Did Ballmer pick HTC over Nokia as his fav for Windows Phone 8?

Analyst says new 8S and 8X devices by HTC make it hard to figure who is Microsoft's favorite child

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gave a ringing endorsement to two new HTC smartphones running Windows Phone 8 on Wednesday, raising questions about the status of the much-heralded Microsoft-Nokia partnership.

Just days after appearing with Nokia officials to launch the Lumia 920 on Windows Phone 8, Ballmer appeared in New York City today with HTC CEO Peter Chou to launch the two Windows Phone 8 devices.

Both men touted the new 4.3-in. Windows Phone 8X HTC and the smaller 4-in. Windows Phone 8S HTC. Both will be sold by AT&T, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile USA starting in November, officials said, although no pricing was announced. HTC is prepping to launch the devices on 150 carriers globally.

In addition to noting that Windows Phone 8 got top billing in the phones' names, Ballmer later called the 8X "truly a Windows Phone hero product.... Together with HTC, we have a very clear branding and go-to-market strategy."

Ballmer added: "The experience in Windows Phone 8 is unlike any other. HTC built this hardware from the ground up to showcase the software."

Moments after Ballmer left the stage, HTC President Jason Mackenzie gave the two new phones more praise: "The 8X an 8S are the signature phones of Windows Phone 8."

Chou vowed that HTC will bring more 8X and 8S phones to market than any other Windows Phone HTC has ever shipped, and noted that HTC has already sold the most Windows Phone models. HTC has worked with Microsoft for 15 years on various products, he said.

Chou's devotion to Microsoft coupled with Mackenzie's calling the new phones "signature phones" -- and Ballmer's attention to HTC -- brought some quick tweets by various bloggers of "so long Nokia" and "What about Nokia?"

Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg tweeted as the HTC phones were announced: "Ballmer reiterates Windows Phone advantage. The 8X is a 'hero' product. Hear that Nokia?"

Microsoft and Nokia officials couldn't be reached to comment on the status of their partnership in light of the HTC announcement.

The Windows Phone 8X smartphone in California Blue.

However, Gartenberg said in a telephone interview after the announcement that he still feels the Nokia Lumia 920 is also a "signature" product for Windows Phone 8, even though it won't have "Windows Phone 8" in its name.

"It's hard to say which is the favored child right now, Nokia or Microsoft," Gartenberg said. "Ballmer clearly chose his words very carefully when talking about HTC, but obviously worked very hard with HTC...and is proud to have 'Windows' in the name of the phones."

Gartenberg said Ballmer's strategy seems to be to work with both Nokia and HTC to show that both vendors have phones that are very different from what Google and Apple are offering for the holiday buying season.

While the focus by Nokia with the Lumia 920 was on features such as navigation, the emphasis by HT was on the new phones' cameras and audio features, Gartenberg said. And all three phones are thin and somewhat angular, with sharper edges than others on the market, Gartenberg said.

The message by Microsoft for Windows Phone 8 is "not going to come down to speeds and feeds but the unusual form factor," Gartenberg said.

All of the Windows Phone 8 phones will also come in a variety of brilliant colors.

The 8X will have a 4.3-in 720p HD super LCD 2 display and a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, with 1GB of RAM, 16GB of storage and NFC support.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com.

The 8S is designed to be less expensive, with a 1GHz dual core S4 processor, 512MB of RAM and 4GB of storage.

Read more about windows phone in Computerworld's Windows Phone Topic Center.

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