone, told eWEEK. “We’ve got 35,000 apps and there may be one or two holes of areas where people still say they want certain apps, but we’re quickly filling them.”

“We have over 35,000 apps available in less than one year,” Lees said. “That’s the fastest adoption of any mobile platform ever. You’ll see new phones coming out over the next several months. There will be rolling thunder over the next year with ‘Mango’ phones.”

Meanwhile, Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president for Windows Phone Programme Management at Microsoft, told eWEEK that working to win over developers is an ongoing effort that requires a multi-faceted approach.

“It’s a combination of things,” Belfiore said. “We continue to reach out and build good relationships with our developer partners to give them better access and help with the presentation and distribution of apps. The Nokia partnership is an example of that. We expect to see the unit volume grow based on that relationship and the high quality of what they and our partners here have to offer. We also keep up the high standard of development tools we provide. And we have to do a better job of helping users find and initially run apps. We’re improving on all of these fronts and it will continue to drive momentum.”

No Nokia

However, Jonathan Yarmis, founder of the Yarmis Group, who said he really likes the Windows Phones, also said, “I still think they’ve got a chicken and egg problem – developers want volume and users want apps. It’s a hard sell. I like what they’re doing, and if they’d done it three years ago it’d be interesting. As for this announcement, when you have a party and the guest of honor doesn’t show… Or love Samsung and HTC, but if Nokia is their big draw, an announcement without them is pretty dull.”

Microsoft and Nokia announced November availability of Nokia’s new Lumia 710 and 800 Windows Phones at the Nokia World show in London on 26 October. However, availability of those phones in the US will not come until early 2012, Nokia said.

Meanwhile, Microsoft says Windows Phone is about a new kind of smartphone experience. Windows Phone was designed to put people back at the centre of the smartphone experience, making it easier and more natural for people to take advantage of the rich communications, apps and web experiences on today’s modern phones.

The Windows Phone experience features:

    Modern communications built in. Windows Phone makes it easier to connect with the people who matter by bringing together social media updates from Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and recent conversations – calls, texts, email messages, Windows Live instant messages and Facebook chats – all in one place.smarter way to app. Windows Phone makes it easier to discover new apps and get more from the apps you already have by surfacing apps as part of search results and connecting them to common tasks on the phone.Internet beyond the browser. Windows Phone brings you fast web browsing with Internet Explorer Mobile and the unique new Local Scout for recommendations on restaurants, shopping and events closest to you.

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