Telstra teases Windows Phone 7 release

Australian consumers will be able pre-register within the coming months

Telstra and Microsoft gave journalists tantalising glimpses this week of how and when the software giant’s upcoming range of Windows Phone 7 handsets might launch in Australia — but without adding any real substantive meat to their local launch plans.

On the sidelines of Microsoft’s Tech.Ed conference on the Gold Coast, the telco said there would be a number of different handsets available for consumers upon launch. “There will be enough different handsets, which is important,” said David Powell, general manager of Device Management & Operations at Telstra. “How many handsets — you have to wait.”

Australian consumers will be able pre-register within the coming months — “a couple of weeks before launch — pre-Christmas or pre-holiday season. When does the holiday season start?” asked Powell. “Sometime between then and November.”

“As I tell people on Twitter — just be patient!” said Microsoft evangelist David Glover.

Telstra hoped there will be no shortage of phones upon launch but would not say how many would be available in Australia. “Enough! We’ll have to wait — we have to keep some secrets,” said Powell.

The exact feature list of the next-generation Microsoft phones is also still up in the air. “There are certain features we will go with at launch so we will take feedback and see what else they want,” said Glover. “What we release we want to be really high quality.”

“We can have a stack of features and if they don’t work then that is going to piss people off, than we are back to square one,” he added — noting that there were a lot of features he wanted to see in the mobile operating system — but stable features and platform were more important.

“Tethering is a feature we want. We will be on Microsoft’s case as well!” laughed Telstra’s Powell.

Powell likened the Windows Phone 7 series to Telstra’s own Hub application that will be featured on the mobile operating system. “We build it, make it stronger and introduce new features — otherwise we won’t have anything to tell customers in 6 months! Now it comes with tethering! It’s streaming!” he laughed.

The Hub is a Telstra news, application and entertainment portal that will be available on the new Microsoft platform — but no video streaming would be available as yet. “Videos in the Hub are a work in progress,” said Powell. “We’re working on the next generation of the live streaming aspect.”

The Windows Phone 7 series faces a high degree of existing smartphone competition in the Australian marketplace, with a large number of iPhone and Android handsets having been picked up by local consumers over the past several years. But Powell not concerned that this would affect consumer uptake.

“We actually think it is very competitive — just going to use what us carriers like to use — we would like a strong market,” said Powell. “We would like a strong Microsoft and a strong Apple. We actually want these guys to compete and we want Microsoft to be strong.”

“It keeps Apple on its toes, it keeps Google on its toes,” he added. “They compete, they innovate and the customers get a better experience.”

“People really do want a choice as well – because you look at the development community and the iPhone has a lot of hype and it’s actually bigger than what it is — a lot of developers feel really locked in,”said Glover. “So I think we can offer a really nice halfway house with choice in a device and there are a lot of great development tools out there.”

With BlackBerry being a favorite as an enterprise phone, Powell was asked if he thought Windows Phone 7 would compete well in that market in Australia. “BlackBerry are strong in enterprise and they want to grow in consumer — if they want to compete against each other, than terrific,” he replied.

“Can it be stronger than blackberry? They are both very strong vehicles,” Powell said. “We are pretty sure customers want competition with Android.”

Telstra launched the iPhone 4 with great fanfare last month, bringing in celebrities such as MasterChef Australia contestants to assist with the festivities. “I hope so,” said Powell, when asked whether the company would do the same with Windows Phone 7. “It’s immense.”

And just one last tidbit: Microsoft also made it clear that that Australian developers would be able to sell their applications and games on the company’s planned mobile software marketplace. Australian Android developers currently face an issue with Google where they are unable to sell paid applications online.

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