Together with the major push behind its new Windows 8 PC software and Surface tablet, Microsoft is trying to convince consumers that its new Windows Phone 8 operating system is a distinctly different mobile approach.
"If you look at where smartphones are and where they've been, I would say the state of the art in the core smartphone experience, it hasn't really evolved much in the five years since its inception," said Joe Belfiore, manager of Microsoft's mobile division, during an hour-long unveiling of Windows Phone 8 on Monday.
Microsoft talked up why consumers might like Windows Phone 8 compared to its "two competitors" — and did not mention Research in Motion (TSX:RIM) once.
"If you think about the predominant user experience on most of the smartphones that people are using today, it was standardized by Apple and the iPhone and essentially that same interface was copied by (Google) on Android phones and it really hasn't evolved all that much," Belfiore said.
"We wanted to come at it with a different point of view."
Microsoft's different approach involves its customizable home screen made up of "live" tiles, as opposed to the static icons that typically populate a smartphone's interface.
With Windows Phone 8, users select the apps that appear on the home screen and size them according to how prominent they want them to be. Depending on the app, those "live" tiles can show different information each time the phone is engaged. A photo app could display a changing slideshow of pictures, while a news app could cycle through different headlines. Users can also assign a person's social media content to the home screen, so a friend or family member's tweets, Facebook posts or photos are always highlighted.
Somewhat similar functionality is available on the Android platform with so-called widgets, but Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer thinks his company has taken the idea further.
"When you try this for the first time you will see your phone literally come alive. You will get to know how this level of personalization really sets Windows phones apart," he said.
Parents will appreciate the Kids Corner functionality of Windows Phone 8, which allows users to set up a safe home screen for their children to use. Only the apps, music and movies selected by parents will show on the stripped-down Kids Corner interface, preventing accidental phone dialling or errant emailing.
For those who worry about going over their data allowance each month, Microsoft claims its web browser has built-in compression that will allow users to download 45 per cent more web content compared to the iPhone and Android browsers.
With Microsoft synchronizing launches of new products in the PC, tablet and phone markets, the company is attempting to get consumers to buy into all three platforms, which are tightly integrated. A web service called SkyDrive — which is similar to Apple's iCloud — allows the sharing of music, photos and other files across all three platforms. The newest version of the Microsoft Office suite of applications is also designed for phones, tablets and computers, so a Microsoft Word document that's edited on one device will have the changes saved across all three platforms.
Greg Barber, Microsoft Canada's vice-president of consumer channels group, said the company hopes to woo consumers by making its new products available to try. Microsoft has partnered with Rogers (TSX:RCI.B) to put a major push on Windows Phone 8 units, including the Nokia Lumia 920, which goes on sale Tuesday for $99 on a three-year contract or $549 without a commitment.
"With Windows Phone, seeing is believing and we'll have a significant and robust experiential campaign in major malls and all of the major Rogers outlets. People can get a hands-on demo experience," Barber said, adding that the company is hoping to have 30,000 customers try out Windows Phone 8 during the holiday season.
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