Long line* at AT&T store on Phone 7 Day

*Launch coincides with concert ticket giveaway. Coincidence?

AT&T spokesman John Britton told me that 40 to 50 people were in line at their store at 3rd and Market streets in downtown San Francisco this morning, waiting for it to open on Windows Phone 7 launch day, and before I could express surprise at the iPhone-like turnout, he quickly added: “We were also giving away free tickets to a Maroon 5 concert tonight.”

Given that Britton immediately added that caveat, I assumed he wasn’t trying to pull a fast one. Of those in line, he said maybe a half dozen were actually there to get their hands on the new smartphones running Microsoft’s much-anticipated new mobile operating system.

Update: It turns out though, from comments below, that Microsoft may have used the same concert ticket gimmick for the Kin launch earlier this year, also known as the Kin debacle. "You'd think Microsoft would learn to try something different this time. But no, it's KIN all over gain," wrote the Kin Man. Britton clarified that the concert tickets, a joint AT&T and Microsoft promotion, were given away on a first-come, first-served basis and that no purchase was required.

No ticket giveaway at the AT&T store I visited in Walnut Creek, Calif., across the bay from San Francisco, in an upscale shopping area where AT&T’s neighbors include Tiffany & Co., Crate & Barrel and, alas, an Apple store. There, AT&T area retail manager Leslie Morris told me there were small lines of people at each of six stores she oversees, including Walnut Creek. “Every store has sold a phone,” she said two and a half hours into the work day; some sold several. "This is pretty busy for a Monday."

Okay, these are not throngs and local police didn’t have to come in and direct traffic, but Microsoft and AT&T didn’t expect that. As I’ve noted before, Microsoft has chosen not to tease features of Phone 7 devices in order to manufacture anticipation for it like you-know-who. Nonetheless, sales of Phone 7 devices may not be stratospheric but they may be at least decent and maybe even respectable.

AT&T began selling the Samsung Focus and the HTC Surround today for $199.99 each with a two-year service contract. The LG Quantum will be available through AT&T in time for the holidays. T-Mobile, the other U.S. carrier getting first dibs on selling Phone 7 devices today, introduced the HTC D7 at the same $199.99 price. T-Mobile will also be the exclusive carrier for the Dell Venue Pro Phone 7 handset, although shoppers can only buy the phone from Dell, or a few retail partners, then take it to T-Mobile to activate it.

Anticipating that there might be crowds at their stores (and as a subscriber to this carrier I can vouch for that), AT&T has set up a display for people to try out a virtual Phone 7 device if another customer is already playing with an actual phone. The Phone 7 display at the Walnut Creek store features a large portrait-style touch-screen display that looks and works just like the user interface on the phone. Ashley Gibson, assistant manager of the store, showed me how a customer can click on the “tiles” designating many of the hubs that group various applications together by category. “It gives you a full-on tutorial,” she said.

While Microsoft has never expected throngs turning out for the launch of Phone 7 devices, there are early indications that the new OS will achieve at least some degree of initial success. An IDC report last week showed Samsung and HTC are expected to post significant unit sales gains in the fourth quarter over the third and attributed it to Phone 7 as well as to continued strong sales of phones running the Google Android OS.

And carriers won’t have to give away concert tickets to get people in the stores.

Another update: Tonight I witnessed what may have been the first Phone 7 product placement. During an episode of CBS-TV's "Hawaii Five-O," one of the agents whips out her phone, the tile screen appears then the Bing search page. In accord with Microsoft's get in and get on with you life pitch about Phone 7, the shot lasted maybe three seconds.

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