Windows Phone Surges on Eve of New iPhone Launch

With Apple set to launch at least one new iPhone model today, it's the electronics giant's competitors that are making hay in the tech news. Credit Apple fatigue, the lack of Steve Jobs, or the simple fact that the iPhone is already being outsold by more than two-to-one by Android in the marketplace, but the attention of the world isn't on Apple this week—it's elsewhere.

And one of the prime beneficiaries, go figure, is Windows Phone.

A laughingstock a year ago and burdened by slow sales ever since, Windows Phone was largely written off by the tech cognoscenti. But Microsoft's still nascent smartphone platform was recently revved to version 2.0 with Windows Phone 7.5, and if the critics are to be believed, this new system is already on par with, if not ahead of, the iPhone competition.

But don't take my word for it—though my four-part Windows Phone 7.5 review is of course available on the SuperSite for Windows if you're curious. Let's look to some long-time Microsoft critics (and Apple fans) for guidance instead.

Dwight Silverman of the Houston Chronicle says Windows Phone is "not like anything you've ever seen before ... I would seriously consider switching to a Windows Phone 7.5 device—and I'm a longtime, happy iPhone user."

USA Today's Ed Baig says Windows Phone is "radically fresh ... worth considering."

And CNET, which seems to have an anti-Microsoft editorial bent, actually allowed reviewer Jessica Dolcourt to note that "you should at least consider Windows Phone ... keep an open mind, and you just might be pleasantly surprised by Microsoft's elegant, daring, and simple take on smartphones."

Don't worry, the most influential reviewers and biggest Apple fans in the tech industry continue to ignore Windows Phone—The Wall Street Journal's Walter Mossberg and The New York Times' David Pogue were notably quiet about the platform this past week, no doubt privately engorging themselves on Apple's latest evolutionary wonder—but you get the idea. Those with open minds suddenly get it: Windows Phone is a competitor.

But maybe tech pundits aren't your cup of tea. How about Microsoft's hardware-maker partners, many of which also make Android devices? HTC recently revealed that fully one-third of its sales are from Windows Phone handsets. "We believe that Windows Phone 7 will eventually be better than other platforms and will give Android a run for its money," HTC's Melvin Chua said last week. And this week, HTC surprised onlookers by shipping its next-generation Windows Phone handsets, the Titan and Radar, over 10 days early in order to beat the expected iPhone 5 to market.

"Samsung will not restrict itself to any one particular platform," Samsung's Ranjit Yadav said this week. "We are very proud and delighted to announce Omnia W ... based on the Windows 7.5 platform."

HTC and Samsung are the world's largest suppliers of Android phones, by the way.

Meanwhile, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is suffering from the effects of last year's slow Windows Phone sales. His annual bonus was half the maximum possible—in part because of the firm's slow progress with smartphones. This is the second straight year his bonus has been dinged for product performance issues. But as Fort Pitt Capital's Kim Caughey Forrest notes, "[There's a] light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s a pretty big light." Part of that is Windows 8, of course, which is expected to arrive in consumers' hands by late 2012 and was unveiled to over-the-top, gushingly positive reviews in September. But part of it, too, is a resurgent Windows Phone.

So Apple is going to make a big iPhone announcement today. And I'll write about it because Apple is by definition "big news" in the same way that people like the Kardashian sisters are "celebrities." But it's nice to see the world finally coming around to the notion that there is real innovation occurring today in the smartphone market outside of Apple and Google. And that, given a fair shake, Microsoft's "people first" approach with Windows Phone does actually make sense.

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