By Mark Long / Top Tech News. Updated March 22, 2012.
Microsoft said Wednesday that HTC is poised to become the first vendor to ship Windows Phone handsets in China -- where the HTC Eternity will be sold unlocked, giving Chinese consumers a choice of wireless carriers.
The new Windows Phone smartphone features a Chinese-language user interface and software.
"Our engineering and design teams really sweated the details, working hard to create a version of the software that both showcases the inherent beauty of Chinese characters and excites Chinese customers," said Microsoft blogger Michael Stroh.
First of Several
The HTC Eternity is also the first of a number of Windows Phone handsets headed for the China market this year from HTC, Nokia and other smartphone makers, Stroh said in a blog post Wednesday.
Still, IDC reports that HTC accounted for just 6.5 percent of global smartphone unit sales in the fourth quarter of 2011. The Taiwan-based phone maker's share of the China smartphone market was just 2.6 percent in the final three months of last year, said IDC Senior Analyst Kevin Restivo.
"Microsoft needs all the phone-maker support it can get right now in China and abroad," Restivo said in an e-mail Wednesday. "Given that Microsoft is currently the underdog in the mobile OS market, multiple vendor support is ideal -- it's not an either/or scenario," Restivo said.
Well Positioned for the Future
Restivo believes Microsoft is well positioned for the future now that Nokia has made Windows Phone its primary smartphone OS. On the other hand, the strength of Nokia's brand in the greater China region has declined significantly during the past year.
In late January Nokia said it shipped 14.7 million handsets in the greater China region during the final three months of 2011 -- a 33 percent decline from the 21.9 million units Nokia sold in the same period during 2010. Nokia's greater China shipments also fell 8 percent sequentially from last year's third quarter.
By contrast, IDC reports that Samsung's 22.8 percent share of the global handset market was second only to Apple, at 23.5 percent in the final three months of 2011. And looking ahead, Samsung expects more than 30 percent smartphone growth during 2012 -- driven by demand in emerging markets as well as the growth in LTE wireless mobile technology deployments in developed markets.
"With Motorola Mobility under Google's purview, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Samsung ramp up WP7 phone production in the future," Restivo said.
Betting on WP7 Synergy with Win 8
During the final quarter of 2011, the global smartphone market grew 54.7 percent year over year, due in part to record sales of Apple's new iPhone 4S and the launch of iOS5. Among other things, the cross-platform capabilities that Apple has built into its Lion OSX for Mac machines and iOS5 for smartphones and media tablets has been attracting plenty of consumer attention.
Microsoft is hoping to also see a boost in Windows Phone sales as a result of its coming launch of the Windows 8 operating system for PCs and tablets, which is expected to take place in October. However, the software giant's prospects for attracting consumers due to the synergy between the Win 8 and Windows Phone platforms are expected to develop slowly.
"Windows 8 and Ultrabooks are a definitive step in the right direction to recapturing the relevance of the PC," said Jay Chou, a senior research analyst at IDC. "But its promise of meshing a tablet experience in a PC body will likely entail a period of trial and error, thus the market will likely see modest growth in the near term."