Microsoft, in the unusual position of playing platform catch-up, is trying to get back into the game of mobile devices. This week, the software giant named the handset manufacturers for its upcoming Windows Phone 7 operating system, and has begun highlighting feedback from a technical preview sent to developers.
Greg Sullivan, senior product manager for Microsoft, told news media Wednesday that handsets with Phone 7 will be released from Dell, ASUS, LG Electronics, HTC and Samsung. A launch date for the operating system hasn't been given, except to say it will be later this year.
Prototype Phones, Developer Tools
At least five Phone 7 models from these manufacturers have been rumored, including the Dell Lightning, a slider with a QWERTY keyboard. Microsoft has indicated the new OS will not be exclusive to any manufacturers or carriers.
Microsoft is touting reviews of a technical preview of Phone 7. Time magazine, for instance, predicted back in March that Windows Phone 7 will catapult the company "ahead of Apple, Google, Palm and BlackBerry's maker, RIM." The reasons, the magazine said, include a dedicated search button that provides one-click access to the company's Bing search engine, an integration of the Zune digital media player, an assortment of Xbox Live games, and a set of distinct "hubs" -- at that time, People, Pictures, Music + Video, Games, Office and the App Store -- that aggregate all content and features for each area into one screen.
Other reviewers assessing the recently released technical preview have cited the integration of the platform with other Microsoft products, including Windows Live, Hotmail e-mail, calendaring, SkyDrive cloud storage, and Windows Office applications.
On the official Windows Phone Blog, Microsoft's Terry Myerson wrote Sunday that thousands of prototype phones from ASUS, LG and Samsung are heading toward developers, as are developer tools, to promote third-party application development.
"We are on the path to do exactly what we set out to do," Myerson wrote -- "create a different take on mobile-phone software, an experience we think many people will find fun and refreshing, with a quality bar that we're proud of."
Avi Greengart, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, noted that Microsoft has a big mountain to climb. "They're certainly underdogs," he said, because Phone 7 is "entering a market that has passed them by."
He noted that Phone 7 will start with a variety of unique features, not the least of which will be its ability to put various Microsoft assets together, including Bing, Exchange, SharePoint, Messenger and Zune.
But, he added, the platform is now "way behind" market leaders Research In Motion, Apple and the growing Android platform. It's not clear, Greengart said, what Phone 7's angle will be. He said the key problem is that "even if they build something as good as the iPhone, Android or BlackBerry," Microsoft still hasn't given buyers a reason to choose Phone 7 devices rather than those three.
Windows Phone 7, he said, is "basically a 1.0 product," and Microsoft needs to not only catch up but to differentiate. But, Greengart said, it has to move forward, because "it is absolutely essential Microsoft be a part of mobile computing."