T-Mobile and Nokia are expected to announce next week that the Lumia 710 Windows Phone, and possibly the Lumia 800 as well, is headed to the U.S.
Nokia's Lumia phones are the handset maker's first devices to run Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system, the product of a deal between Nokia and Microsoft announced in February and signed in April that's reportedly worth billions of dollars.
The colorful new handsets are already available in Europe, but so far Nokia hasn't announced a U.S. carrier for the Lumia, despite saying that its intent is to have at least the Lumia 710 available in America by sometime next year.
Nokia hasn't yet said whether the Lumia 800 will also be available stateside. Nokia also hasn't introduced any other planned Windows Phone devices outside of the Lumia 710 and Lumia 800.
On Friday, T-Mobile sent an invitation to the press for an event in New York on Wednesday, Dec. 14, that reads "T-Mobile and Nokia have something exciting in the works. Be amongst the first to experience it."
If you're familiar with ZTE in the U.S., then you're familiar with low-cost or free phones from prepaid or contract carriers such as Boost Mobile, Cricket Wireless and MetroPCS, and from major carriers such as AT&T.
And you'd also know that ZTE's phones are nowhere near challenging top-tier handsets such as the Apple iPhone, or Androids such as the Samsung Galaxy S II and the Motorola Droid Razr. Like HTC used to do, ZTE often makes products devoid of their own brand for carriers looking for entry-level devices.
But next year, the Chinese company is looking to change things up and launch a high-end smartphone in the U.S., according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.
A high-end ZTE handset, running on speedy 4G LTE networks, could arrive toward the middle of next year and "by 2015, we expect the U.S. to be the largest market for handsets for ZTE," said Lixin Cheng, ZTE's North American president, in a Hong Kong interview with the Journal.
Such a smartphone would offer iPhone-like features at a price still somewhat lower than Apple's handset, Cheng told the Journal, declining to go into specifics about price.
The newest version of the iPhone, the iPhone 4S, starts at $199 for a unit with 16 gigabytes of built-in storage, increasing to $299 for 32 gigabytes and $399 for 64 gigabytes.
The idea may seem a bit far-fetched if you've never heard of ZTE before, but the company's growth is very real. As noted by the Journal, ZTE grew to a 5% share of global cellphone shipments in the third quarter of the year.
That recent push propelled ZTE to pass Apple as the No. 4 shipper of cellphones (not just smartphones) in the world, according to the research firm Strategy Analytics. Aside from phones, ZTE also makes mobile hotspot and USB-wireless dongles for carriers such as T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon.
ZTE is "in talks" with U.S. carriers about selling its high-end phones, which may run either Google's Android operating system or Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 software, Cheng said in the report.
Microsoft has released new details on its Windows Store for Windows 8 -- no it's not called App Store a la Apple -- which will be its online storefront selling applications to run on Windows 8 laptops, desktops and tablets.
The Windows Store will sell "Metro-style" apps. Microsoft Metro is the design language of flat, actively updating "live tile" icons for apps that debuted last year on the Windows Phone 7 operating system, and is making its way over to the Xbox 360 video game system this week in a software update.
Most Windows 8 Metro apps available in the Windows Store should adhere to touch, stylus or keyboard and mouse input, since they'll have to run on traditional PCs and tablets as well.
Microsoft will also have a tiered system of what its cut of an apps revenue will be. Apple famously takes a 30% cut of revenue for all apps sold in its iOS App Store (for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch) and Mac App Store (for Mac computers).
Microsoft will take a similar 30% share of revenue for each app sold in its Windows Store, but once an app passes $25,000 in total revenue, the tech giant will drop its share down to 20% for the remainder of time that the app is sold, the company said in a statement.
To access the new Windows Store, the masses will have to wait until Windows 8 officially launches sometime next year. But developers will be able to access the Windows Store, in a beta release, if they've installed the Windows 8 Developer Preview version of the new OS, which is a free download available to all.
Microsoft is now taking Windows 8 app submissions and has launched a "First Apps Contest," which the tech giant will use to choose the first eight apps available in the Windows Store when it officially opens.
The new Windows Store isn't the first time that Microsoft is taking a stab at replicating the success Apple has had with its App Stores. The much-maligned Windows Vista had an app store called the Windows Marketplace, though both the operating system and the Marketplace never found much popularity.
Still, Windows is the most widely used PC operating system in the world. Microsoft says it has sold more than 500 million Windows 7 licenses worldwide to date and the company is hoping that Windows 8 will continue dominating PCs as well as give the company a significant stake in the growing tablet market that it lacks.
Microsoft also said that the Windows Store will launch globally in 231 markets and more than 100 languages, with the ability to accept payments in 58 currencies.
