BARCELONA-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer addressed a packed hall of Mobile World Congress attendees with a keynote speech focusing on the Windows Phone mobile operating platform and the company’s recent partnership with Nokia, inviting CEO and President Stephen Elop on stage, as well as Microsoft corporate Vice President for Windows Phone program management Joe Belfiore.
Ballmer sought to differentiate Microsoft’s mobile platform from its competitors, referencing the company’s “smart design” philosophy which guided the operating system.”For the last few years the market has been swamped by phones of similar designs,” Ballmer said. “People want a phone that makes info more accessible and helps them complete basic tasks more easily. With smart design, we’re trying to go about improving that experience.”
He also outlined the upcoming improvements to Windows Phone, including a version of Internet Explorer 9 (IE9), which employs a device’s graphics processor to deliver the Web through HTML 5, and consumer support for the company’s SkyDrive platform, a File hosting service that allows users to upload files to a cloud storage and then access them from a Web browser. Ballmer also reiterated the company’s belief in the value of “hubs”, of which Windows Phone has six: people, office, pictures, music and video, marketplace and games.
The idea is to organize applications and information into a single integrated experience. He said Twitter integration would follow Facebook integration, with a software update free for all Windows Phone device users. Belfiore then took the stage to demonstrate some of the platform’s services, but was unable to connect to the server and demonstrate the Bing voice search function or high definition streaming video he planned.
Belfiore was able to demonstrate a walkthrough of the upcoming multitasking feature for third-party apps, showing the audience how users can exit applications and quickly return to them. Another demonstration focused on a third-party music application called Slacker Personal Radio and the platform’s ability to keep the music service playing while working with other applications.
Perhaps the most intriguing upcoming development concerned Kinect, the motion-sensitive gaming platform for the Xbox console. Belfiore played a video showing friends using the phone to interact with each other while playing a virtual dodgeball game on Xbox. Two friends used a display on their phones connected to the game to hurl dodgeballs at a third friend.
Ballmer returned to the stage to address the partnership with handset manufacturer Nokia, praising the company’s excellence and “deep expertise” with industrial design. “Their involvement will drive volume and innovation, and accelerate the adoption of the Windows Phone platform,” he said. “We are sure from that base that Nokia will deliver phenomenal Windows phones.”
Elop then took the stage, declaring the market had moved from a battle of devices to a war of ecosystems, noting it was “very clear” from the selection Nokia had made where they stand on the importance of platforms. “Microsoft and Nokia represent a natural partnership,” he said, citing the global reach, brand recognition and service expertise of the respective companies. “Partnering with Microsoft will allow us to re-enter the U.S. market in a compelling way.”
In his closing remarks, Ballmer claimed the two companies would be the most operator-friendly platform available, a sentiment echoing Elop’s own earlier comments. He noted the broad range of services Nokia would add to Microsoft’s roster, including mapping, location-based services and local advertising. “2011 is shaping up to be a very fast-paced year,” Ballmer said.