Scenes From Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 Launch4:15 PM EST Mon. Oct. 11, 2010
Aww, Microsoft, you know you can still get us to show up, even after all these years. Hundreds of journalists, bloggers and multimedia producers descended on Center 548 in Manhattan Monday for the launch of Windows Phone 7. Here's a quick look at the presentation itself, and a few of the devices Microsoft and its partners are bringing to bear.
Was this an event launch or a peek inside the Wonka Factory? Center 548, an industrial-looking corporate event space out near New York's West Side Highway, had only a few Microsoft signs outside and a barely marked entrance. If it weren't for the throngs awaiting entry to the press conference, you might have walked by and never noticed it was there.
Attendees were brought to Center 548's third floor by an enormous loft elevator. Microsoft made a show of taking attendees up and then pushing open large doors into the sparkling events space, like entry into a Disney theme park ride.
There appeared to be enough seats for only about two-thirds of attendees, so as the lights dimmed to start the presentation, "standing room only" became "get out of my way, buddy."
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took the stage and described the day as one he'd been waiting for for a long time. He then officially took the wraps off of the Windows Phone 7 mobile OS, introducing both the software and a glut of smartphones -- nine in all -- that will run it at launch.
The goal with Windows Phone 7, he said, is "to let you get in, out and back to life, and have that be as fast and as simple as humanly possible."
Ballmer described Windows Phone 7 as "a different kind of phone" and described Windows 7 phones as devices that, to users, are hopefully "always delightful" and "wonderfully mine." It was those catchphrases Ballmer emphasized, but he might just as well as have been talking about Phone 7 itself and its place in Microsoft's history: the OS is essentially completely different -- and reworked -- from Microsoft's earlier forays into smartphone OSes.
It was undoubtedly an international launch. Devices running Windows Phone 7 will be available in 30 countries and on 60 different carriers, Ballmer added, naming some of the company's technology and carrier partners in the launch.
Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets, was also on hand to introduce AT&T's first three Windows Phone 7 entries -- part of the nine that Microsoft is bringing to bear at launch overall.
De La Vega described AT&T as a longtime partner with Microsoft and said that AT&T was "ready to make history with Windows Phone 7."
"The user experience is unlike anything you have seen," he said. "It's a unique, fun-to-use interface that gets you super-fast access."
The first three Windows Phone 7 devices through AT&T are the HTC Surround, the Samsung Focus and the LG Quantum. Each will cost $199.99 with a two-year contract and each offers a 1 Ghz processor, with various content and feature options for each, depending on the manufacturer. The Samsung Focus will arrive on Nov. 8, while the Surround and the Quantum will follow a week later.
Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Windows phone program, cited basic consumer uses and organizing information as the driving principles behind Windows Phone 7. What users will find is a series of "hubs," which organize how users store their contacts, information and functions in specific areas centered around people, business, pictures, games and other categories.
According to Belfiore, "hundreds of thousands" of developers are at work on apps for the Windows Phone 7 devices. The interface itself combines large text and tile-like buttons, similar to what appears on Microsoft's Zune media player.
Along with the hubs themselves are a few quirky features that Belfiore described as smart functionality. After scheduling a meeting, for example, a user can send a message that he or she is running late using a one-touch function, as Belfiore explained during the Phone 7 demo.
No Windows Phone 7 user is complete without a custom-designed avatar, either, Belfiore said.
One of the Windows Phone 7 hubs is for gaming. Make no mistake: Windows Phone 7 is intended as a gaming platform as well as a smartphone OS, and there will be content and features galore to integrate Windows Phone 7 devices with Xbox., Belfiore said. AT&T also confirmed that its U-Verse TV service is coming to both Windows Phone 7 and Xbox.
Belfiore added that copy-and-paste, while not originally included in the Windows Phone 7 plans in time for this launch, will be available for Windows Phone 7 in early 2011.
After the conference ended, attendees had the opportunity to play with some of the new phones in a nearby exhibition hall. The LG Quantum, for example, sports a full, slide-out Qwerty keyboard in addition to its capacitive touch-screen.
Other attendees sized up the Quantum for its e-mail capabilities. One attendee, here shown examining the phone, said she liked the larger text as opposed to the "BlackBerry I usually squint at."
Journalists have deadlines, and plenty of conference attendees grabbed whatever pieces of counter space or chairs they could to get first impressions up online. But few resisted the opportunity to take one more grab at the devices themselves, sitting there all shiny and new.