MWC: Microsoft’s Ballmer Launches Windows Mobile 7

Peter Judge has been involved with tech B2B publishing in the UK for many years, working at Ziff-Davis, ZDNet, IDG and Reed. His main interests are networking security, mobility and cloud

Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer finally unveiled Windows Mobile 7 at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona – with many long-predicted features

Microsoft’s chief executive Steve Ballmer has launched the long-delayed Windows Mobile 7 operating system at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona. It appears to be a web-based platform which has learnt a lot from Google’s Android and the iPhone.

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Devices running the new OS will not be in the shops until the end of 2010, but chief executive Steve Ballmer believes it will put Microsoft ahead of the competition by providing better features for developers and partners. “At the end of the day, it is really about the phones, and how the consumer will react to these devices,” said Ballmer.

The much-anticipated Windows Mobile 7 OS relies on active “tiles”, which pull together live content from the web in the form of “destinations”, and is designed to provide “consistency” across different manufacturers’ handsets, according to Ballmer.

Ballmer promised to continue to invest in Windows Mobile 6.5, but said version 7 was a whole new generation.

Windows Mobile 7 handsets will have a new mobile Internet Explorer browser, operated through a touchscreen with four-point multitouch, and three buttons: Start, Search and Back.

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“The phone is not a PC,” said Joe Belfiore, vice president for Windows Phone design, head of mobile communications at Microsoft, showing a host of features designed to demonstrate improvement over the much-criticised earlier versions of Windows Mobile – such as the People Hub, which combines updates from Microsoft Outlook and social networking sites such as Facebook.

The phone will have mapping features integrated, including a satellite view, and – following the success of Google Android – will have closely-integrated search functions based on Microsoft’s Bing.

Business functions are built in from the start, in the Office Hub, which synchs documents between the phone and a PC – or Microsoft’s Sharepoint. This is handled by Microsoft’s iTunes-equivalent, the synch feature from its Zune music player. Zune functions are also widely used to handle media in Windows Mobile 7.

There are no firm hardware announcements at this point, but operators including AT&T, Vodafone, T-Mobile, Orange and Telefonica have all promised to carry phones running Windows Mobile 7.

Microsoft’s mobile strategy has been much criticised, and the last version of Windows Mobile – version 6.5 – got lukewarm reviews, despite efforts to line up hardware partners. This led to rumours that the company was planning to buy out the successful Research In Motion (RIM), maker of BlackBerry phones, or would attempt to copy Apple by turning its Zune music player into a phone.

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