Steve Ballmer appeared on the Today Show yesterday morning, touting new cell phones running Windows Phone 7. He was reminded that his bonuses had not been what they could be because of problems in the cell-phone area. Matt Lauer asked if they had fixed it. Ballmer responded: “Look at these beautiful new Windows phones!”

On display was the Samsung Focus, and Ballmer said there would be a choice of smartphones depending on what users wanted.

“The phones will be individual,” he said. “People have different needs. Some people will want keyboards, some people will want very thin and light, some people will want music, sound, different kinds of cameras.” The hub is key to the phones because it lays out all the key functionalities and their associated apps.

This is good news for Windows developers because now there will be multiple platforms for them to target. Microsoft has been taking it on the chin (as have development shops) after years of declining sales of phones based on Microsoft’s Windows Mobile software.

The new handsets’ chief competition will be Apple’s iPhone and the growing market of phones running Google’s Android operating system.

The Samsung Focus, priced at US$200, will hit AT&T stores on Nov. 8, according to Microsoft. Two more phones for AT&T, one made by HTC and LG Electronics, and one for T-Mobile USA (also made by HTC), will be close behind. In all, Microsoft announced nine phones for the U.S. market, including one from Dell.

In May, Microsoft launched a family of smartphones, the Kin, which was a failure. But the company is bringing to bear full support for the Windows Phone 7. Additionally, it has lined up 60 carriers in 30 countries to carry Windows Phone 7, which helps make it an attractive OS for developers to get behind.

The Android and iPhone are more application-centered. That said, companies such as Motorola have designed overlay software for Android that’s similar to Windows Phone 7’s hub idea. The software works with Microsoft’s bread-and-butter Office app and connects to Xbox Live, but it does not support text copy and paste. Microsoft said that feature will appear in an update in early 2011.

Words of caution: Besides winning over hardware manufacturers and carriers, Microsoft has to win over software developers for Windows Phone 7 to be successful. Windows Mobile apps won’t work on Windows Phone 7, so Microsoft has to attract a new base of developers, and they may not want to risk their own skin in the game while waiting for Windows Phone 7 to gain traction in the market.