Windows Phone 7 Ships; Phones Coming Before the Holidays

Microsoft’s new mobile OS has shipped to handset makers and will be appearing on phones in time for the holiday season, the company announced today.

The stage is set for Microsoft to either rock the mobile world with a mainstream alternative to the iPhone and Android platforms, rebounding after a string of failures a la Bing, or flop in its attempt to catch up after “missing a cycle.”

The long-awaited update to Windows Mobile is expected to show up on devices from Dell, HTC, Samsung and LG, so there is the possibility that an exciting handset like the Dell Lightning could rekindle interest in Microsoft’s mobile offerings.

Windows Phone 7 is designed around tasks with programs pushing information to the home screen. This “hubs” design may lessen the need for third-party apps. But Microsoft is still hoping apps can be evangelists for Phone 7, offering developers tools and an emulator last month for free. Microsoft says the tools have been downloaded more than 300,000 times.

The OS has gotten mixed reviews, including a scathing critique from InfoWorld’s Galen Gruman, who called it “a tepid knockoff of a 2007-era iPhone” and claimed it was “a platform no carrier, device maker, developer or user should bother with.” Other reviewers praised the OS for its zoomy user interface, integration with Microsoft Office, voice search and other features.

Microsoft has been agonizing over the development of the Phone 7 OS, throwing money at the launch, carefully studying how people use their phones and engineering down to the most minute details. For example, Windows Phone 7 will feature eight keypad tones, so that a user will hear slightly different clicks when typing instead of the same tone repeatedly as is the case with the iPhone.

A Windows Phone 7 preview by InfoWeek in July.

Whether the attention to detail pays off will be decided in a few months by consumers in the general public – who largely pay little attention to the OS pedigree of a phone, and can therefore be trusted to evaluate Windows Phone 7 without being biased by Microsoft’s track record.

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