Ina Fried

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Japan Poised to Get First Bite of Windows Phone ‘Mango’

It appears that Japanese consumers will be the first ones to get a taste of Mango, the next version of Microsoft’s Windows Phone operating system.

Fujitsu has announced plans for a colorful, waterproof Windows Phone to run on the network of KDDI. The device is expected to be formally launched late this month, hitting store shelves a short time later. The launch of Mango also marks Microsoft’s reentry into the Japanese phone market, having skipped the country with the first version of Windows Phone 7.

The Mango release builds on the Windows Phone 7 release from last year, adding improved browsing and multitasking as well as the integration of Twitter into the People Hub, among other features.

But while Japan may soon be able to get a taste of the fruits of Microsoft’s labor, many other countries may have to wait a bit.

Unlike the initial release of Windows Phone 7-based devices — in which Microsoft tightly controlled the launch timing — Redmond appears to be taking a far more laissez-faire approach this time around.

Microsoft finalized the software late last month and appears content to let various device makers and operators launch their products whenever they are ready. Officially, the company says only to expect products in various markets this fall from a host of phone makers, including past partners, such as Samsung, and new partners, including Acer and China’s ZTE. Existing phones are also due to get a free upgrade to Mango, though no details have been released on when consumers here can expect the upgrades.

Although the staggered launch denies Microsoft a big bang for Mango, it allows new products running the operating system to hit the market sooner. That could help maximize sales heading into the back-to-school and holiday seasons, in addition to allowing those device makers that are ready to get out ahead of whatever Apple has up its sleeve on the iPhone front.

Such a strategy is not without its risks, however. In addition to potentially diffusing the buzz, Microsoft faces the risk that some will look at the first product or two and evaluate the whole of its Mango push based on those devices, whether or not they are representative of the products that will follow.

Perhaps the biggest question mark is when and where Nokia’s first products will launch. The company has said it believes it can deliver at least one Windows Phone model this year, but, in an interview last month, Nokia smartphone-unit head Jo Harlow suggested that more than one device remains a possibility.

“I’m committed to one model this year,” Harlow said. “More would be great.”

Nokia has also refused to commit to specifics on which regions will get the products first and when. Chris Weber, head of Nokia’s U.S. subsidiary, maintained that position in an interview with AllThingsD this week, though he stressed that the U.S. is of key importance and promised a huge marketing push in the States.

“It’s a prioritized market,” he said. “In terms of when and how product gets shipped, we haven’t shared details.”

Nokia’s first products, code-named Sea Ray, are being developed in large part at a 600-person Nokia operation in San Diego, Calif. The North American market is a top priority, Weber said, but he refused to confirm that means that the products will launch here first.

Weber made it clear that the company is working to build strong relationships with U.S. wireless operators — something it has not had in the past when it came to smartphones. Weber suggested broad reach, but stopped short of guaranteeing it would be available from the big four U.S. carriers.

“What I would say is it is probably safe to assume our phones will be available through your favorite operators,” Weber said.

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