Follow the jump to see screen shots of the Windows Store in action.
Nokia has announced more than 10,000layoffs for this year and next as a part of its effort to switch its devices over to Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system.
And on Wednesday, Nokia Siemens Networks, a joint venture between Nokia and Siemens (Germany's equivalent to General Electric Co. in the U.S.), announced that it is cutting 17,000 jobs.
The telecommunications company said that the layoffs are a part of a global restructuring that will allow it to be more competitve on the mobile side of its business.
"We believe that the future of our industry is in mobile broadband and services -– and we aim to be an undisputed leader in these areas," Rajeev Suri, Nokia Siemens' chief executive, said in a statement. "At the same time, we need to take the necessary steps to maintain long-term competitiveness and improve profitability in a challenging telecommunications market."
The job cuts will be completed by the end of 2013, the company said.
"These planned reductions are regrettable but necessary –- and it is our goal to make them in a fair and responsible way," Suri said.
The job reductions will also trim about $1 billion from the company's operating expenses over the next two years, the statement said.
Microsoft is looking to generate a Windows Phone sales boost this holiday shopping season by giving away $25 in free apps and games through the end of the year.
The offer is good for all Windows Phone handsets purchased between Nov. 2 and Dec. 31 by consumers in the United States, said Michael Stroh, a Microsoft spokesman, on the company's Windows Phone blog.
To get the $25 app card, new Windows Phone owners have to fill out a form at windowsphoneappcard.com. Oddly enough, the card comes by mail and not as a digital credit.
Microsoft said in its terms and conditions that it will give away one card for each Windows Phone sold (as long as the owner applies for the app card of course) and that each person can claim up to five cards for five phones.
A major strike in the past against Windows Phone has been an overall lack of apps and games, and while the touch-centric operating system still lags behind Apple's iOS and Google's Android on the number of apps available, it is growing. The blog All About Windows Phone reported recently that the Windows Phone Marketplace now has more than 40,000 apps for sale.
The tech giant will accept card requests until Feb. 14 -- Valentine's Day.
So, if you're considering buying a new smartphone sometime soon this holiday season, is this offer enough to make you go Windows Phone over iOS, Android or even Research In Motion's BlackBerry phones?
It seems Nokia and Microsoft's multi-billion dollar relationship will encompass not just smartphones, but Windows 8 tablets as well.
Paul Amsellem, the head of Nokia France, told the French newspaper Les Echos in a Wednesday article that the Finnish phone maker is planning to launch a tablet running the next Windows operating system as early as next summer.
"In June 2012, we will have a tablet that runs on Windows 8," Amsellem told the newspaper, according to a translation of the article.
Amsellem didn't offer Les Echos details on a Nokia Windows 8 tablet beyond that, but I did take a look at Windows 8 back in September running on an HP prototype slate and the new operating system, which will run on both tablets and desktop PCs, brought over a touch interface very similar to the Windows Phone software.
Amsellem also told Les Echos that Nokia is planning to expand its lineup of Windows Phone handsets, which currently consists of the Lumia 710 and Lumia 800. Both of those phones are available outside of the U.S. already and will hit America sometime in 2012.
The Nokia executive said that higher end Lumia phones were planned in the company's Windows Phone expansion.
"It's a bit the equivalent of the BMW 5 Series," Amsellem said in the interview, comparing the Lumia 800 to BMW's midsize sedan. "We will soon have a full range with a 7 Series and 3 Series."
The 3 Series is BMW's line of smaller compact cars, while the 7 Series is the largest, most luxurious and most expensive sedan the German automaker offers. Given the analogy, Nokia could offer a three phone lineup, with varying features, specs and price across the range.
Officials at Nokia were unavailable for comment on the Les Echos report on Wednesday.
But, for now, feel free to take another look at Windows 8 as seen in our "hands-on" video with a prototype HP tablet after the operating system made its debut.
Since January, Google's Android has worn the crown as the most widely used smartphone operating system worldwide.
But in the third quarter of the year (July through September), Android ran on an estimated 52.5% of all smartphones sold, "more than doubling its market share from the third quarter of 2010," according to a new study from the Gartner research firm.
There are dozens of Android smartphones from dozens of manufactures on just about every carrier and at every price point imaginable, it seems. And the growth of Android, so far, has no major obstacle in its way.
"Android benefited from more mass-market offerings, a weaker competitive environment and the lack of exciting new products on alternative operating systems such as Windows Phone 7 and RIM," said Roberta Cozza, Gartner's principal research analyst, in a statement. "Apple's iOS market share suffered from delayed purchases as consumers waited for the new iPhone. Continued pressure is impacting RIM's performance, and its smartphone share reached its lowest point so far in the U.S. market, where it dropped to 10%."
