Microsoft Refreshes Windows Mobile


BARCELONA, Spain — Microsoft couldn't let everyone else have the mobile spotlight for long. There have been way too many announcements of the latest and greatest smartphones to hit the market. And smartphones that run on Microsoft's Windows Mobile OS are, for the most part, pretty terrific performers (Stock Quote: MSFT).

So it was no surprise that the boss, Steve Ballmer, in his keynote address here at the 2009 Mobile World Congress took aim squarely at rivals Apple (Stock Quote: AAPL), Google (Stock Quote: GOOG), Research in Motion (Stock Quote: RIMM), Palm (Stock Quote: PALM) and all the other comers.

Ballmer took the opportunity to announce a refreshening of the company's mobile OS. The new software will be known as Windows Mobile 6.5. It's an incremental update. You can tell by the fact that 6.5 replaces 6.1. (A big overhaul would have been dubbed 7.0). HTC, LG and Orange will be the first to market with Windows Mobile 6.5 handsets. LG will make about 50 models that use Windows in the next five years, Bloomberg News reported.

In Microsoft's words, the OS has a fresh new look and "brings the people and the information that matter most in your life right to the lock screen and home screen with easy finger navigation. Specifically, the lock screen lets you listen to the latest voicemail or respond to the most recent email or latest text after just a single swipe, and the new honeycomb interface on the Start menu makes it fun to scroll through the contents of your phone with ease. The phone also includes an updated IE Mobile Web browser, which will execute up to 48% more tasks than most other mobile browsers according to third-party research sponsored by Microsoft, tasks like checking into a flight, making a banking transaction or buying movie tickets."

From what I've seen, Windows Mobile's new look is really nice, but I won't be able to provide a full, hands-on opinion until I'm able to field-test a unit when it becomes available. I'm a fan of the Windows Mobile operating system (it was my only option at my last employer) and can't wait to give this new incremental update a road test.

Microsoft's other major announcement is that it's busy prepping its own App Store. Windows Marketplace will join similarly announced (and in some cases real) offerings from Apple, Google, Nokia (Stock Quote: NOK), Samsung and a bunch of others.

One other feature of note: Microsoft My Phone. Microsoft says that a whopping 77% of mobile-phone pictures never make it off the phone. This new service will allow Windows-based smartphone users to back up and share their photos, as well as text messages, video and contacts, through a password-protected Web portal.

There also was an announcement from the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation, expanding the availability of financial services to millions of people in the developing world through mobile phones:

"The Mobile Money for the Unbanked (MMU) programme, supported by a $12.5 million grant from the foundation, will work with mobile operators, banks, microfinance institutions, government and development organizations to encourage the expansion of reliable, affordable mobile financial services to the unbanked."




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