Microsoft to launch Windows Phone 7 in China in late 2011

But it may be too little too late, as iPhone and Android users together already outnumber those of Windows Mobile

Microsoft plans to launch Windows Phone 7 in China in the second half of 2011.

The release date was announced during a speech on Monday by Yang Tianyang, Microsoft's communications sector director for the Greater China region. The company is also in discussion with Chinese handset manufacturers Lenovo, ZTE and Huawei about producing Windows Phone 7 devices in China, he said.

China is the world's largest cellphone market, and it's a market dominated by Nokia: Its Symbian OS was on about 61 percent of Chinese smartphones in use in the third quarter, or around 54 million phones, according to Beijing-based research firm Analysys International. Microsoft's older Windows Mobile software is in a distant second place, on around 12.6 million phones.

Releasing Windows Phone 7 in China will represent a much needed upgrade to the existing Windows Mobile platform, because the Android platform and Apple's iPhone are catching up fast, said Lu Libin, an analyst with Analysys.

Apple's iOS was on 3.9 million Chinese smartphones in the third quarter, up from 1.9 million in the first quarter, while Android was on 8.6 million smartphones, up from 0.9 million six months earlier.

"It used to be the Symbian and Windows Mobile were on top. But now with the emergence of Apple's iPhone and Android smartphones, Windows Mobile and Symbian have been on the defensive," he said. "It's not a very ideal situation."

Windows Phone 7 is a big overhaul from the previous Windows Mobile platform, covering changes that include a redesigned user interface to the introduction of a new app store with Windows Phone Marketplace.

These improvements could be enough to make the operating system standout and compete against mobile operating systems, Lu said. "I think Windows Phone 7 has an opportunity to succeed in China," he added.

China's smartphone market is growing fast, with sales of the devices expected to total 62 million units for 2010, compared to 21 million in 2009.

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