For the last year, Nokia has been the poster child for Windows Phone but recently HTC and Samsung have seemed more in favour.
We asked corporate vice president of the Windows Phone Division Terry Myerson to explain how Microsoft juggles partnerships with rival phone makers and how much influence manufacturers have on the design of Windows Phone.
"We work in different ways with each of them on the engineering and on the marketing," Myerson told TechRadar.
Nokia gets priority when it comes to development because of the commitment it's made to Windows Phone; "Nokia is exclusive to Windows Phone and we definitely, on the engineering side, prioritise platform work to support their differentiation coming through."
Despite the restrictions it puts on handset specs, Microsoft doesn't want to see the same handset from every phone maker. "Our goal is that Windows Phone is a platform that our partner differentiation can shine through on.
We do spend time planning with HTC and Samsung, sitting down with them and collaborating on what a product is where their differentiation elegantly coexists with Windows Phone and what we bring. There are different cultures to each of these companies and they all have their own plans for how they want to bring their technologies to market."
"The best devices"
He's predictably enthusiastic about the handsets that come out of the collaboration with all three partners. "I think the result is the most fantastic killer hardware we've ever had, not only for the windows ecosystem - I think these devices are better than any device - well, I they're the best devices. They're colourful, they're beautiful, they're thin, amazing cameras…"
Some of what you see in Windows Phone 8 handsets is Microsoft's idea, some comes from the OEMs. "In the case of wireless charging, that was definitely Nokia's initiative to say they wanted that; they had technologies inside their labs, they took the initiative to put forward a number of engineering designs. There were definitely platform modifications we made to support their innovation but Nokia led on that. All the credit goes to them."
"The Wallet feature is a place where the Windows Phone team thought about how to use NFC. Roaming content though SkyDrive, encryption; these are all features coming from Microsoft. But the wide angle camera that HTC did with Skype in mind, Nokia's wireless charging - those are innovations coming from our hardware partners."
Although app developers get far more access to the platform in Windows Phone 8, Microsoft is still keeping some control and treading a fine line between the free for all of Android that Google is increasingly trying to rein in and the central control of the Apple ecosystem.
"We like to think of it as the structured ecosystem that allows the differentiation of partners to shine though on our platform, at the same time providing consumers the confidence that we will protect their privacy, keep malware off the platform, provide a consistently familiar user experience, and providing developers confidence they can write apps once and target our platforms. So there is more structure and structure at times can feel constraining but also there are benefits to it. It's helpful that everyone drives on the same side of the road, for example..."
Why was the SDK so hard to get?
Myerson is unapologetic about not making the Windows Phone 8 SDK widely available before the launch (when most developers didn't have phones to work with) and concentrating instead of key developers to get big-name apps; 46 of the top-selling 50 apps from other phones will be on Windows Phone 8 (and yes, he knows who the missing four are and is working on changing their minds).
The sheer number of apps in the Store is far from the most important thing. "It's a balance; definitely there is magic that occurs in that long tail of apps, [you get some] delightful things... but it is also true that working with these incredibly popular mobile apps is important as well."
Windows Phone 8 is the future and it's getting all the marketing love at the moment, but Windows Phone 7 is far from dead. Myerson assured us. "We're going to have more to say about 7.8 in the coming weeks," he promised.
"I would expect both platforms to exist for quite some time, from a global point of view. Windows Phone 7.8 devices will span much lower price points than windows phone 8 devices, initially, and given the application compatibility across the platforms, it makes the ecosystem stronger to have more device and more price points. We value every 7 and 7.8 customer we have; we'll continue to work for them as well but it is true that Windows Phone 8 is our future platform."
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Of course that only matters if Microsoft can finally start selling Windows Phone devices in significant numbers. Just as Steve Ballmer promised you wouldn't be able to escape Windows 8 ads, Myerson promises what sounds like an advertising blitz, focussing on Windows Phone rather than on the handset makers.
"This holiday it's very important to us to get out there and tell the Windows Phone story: how we do have this amazingly unique point of view, the smartphone that can be so personal and reflect your interests and the people in your life. Telling that in the most pure sense without confusing them which brands we're talking about is important. We need consumers to understand and love Windows Phone."
More advertising money
Certainly Microsoft has promised to advertise Windows Phone better before, without much to show for it, and Myerson seems happy to admit it.
"We weren't out there with same experience as Windows, even we though shared the same brand; we didn't have all the right teamwork in place with our partners on the go to market, and we were not advertising the product. We were not out there telling the story to consumers - and that changes now. We will start telling our story. We are going to go out there and advertise the product and tell people."
What's different now? In a word, Windows 8 – but also more operator support. "It's a special time. We have a great product that expresses this unique differentiated point of view, that we are the most personal smartphone, we've got killer hardware from partners and we have a great partnership with the mobile operators.
"The fact that they've ranged so many phones at such great price points is fantastic. And of course having Windows out there at the same time is exciting; making the experience familiar to users and being the best phone for Windows; if you're a Windows user, this is the phone for you."