Redmond’s oft-criticised smartphone OS gets a make-over before Windows 7 arrives, while Microsoft is also set to announce a Windows Mobile app store and Mobile Me-style service.
Windows 7 may be getting all the attention right now, but Microsoft hopes its mobile OS cousin will enjoy a few days in the spotlight this month. But that’s not the fortuitously-named Windows Mobile 7, which is due sometime in 2010 – rather it’s precursor, an interim platform update christened Windows Mobile 6.5.
Microsoft has said little about Windows Mobile 6.5 to date, perhaps because there’s little to be said. Even CEO Steve Ballmer hinted only at an improvement in the interface and ‘flow’ of the software while commenting on it during his visit to Australia in November 2008.
However, pundits are tipping the update to include an improved version of the Internet Explorer Mobile browser with a rendering engine capable of a more desktop-like experience for displaying rich Web pages, including Flash content and AJAX applications.
This would not only give Microsoft some traction against competing browsers such as the iPhone’s Safari, but would help alleviate the growth of Opera Mobile (which several Microsoft partners such as HTC and Samsung install into their own Windows Mobile phones – not
a vote of confidence in IE!) and the forthcoming Firefox Mobile.
The direction taken by any revamped interface will be most interesting to see, as many manufacturers of Windows Mobile phones have also taken to bolting a slicker UI atop the core OS. These range from the simplified but more functional home screen developed by US carrier T-Mobile to HTC’s finger-friendly TouchFlo
, Samsung’s desktop-style UI of the Omnia
and the modular panel-based UI of the Sony Ericsson Xperia X1
Given that Microsoft last year acquired
the parent company behind the Hiptop, 6.5 could sport a more streamlined UI akin to that of the popular Hiptop and Sidekick devices.
Andy Lees, who heads the Windows Mobile team, is expected to launch the 6.5 edition at the start of this month’s Mobile World Congress, which runs from February 16th-19th in Barcelona.
Lees is certain to play the numbers card by boasting that Windows Mobile devices outsell both Apple’s iPhone and RIM’s BlackBerry, but there’s no denying that both of these devices are serious threats to Microsoft’s mobile market.
So it’s not surprising that Lees is also expected to reveal a new Windows Mobile strategy which will borrow from both the Apple and BlackBerry playbooks.
Microsoft will seek to replicate Apple's wildly successful App Store onto
Windows Mobile devices with its 'Skymarket' mobile app marketplace
First is the Windows Mobile application store, codenamed SkyMarket. Like the iPhone’s App Store, SkyMarket will offer free and paid software for both over-the-air installations and desktop download-and-sync or ‘sideloading’.
It’s uncertain whether Microsoft will host the service itself, a la Apple, or offer it only through manufacturers and/or carriers.
Described internally by Microsoft as a “marketplace service for Windows Mobile”, SkyMarket was originally slated as part of the Windows Mobile 7 platform. Barcelona may see nothing more than the official announcement of the program as part of a ‘Windows Mobile wave’, similar to the approach taken by Microsoft’s Windows Live team, or it may be an early implementation available on a select per-country basis and limited to Windows Mobile 6.5 devices.
Lees is also likely to preview a service codenamed SkyBox, an over-the-air service for synchronising email, calendars, contacts and tasks into a Microsoft Mesh-based cloud platform and mirroring those to other PCs through Microsoft’s equivalent Windows Live services.
SkyBox will also tap into other Windows Live services to store and share photos snapped with your Windows Mobile phone and provide backup and restore capabilities in case your phone is lost or stolen.APC will be attending Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and will file updates on this story plus other mobile-related news items between the endless press conferences, wandering around the MWC show floor and feasting on tapas and sangria.