Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer on Feb. 14 affirmed his commitment to wireless computing with the announcement of several new products and initiatives, including a mobile version of the companys corporate instant messaging system and a new service that streams live TV to cell phones.
“Weve spent the last 10 or 15 years really building out the infrastructure,” Ballmer said in a keynote speech at the 3GSM World Congress, a giant wireless industry trade show in Barcelona. “But its really the mobile device that completes this picture.”
During the keynote, Ballmer introduced Communicator Mobile, which brings corporate-level instant messaging, presence awareness and integrated voice-over-IP telephony to devices that run Microsofts Windows Mobile operating system. Communicator Mobile is due within the next 60 days and will be available for download to customers who use the companys Live Communication Server software.
He also announced that the youth-focused wireless carrier Virgin Mobile plans to offer live digital TV feeds to its customers on a customized Windows Mobile-based smart phone built by HTC. The service will be available to customers in Great Britain in late 2006.
Virgin Group founder Richard Branson spoke to the keynote audience via videoconference, ending his brief speech with a heartfelt: “I love this company!”
Ballmer also made a point of touting server- and desktop-level support for mobile applications.
“Operators are constantly pushing me—what are you going to put in the PC to better support 3G?” Ballmer said. “Its not just what were doing in Windows Mobile, its what were doing in Windows.”
On the keynote stage, Ballmer unveiled the first demonstration of the Windows Mobile Device Center, which will work with the Windows Vista Synch Center to unify synchronization activities among Windows Mobile-based devices and PCs. Windows Vista, the next version of the Windows desktop operating system, is due by the end of 2006.
He also showed a prototype of a service that allows a user to download multimedia content to a PC and then send the data to a phone, over the air.
Ballmer took the opportunity to show off some new devices based on Windows Mobile.
He noted that while the company was late to the mobile game, within the past three years Microsoft has gone from working with one mobile operator in one country with one device maker to working with 102 operators in 55 countries with 47 device makers.
(Ballmer didnt mention that one of the first of these device makers, Sendo Holdings, ended up suing Microsoft for conspiracy to steal trade secrets. After joining Microsoft on the 3GSM stage in 2001, Sendo sued Microsoft, saying the software giant so wanted to rule the emerging market for Web-enabled phones that it conspired to steal Sendos trade secrets and tried to drive the British firm out of business.)
During his keynote, Ballmer showed off Hewlett-Packards new HP iPaq hw6900 Mobile Messenger, which includes the push e-mail capability designed to compete with Research in Motions BlackBerry platform.
Ballmer added that white-label device maker HTC plans to ship a bevy of push-e-mail-enabled devices to T-Mobile in the second quarter of 2006.
Finally, with the help of a Microsoft product manager, Ballmer demonstrated the Vodafone QTek 9100, a device that supports near-field communication technology—meaning it can be used as a mobile wallet.
The phone will be available in the summer of 2006, he said.
Microsoft also plans to launch an ad campaign focused solely on Windows Mobile, he said.
Ballmer added that Microsoft has general plans to increase support for devices that do not run the Windows Mobile operating system; the majority of phones on the market do not.
“We do recognize and understand that the world is a heterogeneous world, and its important that our technologies embrace that heterogeneity,” Ballmer said. “Im often asked if you need to take all of our stuff to take any of our stuff, and the answer is no.”