Microsoft partners downplay Windows Phone

Windows Mobile 6.5
Windows Mobile 6.5 has been formally announced today

Windows Phone may be the new umbrella consumer brand for all new Windows Mobile devices, but the message from Microsoft's partners was very much that Windows Phone is just one segment of their mobile ranges.

Microsoft's oldest Windows Mobile partner, Orange, sold 2 million of its SPV handsets running earlier versions of Windows Mobile. But Orange's Head of Strategy, Marc Overton, used the platform to point out that Windows Phones were just a part of its handset offering.

"From our perspective, it is part of our positioning for Orange to be the destination of choice for smartphones," he said in response to a question about how Orange would balance the wants of both Microsoft and Apple.

Big on choice

"Fundamentally, it's all about consumer choice. For us, as an operator going forward, we have a very strong relationship [with manufacturers]." And in a bitchy sideswipe at O2, he added: "We are not dependent on one manufacturer, like someone has been recently."

But while Microsoft kept reiterating that more and more phone purchasers are looking for a particular OS on their phone, this view wasn't reflected by another partner – Russell Braterman, Director of Marketing at Phones4U.

After saying that he saw the smartphone segment of the market rising over 50 per cent "fairly shortly", he admitted that "consumers come and ask for a phone, not an operating system". He then said that Windows Phone was "quite a subtle story that will build over time", adding that Windows Phone would have fairly "subtle" placing in-store.

However, Braterman later added "the operating system story" would "become more dominant", adding "we clearly need a number of strong operating system players".

Microsoft clearly believes that Windows Phone represents a step forward. Smartphones present "an increasing opportunity for Microsoft", eulogised Alex Reeve, Windows Phone Business Group Director. "We see ourselves playing at the top end of the market. Consumers are going to see less and less difference between the top end of feature phones and smartphones."

Smartphone growth

Microsoft is expecting a 77 per cent growth in smartphone shipments over the next three years, while the market for feature and basic phones are broadly flat.

"People are stating to see business needs and consumer needs coming together," added Reeve, calling Windows Phone "a sweet spot" for Microsoft – no doubt one that it will continue to mine with Windows Mobile 7, something we'll find out more about at the Mobile World Congress in February.

Reeve believes that Microsoft offers something different in the mobile space, though we're not sure what other manufacturers would make of that assertion. "Our competitors play in one space or the other. We play in both. Think of it in terms of work and play. It's about connecting people, getting stuff done and catering for unique needs."

At a launch event in London, Microsoft also demonstrated some features we hadn't seen before in Windows Mobile 6.5, although the assertion of Head of Marketing James McCarthy that the new OS was "very, very scrolly" was pretty fluffy. The addition of voice clips in Windows Live Messenger is quite neat, while you can also make calls to contacts directly from the Facebook application.

When quizzed about the corporation's attitude towards third-party interfaces such as HTC's TouchFlo, Microsoft representatives refused to take the bait, merely reiterating that "having our partners do what's best for the consumer will be good for us".

Currently, 60 apps are available through the Marketplace feature, though expect this to rise rapidly according to Microsoft.

New Windows Mobile 6.5 handsets

  • HTC Touch II from T-Mobile and Carphone Warehouse
  • HTC Touch HD II from O2 and Carphone Warehouse
  • LG GM750 from Vodafone
  • Samsung Omnia II and Samsung Omnia Lite from Carphone Warehouse
  • Samsung Omnia Pro – B7730 from Carphone Warehouse on 30 October
  • Sony Ericsson X2 from Vodafone on 30 October
  • Samsung Omnia Pro B7610 from O2 on 30 November

6.1 to 6.5 upgrade available on:

  • HTC Touch Diamond II from T-Mobile and Carphone Warehouse
  • HTC Touch Pro II from Vodafone on 14 October
  • HTC Snap S552
  • Toshiba TG01 WP from Orange

Dan (Twitter, Google+) is TechRadar's Former Deputy Editor and is now in charge at our sister site Covering all things computing, internet and mobile he's a seasoned regular at major tech shows such as CES, IFA and Mobile World Congress. Dan has also been a tech expert for many outlets including BBC Radio 4, 5Live and the World Service, The Sun and ITV News.