The smartphone market grew 42% year over year in the third quarter, with about 115.2 million handsets sold worldwide, Gartner said.
The overall cellphone market grew by 5.6% from a year ago with about 440.5 million phones sold, the study said, with smartphones making up 26% of the overall market.
The third quarter marks the first time Android has taken more than 50% of the smartphone market, Gartner said. In the second quarter of the year, Android accounted for 43.4% of all smartphones sold, up from 17.2% a year earlier, the firm said in an earlier study.
Apple's iPhone sales were down slightly, according to Gartner's data, with about 15% of all smartphones sold last quarter being iPhones. In the third quarter of 2010, about 16.6% of smartphones sold were iPhones, Gartner said.
Despite a market share drop, actual sales of the iPhone were up in the third quarter from 13.5 million in 2010 to 17.3 million in 2011, the study said. The firm projected that the iPhone's sales, and possibly its market share, would increase in the final quarter of the year as consumers take to the latest iPhone 4S and the older iPhone 4 and 3GS have had price cuts.
Research In Motion's BlackBerry smartphones lost market share in the third quarter to Android as well, dropping to 11% from a 15.4% slice in 2010, Gartner said. Actual sales, however, remained steady between the two quarters, with about 12.7 million BlackBerry phones sold in Q3 2011 and 12.5 million sold in Q3 2010, the study said.
Samsung and Microsoft announced the Focus Flash, a $50 smartphone running Windows Phone 7.5 (a.k.a. Mango) on Monday at an event in New York.
On paper, the Focus Flash looks pretty good for such a low price (which you'll get if you sign up for a two-year contract with AT&T).
The Focus Flash features a 3.7-inch touch screen, a 1.4-gigahertz single-core processor, a 5-megapixel camera with an LED flash on the back and 8 gigabytes of storage.
Storage is on the small side, but for a $50 phone, 8 gigabytes is pretty standard and matches that of the $99 Apple iPhone 4 and free iPhone 3GS.
The new Windows Phone handset runs on AT&T's 4G HSPA+ network.
The Focus Flash, along with the Focus S, is part of what may be a wave of new Windows Phones handsets from Samsung. The reason: Samsung recently settled a patent dispute with Microsoft over its use of Google's Android operating system.
Nokia unveiled its first Windows Phone handsets on Wednesday: the Lumia 710 and the Lumia 800.
The stylish phones mark the first major step by Nokia in its gamble on Microsoft's smartphone operating system under an agreement announced in February and signed in April.
The devices, unveiled at the company's Nokia World event in London, are expected to be available in most markets in Europe and Asia this year, but not in the U.S.. The Lumia 710 is set to arrive in the U.S. in 2012. Nokia didn't say when or even whether the Lumia 800 would come stateside.
Windows Phone will need some very compelling hardware if it's going to steal smartphone market share from Google's Android or Apple's iPhone.
The most distinguishing feature of the Lumia 710 is a Nokia trademark: The back cover can be swapped by the user for a different color.
But aside from its looks, the Lumia 710 isn't offering much to differentiate itself from Windows Phone handsets already on the market in the U.S.
It will come in at 0.49-inch thick, with a 3.7-inch touch screen with anti-glare coating and a resolution of 480 x 800 pixels, a single-core 1.4-gigahertz processor from Qualcomm, 5-megapixel camera with an LED flash, 512 megabytes of RAM, eight gigabytes of storage with no microSD card slot. The Lumia 710 will run on 3G networks.
All of that is respectable but still would land the Lumia 710 at the bottom end of the smartphone market spec-wise -- competing against other Windows Phones and the Apple iPhone 4, which sells for $100.
The Lumia 800 will get 16 gigabytes of built-in storage and an 8-megapixel camera as well as a unique chassis with rounded edges. Both handsets will run the latest version of Windows Phone 7, that being 7.5 Mango.
Nokia hasn't said how much either phone would cost in the U.S. or what carriers its Windows Phone handsets will be available on.
Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Phone operating system has been playing catch-up to Google's Android and Apple's iOS ever since it launched on smartphones about a year ago.
And with Windows Phone 7.5, also known as Mango, being the first major update to Microsoft's mobile OS since its launch, that still hasn't changed. What also hasn't changed is that Windows Phone is one of the easiest-to-use smartphone operating systems on the market and a great entry point for those looking to get their first smartphone.
Mango adds 500 new features to Windows Phone but the look and feel of the software is pretty much exactly the same. The "live tiles" and "Metro" user interface remain in place and for good reason -- the look is an attractive one that even at a year old still feels new.
