The software giant hopes to reinvigorate its smartphone lineup by creating mobile devices it claims can be as powerful as PCs.
Ben Fox RubinFormer senior reporter
Ben Fox Rubin was a senior reporter for CNET News in Manhattan, reporting on Amazon, e-commerce and mobile payments. He previously worked as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and got his start at newspapers in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. At CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Microsoft on Tuesday unveiled the Lumia 950 and 950 XL, the company's two new premium smartphones.
They were a long time coming. Microsoft hasn't unveiled a flagship smartphone since it acquired Nokia's devices business in April 2014, releasing just a handful of budget-friendly devices since then. The company has been due for a mobile product that sparks excitement and gets people talking about the company's software again.
"We want to put Windows in your pocket," Panos Panay, who leads the development of all of Windows premium devices, said Tuesday at a press event in New York. "These phones really do start to act like a PC."
The 5.2-inch-display 950 includes a hexa-core Qualcomm processor, while the 5.7-inch 950 XL has an octa-core Qualcomm processor. Both devices include a 20-megapixel camera that Panay claimed is"unbelievable in low light," and both have optical image stabilization technology.
Watch this: Microsoft announces Lumia 950 and 950 XL smartphones
The 950 will cost $549 (£360), and the 950 XL is priced at $649 (£425), with both becoming available in November in the US. No pricing was detailed for Australia but both phones will be on sale "before Christmas". A lower-tier phone, the Lumia 550, sports a quad-core processor and will be available in December in the US for $139 (£90). (UK prices and availability weren't announced, so the prices above are conversions.)
The stakes are particularly high for Microsoft in mobile. The Redmond, Washington-based company has convinced just 3 percent of smartphone owners to adopt devices running its Windows Phone operating software. That figure is dwarfed by the 83 percent market share that Google's Android software commands, according to IDC.
With so few users, Windows Phone is little more than a vanity project, though it's still important. Smartphones have become a key to the tech industry, sparking a renaissance that turned Apple into the world's most highly valued company and Google's software into one of the most widely used in the mobile world.
Microsoft is hoping to bring in new phone customers with a handful of features, including Windows Hello and Continuum, both important aspects of Microsoft's new Windows 10 operating system. With Windows Hello, the new Lumia phones can be unlocked using a person's fingerprint or face scan. Continuum, which like Apple's Handoff feature helps link the mobile and desktop worlds, will configure Windows 10 depending on what device a person is using. For instance, Continuum will able to know when you're using Windows 10 with a mouse and keyboard attachment and when you've switched to a touch interface with finger- and pen-based inputs.
Also, the Lumia devices include "glance screen" technology that show a quick view of notifications, emails, texts, time and date when a person pulls the phone out of his or her pocket.
Microsoft made its name producing Windows software that powers desktop and laptop PCs. But that industry is struggling, with shipments of PCs mostly flat in 2014, according to research firm Gartner. Smartphone shipments, on the other hand, rose 28 percent in the same period and sales of those devices now outnumber PCs roughly four to one.
Microsoft Lumia 950 packs plenty of features (pictures)
Though Microsoft's smartphones have been left behind, they've become a symbol of the company's strategy to revamp its Windows software. With Windows 10, released in July, the company is courting app developers by promising they can create apps for a desktop computer and easily remake them to run on tablets and smartphones. This is a key distinction, and it highlights Microsoft's efforts to prove it can create compelling software following the rise of Apple and Google.
To help attract new customers, the company has released its prized Office software for iPhones, iPads and Android-powered devices, with the same look and feel the company uses for its Windows-powered devices.