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Microsoft tries again to gain foothold in smartphone market

Microsoft’s fall barrage of product launches reaches its peak Monday with the launch of Windows Phone 8, the company’s latest effort to gain a foothold in the smartphone market.

The company officially launched the new phone operating system and a number of new devices at a gala event in San Francisco.

It comes just days after the company’s high profile release of its new Windows 8 operating system, a version of which also powers the new phones.

Microsoft has struggled to make a dent against Apple’s iPhone and devices powered by Goodle’s Android operating system. The company had just a 3.5 percent share of the smartphone market in the second quarter.

“The platform looks very competitive,” Al Hilwa, an analyst at research firm IDC, said of Microsoft’s new lineup in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek. “We are going to see hardware on par with iOS and Android devices in terms of computing power, screen resolutions, camera and compatibility with advanced wireless networks,” he said.

Among the features the company touted at the launch event were Data Sense for Windows Phone 8. Geekwire reports the feature compresses web pages, shifts data to WiFi whenever possible, adjusts network settings and delivers alerts as users approach their data limits.

The company says the web page compression alone lets users browse 45 percent more web pages on the same data plan. Verizon will be the first U.S. carrier to launch the new feature this holiday on all of its Windows Phones.

The company also unveiled Kid’s Corner, which creates a separate area on the phone parents can configure to give children access their parents’ apps, email and other features.

CEO Steve Ballmer announced in the U.S., the phones will be available on Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T, ZD Net reports.

T-Mobile will sell the Lumia 810 (the 820 equivalent) for $99, and the HTC 8X for $149 by November 14.

AT&T will have the Lumia 820, the Lumia 920 (exclusively) and the HTC 8X. No dates on availability yet.

Verizon will be getting the HTC 8X and the Lumia 822 as of Thanksgiving. The 8X will cost $199 for a 16 GB model, the Lumia 822 will sell for $99 on contract.

Verizon also has an exclusive on the ATIV Odyssey (a variant of the ATIV S). It is due out in December 2012.

Ballmer also said the phones will be available at all 65 Microsoft Stores.

Analysts say the challenge for the company and its partners is to convince consumers how their new phones are different and better, from their features, to its seamless integration with such Microsoft products as Outlook and Excel.

“The overall vision is to say this isn’t a world where you need to carry 17 different devices,” IDC analyst Will Stofegay told The Seattle Times. “Here’s something you can take on the road, but one that gives you a link into all the different devices and the applications that run on all those devices, whether Windows PC or tablet. And that fits into both the business and the consumer world.”

It won’t be an easy sell in a crowded market dominated by its competitors. Apple sold 5 million new iPhone 5’s alone in just its first weekend, about the same number of Windows Phone devices shipped in the entire second quarter, according to IDC. And Google is set to launch its new Nexus smartphone and tablet, showcasing the Android’s latest features.

Analysts say a key is convincing the people that sell smartphones to get behind Windows Phone 8 and push the Microsoft powered devices as well as they do iPhones and Androids. The company also has to convince more app makers to create offerings for the operating systems.

Microsoft officials say they are also working hard to train and better compensate salespeople with commissions that encourage them to recommend the new devices.

“There’s a whole list of things were doing,” Microsoft’s Greg Sullivan told USA Today. “One of the things were most encouraged by is interest our mobile partners themselves have been. Verizon will carry three models in very high profile positions, and T-Mobile and AT&T are
really putting a significant effort into this.”

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