Yet at this point, despite the Mango update, Windows Phone in my opinion doesn't feel like it will rival Android or iOS for market share anytime soon. Microsoft's rivals continue to add polish and pull further ahead with Apple's iOS 5 being my favorite of the pack currently and the promising Android Ice Cream Sandwich on the way.
But Windows Phone 7.5 is a big improvement over 7.0 and with RIM continuing to struggle with its own BlackBerry mobile platform, it seems Microsoft has an opportunity to snag the No. 3 spot in the smartphone wars -- especially with new Nokia, Samsung and HTC handsets planned.
Some of Mango's most outstanding new features follow in the footsteps of what's been available on other platforms for some time.
Multitasking on Mango is easy and fun.
Windows Phone handsets have three buttons sitting below their touchscreens -- a back button to the left (indicated by a back arrow), a home button (which is a Windows logo) in the center and a search button (a magnifying glass icon) to the right.
Hold down the back button and whatever window you're in shrinks to sit in a row of screenshots of other apps running in the background. You can scroll between the window panes to see what's running and tap on the pane you want to launch into that app.
Want to see what this looks like? Check out our video demonstration below.
The whole scheme is visually appealing and multitasking on Mango achieves the same goal as multitasking in Android or iOS, but the whole thing is pulled off in a unique style. It's refreshing to see Microsoft do this, and many other things, without feeling like it's a copy of its rivals.
Maps gain a feature called Local Scout which, whenever you let the Maps app know your current location, quickly serves up suggestions on what's nearby for eating and drinking, seeing and doing, shopping at and other highlights. Essentially, Local Scout adds a Yelp-like feature to Maps that works well and can aid in discovering new places and things in an unfamiliar location.
Local Scout also offers ratings and even suggests helpful apps that might be related to whatever the location is that you're checking out -- such as Foursquare, Foodspotting or transit-related apps.
The app suggestions, which Microsoft calls App Connect, also show up outside of Local Scout and in other spots such as the phone's built-in Bing search app. When you search in Bing, expected search results are returned, but a list of suggested Apps come up too. For example, if you're searching for something related to a breaking news story, a list of news apps might show up.
Bing search overall is improved as well.
Users can search by voice, text and images such as bar codes, QR codes, or the covers of CDs, DVDs and books. Local Scout is built into Bing and there's also a song-recognition feature too.
Altogether, Bing on Mango offers one of the most satisfying search apps on any smartphone I've tested.
Mango also does a great job of integrating social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn into the OS. This isn't a new idea either -- iOS integrates Twitter, and Android has long done the same for Facebook and Twitter and soon Google+. But again, the way Microsoft does this is impressive.
Inside of Mango's People app (Microsoft likes to call it the "People hub"), users can get an overview of what all of their friends across those social networks are up to in one place -- status updates, shared links, photos and other shared items.
And users can now also create groups inside of the People app, such as friends, family, co-workers, college buddies -- anything you can imagine. And you can call your groups whatever you want -- I called my friends' group "homies."
However, despite all of the fantastic improvements in Mango that will surely make existing Windows Phone users happy, I don't believe Microsoft has a "killer app" or one significant attraction that would pull droves of consumers toward a Mango phone over an Android or an iPhone.
When Windows Phone launched a year ago, Microsoft marketed the software on its ease of use and simple look that the live tiles offered with data being pushed to the tiles without even having to launch an app. And while that is a differentiating factor, Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer has admitted that the company hasn't seen the level of sales it was looking for.
What Microsoft has shown is that it now takes the mobile space seriously and Mango is a big step in becoming more competitive. But Windows Phone has a lot of ground to make up. So, here's an unsolicited thought: Go after mobile gaming with Windows Phone.
Ever since Windows Phone launched, gaming has been disappointing compared to what's available on Android and iOS. Sure, users can see their Xbox Live avatar on the Windows Phone and, yup, Angry Birds and other fun titles are there too. Still, many games aren't up to the impressive standard that the Xbox name brings along.
Here's a testament to Apple's leadership in smartphone gaming: Epic Games, which produces one of the top gaming franchises on Microsoft's Xbox 360 in the Gears of War trilogy, also produces one of iOS's top-selling game series in Infinity Blade. When Apple announced the iPhone 4S, Mike Capps, president of Epic Games, was at the event and introduced a new Infinity Blade game.
We've seen the studies that say gaming is among the most popular category of apps being sold on smartphones. Nokia, Samsung and HTC are all promising to bring better hardware to Windows Phone and game developers are looking to make more mobile games in response to this growing market. All the pieces of the puzzle are there.
If Microsoft really wants to start selling a large number of smartphones, making Xbox Live gaming the "killer app" of Windows Phone might be the answer.