Microsoft Rolls Out Windows Phone Launch

Microsoft launched "Windows phone" branding on Tuesday, marking the global rollout of Windows Mobile 6.5-based phones by Microsoft's hardware partners.

Some of the phones are already on the market, such as the HTC Pure offered by AT&T and HTC Imagio from Verizon Wireless. Others will be on the way in a few weeks. Microsoft expects that its hardware partners will "deliver more than 30 new phones in more than 20 countries by the end of 2009," according to its announcement.

The Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system used in Windows phones represents an interim step in Microsoft's mobile OS plans. It enables the use of a physical QWERTY keyboard or touch user interface, or both. Its touch capabilities consist of "a standard set of gestures," according to Microsoft's announcement, which didn't elaborate. However, Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer indicated back in March that Windows Mobile 6.5 lacks some high-end capabilities, and that "those [capabilities] will come on Windows Mobile 7 next year," according to an Electronista article.

Windows Mobile is based on the Windows Compact Edition operating system, a Microsoft blog explains. However, it still lacks the capabilities of some of its Windows brethren.

"We have one and a half operating systems, Windows and Windows Mobile," Ballmer told TechCrunch in September. "Windows Mobile is kind of a half because it's not entirely the same as Windows. And everyday, I say I’d love to get those two things to share more."

While broader integration with the Windows family may be on the backburner for now, Microsoft has moved full ahead with Web synchronization capabilities and Windows Live integration. Ballmer told the press at the Mobile World Congress in February that Windows Mobile 6.5 would be about integration with the Web, echoing Microsoft's general "three screens and a cloud" philosophy of a world of connected devices running on Windows.

"With Windows Mobile 6.5, we are taking mobile phones to a new level in terms of stitching together the PC, the phone, and the web and bringing them closer together into a more seamless and simpler user experience," Ballmer said, according to a transcript. "It is no longer about how the phone works by itself, but how it works in conjunction with the PC and internet."

Along with the Windows phone launch, Microsoft rolled out its "My Phone" service, which lets people back up information on their phones to a Web site that's password protected. The service is free and supports applications such as appointments, contacts, messages, photos and videos. It includes a free security feature that assists people when they have lost their phones. Users can check a map online to find the location where their phone was last synchronized.

In addition, Microsoft added an upsell for mobile service providers with its My Phone Premium package, which will cost $4.99 in U.S. markets. The premium service tracks lost phones immediately (in U.S. markets). It lets users control the phone by ringing it, locking it and posting an "if found" message to the screen. Users can also remotely erase personal data from the phone. Data from lost phones can be recovered later, according to a Windows phone blog.

"And when you buy a new Windows phone, My Phone will restore contacts, photos, videos and messages right back to the new device," the blog explained.

Microsoft also launched Windows Marketplace for Mobile, which is a portal for people to buy applications for Windows phones. The Marketplace currently has 246 mobile applications in the catalog. Microsoft offers a 24-hour return policy and certifies that the apps will run on Windows phones. The company also launched a contest for developers to get their apps up on Windows Marketplace for Mobile. A Microsoft Surface tabletop computer is the prize offering.

Microsoft described a number of its applications that can be used on Windows phones. Outlook Mobile can be used for e-mail, and it synchronizes with Microsoft Exchange Server. Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint and Word documents can be opened and edited. Users can play media files on Windows phones using Windows Media Player and they can synchronize those media files using Windows Live Media Manager. Windows Live also can be used for photo sharing to social networking sites.

Microsoft also "redesigned" a mobile version of its Internet Explorer browser for the Windows phone launch. The browser is "more PC-like," according to Microsoft's announcement. It integrates with Adobe Flash Lite and can log onto secure Web sites.

Those using older versions of Windows Mobile, such as versions 5.0 and 6.0, have no upgrade path to Windows Mobile 6.5. However, some service providers are planning to offer upgrades to Windows Mobile 6.5 from version 6.1, according to Microsoft.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.