Windows Phone backers declare mobile war

AT&T CEO Ralph de la Vega, from left, HTC CEO Peter Chou and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer promote Windows Phone products.

Story highlights

  • Nokia CEO Stephen Elop says it's wartime for his company
  • Along with Nokia, AT&T, HTC and Microsoft are working to promote Windows Phone
  • Windows Phone faces powerful competition from Apple and Google
Stephen Elop gave an impassioned speech on Monday about waging a war to re-enter the United States by establishing a beachhead here.
Elop, a Canadian with a military general's vocabulary and haircut, is the chief executive for Nokia. The Finnish company is the highest-volume cell phone manufacturer worldwide, but has struggled in the U.S. and in staying ahead of the technological curve.
Now, for the first time in a decade, Nokia appears to have a fighting chance in the North American phone market. AT&T Mobility will carry and help promote the Lumia 900, a Windows phone that looks to be Nokia's flagship product, the companies announced here on Monday for the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show.
Elop explained in an interview with CNN that the Lumia 900 will be the anchor in Nokia's larger invasion of the elusive U.S. market. "There is much more that we can do in this battle," he said.
Nokia will have to lean on other phone manufacturers that are also betting on Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system in order to spur interest from both consumers and application developers, Elop said. They are up against Apple, which develops iOS for its iPhones, iPads and iPods; and Google, which makes the Android software that powers most smartphones on the market.
Nokia CEO Stephen Elop announces the company's strategy for U.S. re-entry.
"We believe that the industry has shifted from a battle of devices to a war of ecosystems," Elop said at Nokia's news conference. "With Lumia, our intent has been to establish a series of beachheads."
HTC, which fights for both the Windows and Android camps, unveiled a new Windows phone on Monday for AT&T, the Titan II. It has a giant 4.7-inch screen and an unusually beefy 16-megapixel camera.
"This is my personal device," HTC CEO Peter Chou said at AT&T's news conference, held on the eve of CES. "I've been using this all the time."
That Chou currently favors a Windows phone over one of the dozen or so more popular HTC models that run Google's Android could signal a change in allegiance for a major smartphone player.
HTC launched the first Android phone in 2008, T-Mobile USA's G1, and collaborated again with Google for the major Nexus One initiative. But Samsung has quickly surpassed HTC as the leading Android device maker by just about all meaningful metrics, and Google has chosen Samsung as the anointed partner for every Nexus phone since the first.
While Microsoft supporters unite, the Android army is not putting down its rifles. The number of new phones with Google software announced so far at CES is far greater than those of any other platform, including RIM (one: the BlackBerry Curve 9370 world phone for Verizon Wireless) and Apple (none).
Before AT&T and its partners made a big hoopla about the two new Windows phones on Monday, the cellular giant unveiled six Android devices: four smartphones, a waterproof tablet called the Pantech Element, and a Samsung phone-tablet hybrid with a 5.3-inch screen and stylus that's called the Galaxy Note. Separately, LG showed the Spectrum, an Android with a 4.5-inch screen for Verizon, and Motorola Mobility issued a news release to announce new Droid devices.
Androids outnumber all other phones here, but few people in the industry are counting Microsoft out.
"It's not a numbers game," AT&T executive Glenn Lurie said in an interview. "It's a quality game."
HTC and Nokia, which are launching the new Windows phones, succeeded in creating a fair bit of hype, but they lacked some important details. Neither announced release dates or pricing.
More details from Nokia on the Lumia 900 will be announced in the coming weeks, and the new phone, with its 4.3-inch screen and refined 8-megapixel camera, will hit stores in the coming months, Elop said. Nokia's less stellar Windows phone for T-Mobile, the Lumia 710, is set to arrive on January 11, he said.
With 2% in market share for Windows Phone versus a combined 82% held by Apple and Google, according to market research firm NPD Group, it's hardly a war yet. Microsoft's allies will need more than a Las Vegas rallying cry to turn the tides.