Instead of a screen full of tiny icons, Windows Phone offered a simplified interface based on so-called Live Tiles--blocks of GUI real estate that feed real-time information from apps directly to the home screen.
Microsoft also touted the fact that it was the only vendor in the market that could deliver a consistent experience across a range of third-party devices, from handset makers like HTC, Samsung, and LG, at multiple price points.
But while Windows Phone did offer some truly unique features, the message didn't really catch on with the phone buying public. Windows Phone's share of the market currently stands at just 5.6%, compared to 18.9% for RIM, 27.4% for Apple, and 44.8% for Google Android, according to the latest numbers from Comscore.
[ Track the market. Read Samsung Beats Apple In Smartphone Sales. ]
So it's not surprising that the company is now prepared to take a different tack in marketing Windows Phones.
At a launch event Monday for several new devices, which was capped by a 55-foot Windows Phone occupying New York City's Herald Square, Windows Phone group president Andy Lees said promotional efforts around Windows Phone will, going forward, focus more on building buzz around particular devices rather than the OS itself, and will be spread out over the coming months.
"The way we're doing this is very different from the way we did launches last year," said Lees. "Last year it was all focused on a single day and a set of phones that were available on that day. This time around you'll see phones coming out over the next several months from different manufacturers in different parts of the world."
Lees said that, more so than in the past, Microsoft will count on carriers and handset makers to push new hardware. "The marketing will happen around each of those devices," he said. "It's rolling thunder, if you like, over the next year with Mango phones," said Lees, referring to Windows Phone 7.5, the latest version of Microsoft's mobile OS.
With that, Microsoft officially took the wraps off three new phones for the U.S. market that make good on the company's promise to deliver a range of devices at different price points.
The Samsung Focus S packs a 1.4-GHz Snapdragon chip, a sizeable 4.3-inch AMOLED Plus display, and an 8-MP camera, among other high-end features. It's available from AT&T for $199, with a two-year contract. Its more budget-minded cousin, the Samsung Focus Flash, also carries the 1.4-GHz Snapdragon, but offers a smaller, 3.7-inch AMOLED screen, 8 GB of storage, and 5-MP camera. The Focus Flash is $49, with contract.
T-Mobile also jumped into the budget end of the smartphone market with the HTC Radar, which is nominally priced at $99 but is free for a limited time when acquired with a two-year contract. The Radar's sleek polished aluminum frame belies the fact that it's a budget phone, and it offers respectable specs, including 4G capability, a 3.8-inch screen, 5-MP camera, and 720p HD video recording.
Coming soon, according to Microsoft, is the high-end HTC Titan, on AT&T. The Titan boasts a 1.5-GHz processor and a big, 4.7-inch display but is just 9.9 millimeters thick. "With this new range of phones, we have a variety of different price points, without a compromise," said Lees.
Lees added that Nokia, which earlier this year struck a formal alliance with Microsoft and is porting virtually its entire lineup to Windows Phone, will launch new devices around the world "in the coming months." The Finnish phone maker recently rolled out its first Windows Phone handsets for Europe.