Microsoft Corp., which has struggled for years to capture the attention and dollars of smart-phone users, debuted handsets Monday that will run on its new mobile operating system, Windows Phone 7.
AT&T Inc. will be the first to offer the phones, starting with the Samsung Focus, arriving in stores Nov. 8. HTC Corp. and LG Corp. will each release a model "a few weeks later," Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer said at an event in New York to introduce the phones.
Each of the three AT&T handsets will sell for $199.99, Ballmer said.
T-Mobile will release an HTC handset in mid-November and Sprint will do the same early next year.
Microsoft has a lot of ground to make up in the burgeoning smart-phone market. Through the second quarter it had only a 9% share of the smart phones on the market. Android had 33%, ahead of BlackBerry with 28% and Apple's 22%, according to data from NPD group.
The lineup of smart-phone manufacturers building hardware for Windows Phone 7 is encouraging, said Kim Caughey Forrest, an analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group.
"We'll see how successful this whole thing is once the phones hit stores, but it really shows that Apple and Microsoft are two different ends of the spectrum," Caughey Forrest said.
"Apple wants to control everything and Microsoft is giving a lot of leeway to manufacturers as far as features and the user interface experience."
Microsoft demonstrated mobile versions of its Office software suite at the event, as well as video games from Electronic Arts Inc., which will offer mobile versions of it's popular titles Need for Speed and Sims 3.
Both titles will be able to integrate with Microsoft's Xbox 360 video game console, which could be key to attracting new customers, said Mark McKechnie, an analyst at Gleacher & Co.
"You've got to respect Microsoft, you have to pay attention, but they clearly are coming from behind," McKechnie said. "Apple and Google already have ecosystems of hardware and apps on multiple devices in place. Microsoft is trying to create that and they've done a lot to close the gap, but I do see them as competing for the third spot behind Apple and Android."
Windows Phone 7 is a complete reboot from Microsoft's current mobile OS. The new system — which will not be compatible with phones that now use a Microsoft operating system — uses a touch screen-based interface and web-connected apps, leaving behind software that relied largely on the consumer using a stylus to make choices.
The new phones are stylus-free and all will have at least a 5-megapixel camera capable of shooting high-definition video.
The Samsung Focus will feature 8 gigabytes of memory and will be the thinnest of the phones in the AT&T group. The HTC Surround, with a 3.8-inch screen and a kickstand on the back, will have Dolby surround-sound speakers and 16 gigabytes of storage. LG's Quantum will include a horizontal slide-out keyboard & 16 gigabytes of memory.
The HTC HD7, a phone exclusive to T-Mobile, will come with a 4.3-inch screen and 16 gigabytes of memory. Dell's Venue Pro, also on T-Mobile, will have a vertical slide-out keyboard.
The phones will come pre-installed with television apps as well. AT&T phones will come with the U-verse Mobile app, which will enable users to download TV shows for a undisclosed monthly fee.
T-Mobile phones will include the T-Mobile TV app, which will stream live TV for free. Some downloads of shows will be available for a $9.99 monthly fee.
One thing Windows Phone 7 won't have until early 2011 is one of the tougher tasks for smart phones — a copy-and-paste feature. That capability wasn't available on Apple's first iPhone, either.