Monday, October 11, 2010

AT&T, Microsoft unveil Windows Phone 7; first AT&T handset ships Nov. 8

Microsoft held its first Oct. 11 Windows Phone 7 launch event at 6:30 PT, 9:30 ET in New York City. That event focused on AT&T, while there's also an afternoon event at 12:00 PT, 3:00 ET featuring T-Mobile.

The morning event also went into details on partners overall, not just AT&T, though AT&T's CEO Ralph de la Vega was there with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. As we already know, Windows Phone will only support GSM, not CDMA at launch, so among the big 4 U.S. carriers, the Verizon and Sprint networks are out of the loop.

Despite that, when WP7 launches (in November, they said), Microsoft will have 9 phones in various form factors (some with keyboards, large screens, and even ruggedized ... specifically, a Dell that Ballmer pointed out) from HTC, LG, Samsung, and Dell (yes, Dell). They already have 60 carriers lined up in more than 30 countries.

Specifically, since AT&T was there, what and when will AT&T offer WP7 phones? November 8th, with 3 models, the company said (for those looking for still more Verizon iPhone clues, the fact that AT&T is aggressively lining up for WP7 is another clue that AT&T exclusivity on the iPhone is going away).

The first of the three is the LG Quantum, with a full slide-out QWERTY keyboard, for $199.99. That model is the U.S. version of the LG Optimus, with 5MP camera, 3.8-inch WVGA display, and 16GB of internal storage.

There is also the HTC Surround, with a 3.8" 480 x 800 screen, 16GB of onboard storage, 5MP camera, and, interestingly, two Dolby Surround Sound speakers. The price is the same, $199.99, which is the current sweet spot for most new high-end smartphones. De la Vega said, "You have got to hear this," referring to the speakers.

Last but not least, the Samsung Focus. That device comes with the same 4" Super AMOLED screen seen on the Galaxy S Android phones (go figure), a Snapdragon CPU, 8GB onboard storage, and (go figure) a $199.99 price. In Europe, it will be known as the Omnia 7. The Focus comes first, on Nov. 8th, with the others following "a few weeks later."

Also, across WP7 phones will come U-verse Mobile. De la Vega said that if you don't have U-verse at home, they "let you do that nationwide on any Windows Phone for a low monthly fee." Of course, he didn't mention the low monthly fee, and if that means wi-fi only or 3G as well. It's not as though AT&T's already beleaguered 3G network needs more data on it.

De la Vega then turned things back to Microsoft, and then came the demo (what else). Of course, Microsoft's approach to Windows Phone 7, as evident from various leaked ads and their site, has been basically "in, out, back to life." In other words, the ability to quickly glance at your phone, get the information you want, and get back to living. To that end, on came Joe Belfiore, Corporate VP from Microsoft.

Microsoft has divided tasks on WP7 up into what it calls "Hubs." It's a different paradigm than that which is offered by Android and iOS. WP7 offers six default hubs, though Microsoft will allow carriers and OEMs to add others.

People: This might be the most-used hub, for today's social networking crowd. This hub features contacts and people info from any source the phone can access ( incl. Outlook, Hotmail, etc.) as well as live feeds from social networks and photos.

Marketplace: This hub is what it sounds like, similar to the Android Market or App Store, it allows users to discover and download certified Apps

Games: The Xbox LIVE experience officially comes to smartphone. PC vs. phone gaming is possible for turn-based games, but not console versus phone, for obvious reasons.

Office: Microsoft Office, OneNote and SharePoint Workspace.

Pictures: Not just about taking pictures, it's about sharing pictures. Even if the phone is locked, you can take snapshots. The Pictures hub then allows sharing to different social networking sites like Facebook or Windows Live. Besides your own images, the Pictures Hub will include pictures your friends have recently shared on Facebook or Windows Live.

Music+Video: They couldn't launch the phone without this, to compete with iOS. It includes the requisite social networking component, and Microsoft is clear this is not just about videos (just as AT&T mentioned U-verse, too). Reportedly, a necessary component to each WP7 phone will be an FM radio; Microsoft also said that each phone will a consistent set of three hardware buttons.

One negative we already see: the default search will be Bing, naturally, since this is a Microsoft product. That's already a big minus and most consumers, once they hear that, will probably ask if there's an easy way to change that.

One other problem was addressed in the event: no Copy-and-Paste. That will come in early 2011, and just as with the other current-generation smartphone platforms, WP7 will be easily upgradeable on your device (they say).

It remains to be seen if WP7 will be relevant with consumers. Gartner has already said they believe that ultimately, it will fail. Whether or not it does is in the hands of the consumer, as well, of course, as the performance of the software and hardware.

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