Live Blog: Windows Phone 8 Event

Courtesy of Microsoft Corp.

Windows Phone 8 start screens.

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11:09 a.m. Ballmer ends by bringing Belfiore and Alba back out. There’s no information on pricing, or precise availability of phone models. But he ended with a bang, offering a free Windows phone for all attendees.

It’s going to be an uphill climb, but Microsoft needs this to succeed. And no doubt, Belfiore is right when he says WP8 is the first significant change from the model Apple created and Android mimicked. I wonder if the improvements from Windows Phone 7 are significant enough to get shoppers buzzing.

11:03 a.m. Phones will be available this weekend and will continue to roll out in  future weeks and months. “We’ve opened a new chapter in our partnership with Verizon Wireless,” which will carry the HTC 8X and Nokia’s Lumia 922. They will have an exclusive on a Samsung Odyssey phone (AT&T got the exclusive on the Lumia 920). And all of Microsoft’s retail stores will have all the phones. People “will be able to see how all these Windows 8 devices work together” to create a unique experience. “Between Windows 8, Microsoft Surface and Windows Phone 8, you won’t be able to turn on a TV or open a magazine without seeing a Windows ad. This is a remarkable, remarkable time, and it is THE time for Windows Phone 8 … Our hardware partners are all in.”

10:56 a.m. Ballmer is talking about their process of wanting to “build a phone that could be personal for each of us,” including a variety of hardware with different sizes, colors and security features. “The simple act of pinning who and what you care about (on a WP8 device’s home screen) will immediately make the phone uniquely yours,” he says. “Create a room and pin it to your start screen.”

“If you’re one of the hundreds of millions of people who will use Windows 8 in the next year, there is no better phone for you.” He says the PC, tablet and phone will share the same “iconic look and feel,” and the ability to share all your content and apps if you use your common Microsoft account. “It will all stay in sync, and it will all stay backed up.”

Now he’s talking about “new, killer hardware.” He starts with the Nokia phone. “Nokia as a company is exclusively focused on Windows phone,” and is doing “spectacular work.” The Lumia 920 has world class camera, featuring optical image stabliziation — “even in low light or with a shaky hand.” So Nokia gets the first shout out.

Now comes the Samsung ATIV S — with a 4.8-inch screen and great battery life.

Next up is the Windows Phone 8X from HTC — “a remarkable phone.” He says HTC’s designers were inspired by the Metro UI to create phones with similar lines and colors.

10:54 a.m. Belfiore finishes his one-man show, and intros a video with Ballmer talking about how he uses his phone. Ballmer is here, it turns out. “It’s absolutely great to be here.” He says there was an “incredible response” to Windows 8 and Surface with demand over their first weekend on sale. “Well above our expectations,” he says.

10:52 a.m. This fall, there will be sync companion apps to help you move your iTunes collection to Windows Phone 8. But the focus is on integration with other Windows products. “No other phone works this nicely across your PC, your phone, and your home entertainment system,” he says. (So long as they all run some kind of Windows.)

10:46 a.m. Now he’s talking about integration of the experience with Windows and X-Box. The first slide says “SkyDrive,” whick will be the back-end cloud repository to keep user’s files and other data synchronized across devices. I have been hearing about SkyDrive for years, without trying it, much less understanding it. And now he’s talking about OneNote, which has a loyal following among fans of the app — but a small fan club relative to the massive mainstream markets Microsoft needs to win over to compete with Apple and Android. Skydrive lets you store as many photos as you want, compared to the 1,000-limit in Apple’s PhotoStream. Nice, but getting people to love SkyDrive in a world of iCloud, DropBox, Evernote and other utilities could be like a longshot.

10:36 a.m. Jessica Alba comes out on stage to talk up Kids Corner and how it’s helped her manage her life and kids. “It’s a very clutch feature,” she says. Again, very conversational, to put it kindly. If what Microsoft is going for is realistic human interactions, rather than something slick and choreographed, it’s succeeding. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

10:29 a.m. Now there’s a video of Belfiore’s three kids, all begging to play on his smartphone, as a way to introduce a feature called “Kids Corner,” that limits the apps kids can use.

