Microsoft has launched Windows Phone 7, its latest attempt to break into the lucrative smartphone market.
Until now the company has failed to provide a credible challenge to rival operating systems from Apple, Google, Research in Motion and Nokia.
Mobile phone operators predict smartphones will have a 70% market share in just three years.
Microsoft says it has made Windows Phone 7 more user-friendly, rebuilding the operating system from bottom up.
The phone system’s experience is built around so-called hubs that aggregate content like contacts, pictures, documents, and music and video. The content on the phone is then synchronised both with storage services on the internet and the owner’s computers at home.
At launch Microsoft’s new phone system will be available on nine phones, and with 60 operators in 30 countries.
In the UK the phone will launch on 21 October, while the US launch will be in early November.
The company wants its new operating system, Windows Phone 7 (WP7), to put its mobile business back in the running against not just Apple, but also Google, which makes the Android phone software, among others.
Speaking at a launch event in New York this afternoon, Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer said: ‘Everybody should be able to take a look at a Windows Phone and say it can represent me.’
The world’s largest software company is hoping that the new phones, from handset makers Samsung, LG, HTC and Dell, will propel it back into the mobile market, which many see as the key to the future of computing.
The new phones, initially available on the T-Mobile network in the UK and on AT&T in the U.S., are much closer in look and feel to Apple’s iPhone, with colourful touch-screens and ’tiles’ for easy access to email, the Web, music and other applications.
“I’ve been looking forward to this day for quite some time,” said Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief executive, at a press conference in New York.
“The difference with Windows Phone 7 isn’t just what you’re going to do with the phone, but how you’re going to do it. We’ve focused in on the way real people want to use their phone when they’re on the go. We’ve set out to build a phone that is thoroughly modern.”
HTC, the Taiwanese phone maker best known for its Google Android handsets, is releasing five Windows Phone 7 handsets, with one, the HTC 7 Surround, a US-only device. The remaining four devices – the HTC 7 Mozart, the HTC 7 Trophy, the HTC 7 Pro and the flagship HTC HD7 – will be available on a variety of networks and a choice of contracts and tariffs.
The HTC HD7 features a 4.3in touchscreen, up to 16GB of storage, and a five megapixel camera with HD video recording capabilities.
LG has released two Windows Phone 7 handsets, the Optimus 7 and the Optimus 7Q. Dell has also unveiled a Windows Phone, the Venue Pro, while Samsung is launching the Omnia 7, a touchscreen device with a 4in super AMOLED display and five megapixel camera with HD recording.
“Windows Phone 7 is an entirely fresh mobile experience, on which HTC is excited to be going big,” said Peter Chou, chief executive of HTC. “We see tremendous customer opportunities with the integration of Microsoft’s most popular services like Xbox Live and Zune.”
Microsoft hopes its new range of Windows Phone 7 devices will help it compete more closely with Apple’s iPhone and handsets running Google Android.
Windows Phone 7 represents a dramatic departure from Microsoft’s previous mobile operating systems. It is based around the concept of “hubs”, to organise contacts, photos, music, videos and Xbox games, and “live tiles”, which are used instead of icons to keep the user constantly updated about new emails, messages and social network status updates.