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Microsoft will launch two feature phones next week, leaving the smartphone market to its licensees in favour of a broader attack on the cellular market.

The news has been rumoured for a while, and an invitation to a press conference on Monday bears out the timing. Also, CNET, claiming inside information, says Microsoft will launch two phones on Monday. Both handsets will come with sliding keypads and touch screens, but neither will have the flexibility or power of Microsoft's flagship smartphone platform.

According to CNET both handsets will be on sale in the US on Verizon's CDMA network within a month, which means the rest of the world will have to wait for a GSM version.

Windows Phone 7 (Microsoft dropped the "Series" moniker last week) and the other smartphones tend to get all the attention. But when it comes to volume the industry is more interested in "feature phones" which can handle an increasingly broad range of content while meeting the criteria of the majority of customers - being a mobile telephone.

Your correspondent recently had cause to use a Motofone for a few months, and enjoyed demonstrating the misapprehension of those who proclaim a desire for a device which is "just a telephone". When presented with something that lacked T9, colour, a camera and even the ability to use a specific case when displaying text, it was fascinating to see people backtrack and explain that when they said "just a telephone" they actually meant a multi-function device with a colour screen, a camera and the ability to play music too - they just didn't want a smartphone.

These are the customers that Microsoft aims to snag with its new handsets - lots of social networking and messaging, but without the capabilities that might step on the toes of manufacturers licensing the Windows Phone 7 platform.

The key difference may well be downloadable applications, although earlier rumours indicated that even these handsets will have access to an application store hosted by Microsoft and populated with .NET and Silverlight content. If true, that could lead to considerable market confusion unless Microsoft finds a way to clearly delineate between the two platforms. ®

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