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Windows Phones Finally Arrive With Dedicated Search Button

Get in, get out. That’s the idea behind the new Windows Phones: get access to content quickly and “get back to your life.” Personalization and simplicity are also key themes of the new Microsoft mobile experience, which officially launched this morning with speeches from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega.

Without mentioning Apple or Android, de la Vega lauded Windows Phones as offering a “breakthrough experience”  . . .  “unlike anything you’ve ever seen.” As the iPhone heads to other US carriers (i.e., Verizon) AT&T is shifting its focus to embrace a wider array of devices.

The new Windows Phone is partly designed around “hubs” that seek to express common tasks or use cases. The six Windows Phone hubs are “People, Music, Video, Photos, Games and Office.” The design and appearance are very different than the familiar Apple app-centric approach, though there are and will be apps for Windows Phones.

AT&T will offer Windows Phones from LG, HTC, Samsung on November 8. They all cost $199. T-Mobile is also a US carrier partner.

Overall there will be 60 mobile operators in 30 countries offering these devices. In total there will be nine phones (to start) from HTC, Dell, LG and Samsung when it launches later this month in Europe and in November in the US (in time for the holidays).

The home screen, pictured at left, features “live tiles” that update automatically and can be personalized.

It appears, from de la Vega’s remarks, that carriers will “own” some of these tiles (as one would expect, but ugh). The Outlook integration appears to be strong and PowerPoint 2010 also renders nicely on the phones, at least in the demo. The Office capabilities, Microsoft said, “are unique and incredibly powerful.” Enterprise users take note.

Boot time was impressive as was a demo of text entry, enabling fast typing with auto correct.

Android devices have a dedicated search button and so do Windows Phones. Pressing the hardware search button brings up the Bing homepage for mobile with built-in location awareness. Search suggestions appear to be based on other mobile users and not PC queries.

The search demo during the press conference involved finding a local Thai restaurant in New York. It showed off a nice integration with Bing Maps and local content, as well as the phone’s communication tools (e.g., SMS). There was also a demo of Bing “instant answers” using Tellme-powered voice search to initiate the query.

I have not used a Windows Phone for any period of time (though I’ve had one in my hand) so I can’t opine on how competitive they actually are vs. Android and the iPhone. But they do appear, from the demo this morning, to offer a competitive user experience and will likely get serious consideration from many smartphone buyers.

As I said the user experience appears very different from the iPhone and Android devices and will take some getting used to for switchers. This will either help Microsoft differentiate (as it hopes) and stand out in the market — or not. Kudos to Microsoft for not simply trying to emulate the iPhone experience, however.

If Windows Phones sell well they will lift Bing’s mobile fortunes. Smartly however, Bing has diversified and can be competitive in mobile, across platforms, if Windows Phones don’t succeed. But if they were to become a bit hit it would help in a major way. No doubt Google will build an app or otherwise find a way to integrate with the devices.

Microsoft is supporting Windows Phones with a huge (capital H) marketing campaign that should start right about  . . . now.

One interesting question to consider is which devices Windows Phones will most directly compete with? Will they, with their partial enterprise emphasis, steal BlackBerry share or will they compete most directly with the iPhone and Android?

More competition in the market is better and so I’m pleased to see Microsoft launch what appears to be a solid user experience. Now we just have to wait for consumers to render their verdict in November.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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