HTC unveiled a variant of its flagship One M8 smartphone running Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) Windows Phone software, giving the platform the same kind of high-end hardware HTC and other phone makers have usually reserved for flagship Android devices. HTC hopes it can fill what it sees as a gap in the premium Windows Phone segment.
The device is available online now exclusively through Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) for a promotional price of $99.99 with a two-year contract for a limited time or $29.99 per month on the Verizon Edge handset upgrade program.
At a media event in New York City, Jason Mackenzie, HTC's president of the Americas, said that the HTC One M8 for Windows represents "the first time a smartphone manufacturer has launched an iconic device in multiple operating systems without making any compromises," according to a CNET live blog.
Like the Android version, the One M8 for Windows features a metal unibody construction and sports a quad-core 2.3 GHz Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) Snapdragon 801 processor. The phone has a 5-inch, full HD 1080p display, dual front-facing BoomSound speakers and a UltraPixel "Duo Camera" that incorporates a special depth sensor, which can capture detailed depth information from a scene to produce better-looking photos. Further, the phone offers key HTC One software elements available on the Android version of the gadget, such as the company's BlinkFeed social media and news reader.
The phone also supports HTC's Dot View case, which lets users answer calls, receive email and text notifications, check weather and more. Further, Microsoft's Cortana digital personal assistant, new to Windows Phone 8.1, can surface reminders, queries and talk through the case.
Cortana is the biggest new feature for Windows Phone 8.1. A mix between Google's Now service for Android and Siri from Apple's iOS, Cortana can access a phone's calling, messaging and calendar functions, and can set reminders, make notes, set alarms, see what music is playing nearby, schedule appointments and answer questions about sports scores and restaurants. It can even tell a user how many calories are in certain foods.
Despite years of effort by Microsoft, Windows Phone is being increasingly marginalized in the market. According research firm IDC, Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android and Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS combined for a global market share for smartphone shipments in the second quarter of 96.4 percent, up from 92.6 percent in the year-ago period.
According to IDC, Windows Phone actually saw its market share declined globally in the second quarter to 2.5 percent, down from 3.4 percent in the year-ago quarter, making it a distant third in the market. Microsoft is hoping that new phones running the latest version of its software, as well as cheaper models from new hardware partners introduced in emerging markets, will help spark sales.
In an interview with FierceWireless, Mackenzie said that although HTC has been a Microsoft partner since before the smartphone era, HTC has been "a little bit quiet" in recent years with respect to its Windows Phone announcements. He said that is changing with the One M8 for Windows.
"We just saw a huge gap," he said. He said Windows Phone does not have a high-end device that inspires the same "envy" that the One M8 for Android does on that platform. HTC held meetings with Microsoft and Verizon late last year to see if they could bring the One M8 to Windows Phone, and Mackenzie sad Verizon had the same mindset as HTC.
Mackenzie said Microsoft has been successful at the low end of the market but that it was missing out on high-end devices. Nokia's high-end Lumia phones have focused on imaging but some reviewers have knocked them for being too bulky. Mackenzie said in the past if a customer wanted a high-end Windows Phone they had to sacrifice design and buy "a big, bulky pig of a phone."
Mackenzie said both Microsoft and Verizon are committed to marketing the product, so "you'll see advertising from both of them."
In terms of HTC's business in the United States, Mackenzie said he is still "extremely optimistic." One of the company's more recent initiatives has been to bring its mid-range Desire lineup to the U.S.--Sprint's (NYSE: S) Virgin Mobile prepaid brand is selling the Desire 816 for $299 without a contract and HTC will sell the Desire 610 and Desire 816 on its own website.
"You'll see HTC [get] a lot more aggressive this year in attacking this prepaid category," Mackenzie said, adding that the company has strong momentum and will be bringing its phones to more carriers. "We'll have the Desire product line on almost every major prepaid carrier out there."
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