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Microsoft Looks To Make Mark With Smartphones


And moving west, now, to the tech world. Microsoft has been trying to break into the smartphone market for years, but it hasn't had much luck. When the iPhone was introduced in 2007 Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer derided it as overpriced and poorly designed. Since then, Apple has become the most valuable company in the world and Microsoft has struggled to capture just four percent of global smartphone sales. But NPR's Steve Henn reports the company and Steve Ballmer haven't given up.

STEVE HENN, BYLINE: Yesterday in San Francisco, Microsoft officially unveiled its newest smartphone operating system - Windows phone 8. There was music, adorable children and celebrities. But we've seen this is the kind of show from Microsoft in the past - and the hype hasn't translated into sales. So I asked Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer why he expected this version of Windows for phones would do any better.

STEVE BALLMER: Well, I think the question - I'll just put it out there - is, you know, we've been at this for a few years, why is this different.

HENN: The biggest difference, according to Ballmer, is that today's phone built to work seamlessly with everything else Microsoft offers.

BALLMER: There's no question we do a better job of integrating PCs and phones than anybody out there.

HENN: Open a document on your PC, you can edit it on your phone.

BALLMER: This really does work really well with Windows 8. And it's very concrete how it works better, it's just simpler.

HENN: Windows 8 for the PC and the phone look and feel alike.


HENN: As ubiquitous TV ads like this one demonstrate, Windows has brightly colored live tiles that update automatically. Ad Age reports Microsoft is expected to spend close to a billion dollars marketing Windows 8 for tablets, phones and PCs.

Ballmer put it this way.

BALLMER: You won't be able to turn on a TV without seeing a Microsoft Windows ad.

BOB O'DONNELL: We've already started to see a complete media blitz of the live tiles.

HENN: Bob O'Donnell is a tech analyst at IDC. O'Donnell says the tight integration of PCs and mobile should help of Windows phones gain some traction. But the software that runs Windows tablets and PCs and phones is different.

O'DONNELL: Applications written for one will not run on the other, which means in the worst case scenario you may have to download an app three different times.

HENN: Another problem, some of Microsoft's most important partners are struggling. Some analysts believe the wireless company Nokia could be heading toward bankruptcy. When I asked Ballmer if he'd bail Nokia out, he balked.

BALLMER: Commenting on, kind of, speculation just - there's no percentage in that.

HENN: There have been rumors recently about whether or not Microsoft was thinking about building its own phone. Obviously you have hardware partners that you are excited about, but are you going to build your own phone? Are you thinking about it?

BALLMER: Um, we're very excited about the phones coming to market. This generation Windows' phones are spectacular. We're pleased to have those in market. And really, our job right now is to help sell those phones.

HENN: So are you not planning a phone then?

BALLMER: We are planning to really work hard selling the Nokia Lumias, the Windows phone 8X - from 8S from HTC - and the ATIV family from Samsung.

HENN: OK. But there's no denial.

BALLMER: We neither confirm nor deny any of those rumors.

HENN: Ballmer refusing to rule out Microsoft actually making its own phone could be because he angered many of Microsoft's business partners, when he decided that the company would build its own tablet.

Steve Henn, NPR News, Silicon Valley. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Henn is NPR's technology correspondent based in Menlo Park, California, who is currently on assignment with Planet Money. An award winning journalist, he now covers the intersection of technology and modern life - exploring how digital innovations are changing the way we interact with people we love, the institutions we depend on and the world around us. In 2012 he came frighteningly close to crashing one of the first Tesla sedans ever made. He has taken a ride in a self-driving car, and flown a drone around Stanford's campus with a legal expert on privacy and robotics.