Microsoft Dodges Questions Over Future Of Windows Mobile 6.x

Microsoft declined to confirm reports that smartphones running Windows Mobile 6.x will not be upgradable to Windows Phone 7 Series

Microsoft refused to confirm widely circulated reports that smartphones currently running Windows Mobile 6.x will not be upgradable to the new Windows Phone 7 Series operating system.

Natasha Kwan, general manager of Microsoft’s Mobile Communications Business in the Asia-Pacific region, is quoted as saying in a 1 March article in APC magazine that “because we have very specific requirements for Windows Phone 7 Series, the current phones we have right now will not be upgradable.”

The article further suggests that the HTC HD2, a smartphone whose full touchscreen would seemingly qualify it to work with Windows Phone 7 Series’ touch-centric interface, would not qualify for upgrading to the new operating system because it has five buttons instead of three.

When Microsoft unveiled Windows Phone 7 Series at a 15 Feb. press conference in Barcelona, the company suggested that it would work with its hardware manufacturers to restrict the devices’ form-factor to three buttons labeled Home, Search and Back. But Microsoft subsequently declined to confirm the quote from its executive. “We are enforcing a strict set of hardware requirements to ensure a consistently great experience for end-users and developers,” a Microsoft spokesperson wrote in a 1 March e-mail to eWEEK. “We cannot confirm that WM6.X phones that satisfy those requirements will be upgradable.”

On 16 Feb, rumors leaked online that Microsoft intended to rebrand Windows Mobile as “Windows Phones Classic” once Windows Phone 7 Series made its debut at an unannounced date later in 2010. Although Microsoft apparently confirmed the change to Long Zheng, writer of the Istartedsomething blog, the company refused to confirm that same information with eWEEK. “Microsoft has nothing to announce regarding any rebranding of Windows Mobile 6.x,” a Microsoft spokesperson wrote to eWEEK in an 18 Feb e-mail.

Microsoft could be concerned that any show of Windows Mobile 6.x being abandoned, or even re-branded, will result in a precipitous fall in sales of the devices that run the operating system. With Windows Phone 7 Series not expected to debut before an unnamed point near the end of 2010, such a dip could be potentially harmful to both Microsoft and its manufacturing partners.

But the fate of Windows Mobile 6.5 remains of paramount importance to those businesses that utilise the smartphone operating system in their daily operations. Those companies were likely assuaged somewhat by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s assurance during the Barcelona press conference that Windows Mobile 6.5 will continue to be supported after Windows Phone 7 Series’ release, but questions remain about whether applications built for previous versions of the operating system will be adaptable for the new one. Microsoft is expected to introduce further details about Windows Phone 7 Series at its MIX 10 conference later in March.

Some details have leaked about the development platform behind Windows Phone 7 Series. On 18 Feb, the WMPoweruser blog posted what it called leaked Windows Phone 7 development documents, which featured references to Silverlight, XNA and the .NET compact framework.

Additionally, Microsoft has indicated it will offer a mobile applications marketplace for Windows Phone 7 Series that will be released at some point before the devices’ launch.

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