Taiwanese smartphone maker HTC is set to release what could be the first Windows Phone 7 handset for mainland China, a move that will finally bring the Microsoft mobile OS to a key market.
The HTC Kaixuan, which means "triumphant return" in English, will be launched later this month, the company said in a statement on Tuesday. HTC is already accepting pre-orders for the device on its online store in China for 4,399 yuan (US$698).
Microsoft had said it expected its Windows Phone 7 mobile OS to launch in China during the first half of this year. Handset makers Nokia and ZTE also plan to release Windows Phone 7 smartphones in 2012.
In terms of hardware, the HTC Kaixuan appears to have the same technical specifications as HTC's other Windows Phone device, the HTC Titan. The HTC Kaixuan has a 4.7-inch (11.9 centimeters) touchscreen, 1.5 GHz processor, and an 8-megapixel rear facing camera.
HTC, however, said the Kaixuan is different in that its Windows Phone 7.5 OS has been localized for Chinese users. For instance, the Kaixuan comes installed with Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter.
Windows Phone 7 is however coming to China at a time when Google's Android OS is dominant, with a 56 percent share of the market in 2011, according to research firm Canalys.
Android's open source nature has been the big reason behind the success of the OS, said Canalys research director Nicole Peng. This has allowed Chinese companies and developers to build a strong ecosystem around Android, resulting in localized versions of the OS and apps specially built for average Chinese consumers, she added.
To compete with Android, Microsoft will need to develop the same kind of ecosystem for its Windows Phone 7 OS, which it so far lacks in China. "For Windows Phone 7, the biggest problem is the system is not localized enough," Peng said.
HTC is launching the Kaixuan after the company tripled its retail outlets in China to 2,000. The company, however, has only a 2.8 percent share of China's smartphone market, according to Canalys.
Nokia, Samsung, Huawei, Apple and Motorola in contrast are China's top five largest smartphone vendors, according to the research firm.