Peter Kafka

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“Delightful” Windows Phone 7 Coming November 8


Microsoft has been showing off its new Windows 7 operating system for months, so today’s launch event couldn’t offer much in the way of surprises. The most important news: Consumers will get their hands on first handsets, via Samsung, on November 8.

Those will be followed, within a “few weeks”, by handsets by from LG and HTC. All three phones will be supported by AT&T (T), and all three will retail for $199.99.

There had been some bloggy speculation prior that Microsoft (MSFT) CEO Steve Ballmer would use today’s event to show off a new Windows tablet, but that never made much sense. And sure enough, there was no tablet, and no talk of one today: It was all phone, all the time.

Key talking points for Microsoft: Its new operating system will be “delightful” for users, and that users will be primarily delighted by their ability to customize their phones. Very hard to gauge that likelihood from an onstage demo, but we’ll start getting real-world reports within a month.

Earlier

Microsoft has fallen so far behind Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOG) and everyone else in mobile that even Steve Ballmer will say so out loud. Today Ballmer tries to play catch-up, with a press event to launch his Windows Phone 7.

Unlike other mobile debuts, Microsoft has done plenty of scene setting here, showing off the operating system to journalists, industry folks and anyone with a Web browser. The good news is that people who’ve seen it, like my colleague John Paczkowski, say encouraging things. But if this doesn’t work, Microsoft really may have no choice but to go ahead and buy BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIMM).

Ballmer kicks off the launch at 9:30 am from an event space in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, and he’s bringing along AT&T mobile boss Ralph de la Vega with him. I’ll be live-blogging shortly. While you’re waiting, check out one of the 39 (!) preview videos Microsoft has put out:

Live Blog

Sorry! Just showed up in time to see Ballmer take the stage. Luckily, he’s just doing preamble.

He does look trim, though.

And hoarse, as usual.

Ballmer has a joke about his avatar but slide presentation isn’t synched up. A beat or two too late.

Launching w/9 phones at first ship date: LG, Samsung, HTC, Dell (DELL).

Keywords so far for launch: “Delight” and “my.”

Oooh. Rotating shelves usher phones offstage.

US carriers for Launch: AT&T, T Mobile.

International: SingTel, Telstra, Telus, Vodafone, Orange, SFR, Telefonica, couple i couldn’t see because Ballmer was standing in front of logo.

Here’s Ralph de la Vega from AT&T.

Goes into history lesson, which is a cue to audience: Tune me out!

Back to present tense: AT&T has more smartphone customers than any other U.S. customer [cough, cough].

And the Winphone is “fun, fast, personal.” Network “will only get faster and better” as AT&T “moves toward 4g.”

Three “amazing new devices” cue rotating shelf.

LG quantum, for those of you who love the Sidekick.

$199.99

HTC Surround. “Perfect device for media and gaming enthusiasts.” [Have you ever heard anyone describe themselves that way?]

Features slide-out speakers, kickstand.

$199.99

Samsung Focus. “Best-looking screen on any Windows 7 phone.”

$199.99

Samsung launces 11/8, other two “a few weeks later.”

U-verse mobile will be avail for Windows 7 phone customer for a “low monthly fee.”

U=verse also avail soon for Xbox 360. First TV provider in U.S. for U-verse.

There goes the sliding shelf! De la Vega off, Ballmer on.

Intro VP Joe Belfiore for walk-through.

Belfiore preamble going through “hub” design strategy. Sliding tiles/blocks and three buttons.

Customization description is sort of pointless in demo form. Will have to play with it to figure it out. But basically: A tweak on the desktop/icon/app metaphor. Only so many ways to skin the mobile cat.

Belfiore showing off “quick draw” capability for camera phone. No waiting for camera feature to switch on.

Belfiore has cute kids! Congrats.

Email demo. “Email” from Ballmer links to Powerpoint 2010 doc, which looks very nice.

BTW, I’ve found a reporter who doesn’t use a Macbook: Ina Fried, CNET’s ace MSFT beat reporter. Pecking away at a Lenovo.

Back to demo! Belfiore still answering Ballmer’s “email.” He can type quite quickly on onscreen keyboard. Trying to show off editing feature, and struggling just a bit.

Another fake email from Ballmer. Post-event dinner is at TGI Friday’s on 8th Ave. Hohoho!

More exchange, Outlook integration. Will also synch with Yahoo (YHOO) mail, Gmail, etc.

Ha! There’s an “I’ll be late” button in calendar.

Cool Bing map integration. Joe, don’t go to that TGI Friday’s by Penn Station! It’s brutal there.

Ah good. He’s following my advice. They’ll be dining somewhere downtown.

Want to move beyond “HTML page with a bunch of blue hyperlinks.” That’s code for “bad Google! Good Bing!”

Ruhroh. Choice #2 in the Thai restaurant demo is on 86th Street in Brooklyn, which is very, very far away from Chelsea.

Showing off auto voice recognition via Tellme, which doesn’t work.

Works on second try. Scattered applause from crowd.

Hrm. Okay. *now* we’re getting the Hub demo. Clicking on a profile pic gives phone #s, social networking updates, etc. Belfiore’s wife uses Facebook.

“We take your contacts from all the services you sign into” and link all contacts together.

Now on to pictures. Cool feature groups social network photos in one location.

This is a lengthy, lengthy demo.

Now on to office. You can use office, w/Sharepoint cloud linked documents.

Music and videos. Please tell us whether we can synch our existing iTunes library.

Talking up Zune integration, which I don’t care about.

Okay. “Open third party” API, will synch out. Shows off links to YouTube, slacker, among others. But no iTunes.

Are you a Zune Pass subscriber? Then you’ll like the phone.

No? You’ve never heard of Zune Pass?

Okay, off to third-party apps. “Thousands” of apps that “people are developing right now.”

EBay (EBAY), IMDB, AT&T U-verse Mobile.

On-demand video, appears to be downloads, not streaming.

Key word: Delightful. Delightful. Delightful.

Last (I think/hope): Xbox Live demo

Customizing avatar. This seems like something you don’t want to spend time showing off at a big press conference.

Okay, this is cool-looking. Some kind of 3-D map scrolling game feature.

“Ilo/Milo” avail exculsively on AT&T phones.

Electronic Arts will be avail at launch. Showing off Sims3

Demo done!

Oh, and update: Copy and paste will be coming to phones in 2011.

And now a video from hardware execs speaking slowly and clearly about the phones. Everyone can take a break now.

Break’s over! Ballmer’s back: “Windows Phone: A different kind of phone”

Delightful!

And we’re done. No Q&A, I guess.

So I’ll do my own Q&A, with CNET’s Windows beat reporter Ina Fried, sitting next to me.

What do you think, Ina?

“It’s so opposite the usual Microsoft way, because the U/I are really good, but the hardware has problems.”

Given that MSFT has offered extensive previews, what actually constituted news today, Ina?

EA at launch, copy + paste, and launch dates for phone: Only one on Nov. 8.

More press row interviews: Matt Buchanan from Gizmodo thinks MSFT’s best shot is play up the phone’s gaming capabilities, via its ties to MSFT’s Xbox platform–it’s the one area where Apple really can’t compete, since it doesn’t have deep ties into game studios and doesn’t have its own gaming platform.

Okay. Time to wander around and fondle some phones. More from me, or from John Paczkowski at Digital Daily, later.