And now he’s bringing his three kids out. Sidney, the shy one, has her teddy bear. Cute, but the overall effect is not very polished. Belfiore is one brave man. He’s up there with his kids goofing around, playing games. But he saves the day,  saying, “If you’re a parent, you can relate to this.” And later, notes how quiet the kids have become. Boy, talk about an anti-Apple approach to keynotes.

10:26 a.m. “DataSense” is a new feature that allows you to touch a Live Tile to see your overall data usage, to show you how much data you’ve used on each app. It will provide notifications. But he says the big difference is that DataSense automatically makes adjustments, to provide 45 percent more Web surfing. “That’s a lot more Web pages, and a lot more confidence that you can use your smartphone to the fullest extent.” The first carrier that will offer it is Verizon.

10:22 a.m. Belfiore slips in a big piece of information: the public SDK for WP8 will be available tomorrow at the company’s Build developer conference. This SDK is strangely late for a company that is universally hailed as world-class when it comes to building developer platforms. One reason Windows has dominated PCs is that developers always had great tools to make the best apps before they looked at the Mac or other platforms.

10:22 a.m. The first spicy news: Pandora is doing a version optimized for WP8 — and is giving away a year of free premium service (more likely, Microsoft is giving it away).

10:21 a.m. They will have 46 of the top 50 apps available on Windows Phone. He doesn’t say when, but ticks off some titles. “Temple Run” is one, “Urban Spoon” is another. “Fairway Solitaire” is a game that works across Windows platform, so can pick up your game whether on tablet, PC or phone.

10:17 a.m. There’s a new version of Twitter, and many other apps. And — not too surprisingly — a new version of Skype so it “feels like a natural part of using the phone.” The app is always on, but without draining the  battery (again, no explanation of how they pulled this off). I wonder how the carriers who are central to Microsoft’s chances will like this?

10:12 a.m. Belfiore is showing a video as a kind of value statement for the platform. It starts with “We are not for everybody. We’re for the individual.” Very nice concept — “We’re for the working dad,” “the deal-seeker,” the “road tripper.” The idea: This isn’t a hero phone, a la Apple. “It’s the most personal smartphone operating system you can get.”

First feature: more powerful Live Tiles, the central design element of WP8′s interface. They are reconfigurable, and can integrate various kinds of data — say, about your family’s social networking activity. “Only Windows Phone has ‘live apps.” He says that the software will now integrate with your e-wallet, though didn’t explain how. And there’s something new. “We have a built a new lock-screen that’s powered by Live Apps.” So rather than see the “same old image you put there four months ago,” it will continually change.

Belfiore says he tried to count the number of times he looked at his lock screen, but says it got to be way too big a number. “You make the choice,” of whether to show sports scores or family pictures or a new optimized version of Facebook — so you can see your recent Facebook photos, for example.

10:08 a.m. “It hasn’t really evolved much in the last five years,” Belfiore says of the smart phone experience. Apple originated it, and “it was copied by Android,” he says. Hmm, wonder if Microsoft sees Android as more the initial target for taking market share. “Our way is to put people at the center of the experience, not icons for apps.”

10:06 a.m. Today, we’ll see the end-user features — the reasons why consumers will want to buy a WP8 phone (other than the core-OS that was previewed in June).

10:03 a.m. They’re starting with a video, showing tiles with a voiceover from Joe Belfiore (manager of the Windows Phone program) describing how he uses his Windows Phone 8 device. He’s asking if there are any Windows Phone fans in the room, asking them to hold them up. Seems like the room is filled with mostly partners and employees — and a few empty seats. That’s probably the impact of Sandy, though. But where’s Ballmer?

9:52 a.m. So far this beats the typical Apple launch: Microsoft is feeding reporters breakfast burritos and Bloody Marys ahead of the launch of Windows Phone 8. If ever lubrication were needed, this is it. Microsoft needs a successful launch of this software to generate the needed momentum to stake out a meaningful third place in the mobile wars. The bad news: Most of the news is out, and there’s no way Microsoft gets the attention it hoped for with all eyes on Hurricane Sandy (or here in the San Francisco area, the World Series champs Giants).

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