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2/17/2009
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Microsoft Revamps Mobile OS, Introduces App Store

Microsoft is revamping its mobile operating system and bringing services aimed at the consumer space to better compete with Apple, RIM, and Symbian.

Windows Mobile is dead, or at least that name is. At Mobile World Congress Monday, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said smartphones with Microsoft's mobile operating system will now be called Windows Phones.

Microsoft said it would be redesigning its user interface, introduce an application store, and offer a content backup service in order to better compete with the likes of Apple, Blackberry maker Research In Motion, and Symbian.

Microsoft Revamps Mobile OS, Introduces App Store: screenshot: 6.5 UI
Microsoft 6.5 on a Windows Phone

Windows Phone running 6.5 is the latest version of the mobile OS, and the UI has been revamped to make devices more touch-friendly. Executives said they used some of the Zune's UI for a home screen with larger, brighter icons. Opening up the start menu brings up icons in a honeycomb pattern that are easier to launch and scroll. Users can now move directly into missed calls, voice mails, and e-mail clients from the lock screen.

The Web browser will also be improved, and Microsoft said it will offer a desktop-like experience. Windows Phones will be capable of playing Flash videos, zoom and pan with a touch interface, and keep track of where a user is on a Web page via a mini map feature.

Microsoft wants to mirror the success that Apple had with its App Store, and will be launching an over-the-air store for distributing mobile programs. Not many details are known about Windows Marketplace for Mobile, but it will likely have a large catalogue, as there are already about 20,000 apps for Windows Mobile. Microsoft didn't say what payment methods would be accepted, or what percentage it would take, but the store will only be available for 6.5 devices.

My Phone is a content backup service that can help consumers recover their data if they lose a handset, as well as make it easier to switch between phones. This automatically saves contacts, text messages, video, and photos from the device to a Web site. It's not a syncing service because it doesn't allow content to be pushed from a PC to the Web site, and then to the handset. The free service will include 200 MB of storage, and went into private beta Monday.

The services and the revamped OS are expected in the second half of 2009.

Want to hear more about mobile technology on-demand? InformationWeek is hosting a virtual event on this topic Feb. 18. Find out more. (Registration required).

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