Microsoft is looking to gain ground in the competitive smartphone space, and it said devices with its Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system will launch Oct. 6.
Windows Mobile has long been capable of mobile e-mail, Web browsing, and other high-end smartphone features, but the user interface is widely considered cumbersome. According to data from market analyst firm Canalys, Windows Mobile is the third-most used operating system behind Symbian and Research In Motion's BlackBerry platform, but it is facing increased pressure from Apple's iPhone, Google's Android, and Palm's webOS.
The latest version of Microsoft's mobile software has a heavily retooled user interface that emphasizes touch interactions. Opening the start menu will bring up a honeycomb pattern of icons that should make it simpler to find and launch programs, and users will be able to move directly into voice mails, e-mails, and missed calls directly from the lock screen.
Windows Mobile 6.5 includes an updated version of Internet Explorer Mobile, and is capable of playing Flash videos from sites such as YouTube or Hulu. The emphasis on touch is also found in the browser, as users will be able to zoom and pan with a stylus or with a finger.
"A Windows phone gives people a single phone that works for their whole life, keeping them connected to the people and information they care about by harnessing the power of the PC, phone, and Web," said Todd Peter, corporate VP at Microsoft, in a statement.
One of the most appealing features of the latest Windows Mobile could be the launch of Microsoft's App Store competitor. Windows Marketplace for Mobile will offer Windows phone users a way to browse, buy, download, and install apps and other content over the air. Users will be able to pay for new mobile programs via credit card, or through carrier billing where available. The launch of the store will put Microsoft on par with its competitors, as Apple, Nokia, RIM, Google, and Palm have all launched centralized mobile application stores.
The update also brings the My Phone backup system, which enables a user to back up and sync their contacts, photos, videos, calendars, and text messages over the air. The service is somewhat similar to Apple's MobileMe, and Microsoft said it makes it easier for users to switch devices, or replace a lost smartphone.
Microsoft has not specified which handsets will be available on the launch date, but it said Hewlett-Packard, HTC, LG Electronics, Samsung, and Toshiba are committed to the OS. HTC has already said the < a href="http://www.informationweek.com/news/personal_tech/smartphones/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=219500665">Touch Pro 2 would be upgradable to the latest version of Windows Mobile, and the Samsung Omnia 2 is also expected to be upgradable.
Mobile operators will be critical in providing over-the-air firmware updates, and AT&T, Bell Mobility, Sprint Nextel, Verizon Wireless, Orange, Vodaphone, Deutsche Telekom, and others have agreed to have phones with Windows Mobile 6.5 in their portfolios.
Most companies are just starting the hard work of mobilizing workforces by bringing the software they use to smartphones. InformationWeek analyzed this issue in an independent report, and it can be downloaded here (registration required).