Nine different phones, all running the brand-new Windows Phone 7 software and made by HTC, Dell, Samsung and LG Electronics, were announced at the launch. They will go on sale through 60 mobile operators in 30 countries in the coming weeks, displaying Microsoft's still formidable market muscle despite its smartphone stumbles in recent years.
The Windows Phone 7 operating system differs from its rivals by organising activities around hubs rather than individual applications that can tend to confuse and overwhelm disorganised phone users. Another innovation is the use of tiles rather than icons, letting users see essential information and real time updates without opening a specific programme.
"The phones are always delightful, and wonderfully mine," Ballmer said during the New York launch event. "This is a different kind of phone". In the US, Microsoft's phones will be available on carriers AT&T and T-Mobile, while in Europe the launch partners include 02, Orange, SFR, Movistar, Deutsche Telekom and VodaFone. In the Asia-Pacific region Singtel, Telstar and Vodafone will lead the Windows Phone 7 charge, while America Movil will offer the phones in Mexico.
"We have a beautiful lineup in this first wave of Windows Phone 7 handsets," said Ballmer. "Microsoft and its partners are delivering a different kind of mobile phone and experience - one that makes everyday tasks faster by getting more done in fewer steps and providing timely information in a 'glance and go' format."
Microsoft needs a successful launch to help it gain ground on Apple, Google, RIM and Nokia, whose devices have made the software giant's previous operating system, Windows Mobile, an also-ran in the smartphone arena. With smartphones becoming ever more pervasive as internet access devices, Microsoft's shortcomings have prompted many analysts to criticise the company and even downgrade its shares to reflect its unenviable position.
Microsoft's tactic was to scrap Windows Mobile completely and build a new next-generation operating system from the ground up. While the new system is primarily aimed at consumers, business buyers are expected to appreciate its tight integration with Microsoft's desktop software, such as Windows Office and Microsoft Exchange, while the company's deep pockets will ensure continued investment in development and marketing.
In a recent study, research firm IDC placed the market share of Windows mobile operating systems at 6.8 percent, behind Symbian, which took the top spot, Research in Motion's Blackberry OS, Google's Android and Apple's iOS. IDC expects upcoming Windows mobile operating systems to help Microsoft regain market share, reaching 9.8 percent by 2014.