Windows Mobile 6.5, the latest version of Microsoft‘s mobile operating system, will be installed on a number of smartphones set to debut in fall 2009, including the HTC Touch2 and Sony Ericsson’s Xperia X2.
The HTC Touch2 will make its debut on Oct. 6, with broad availability in “a variety of European and Asian markets in early Q4 2009,” according to HTC. In addition to Internet Explorer Mobile with Flash support, features bundled with Windows Mobile 6.5 include Windows Marketplace for Mobile-Microsoft’s mobile application-store competitor-and the My Phone backup service. As announced by HTC on Sept. 2, the phone will feature a touch-screen interface and quick access to application widgets.
Nearly simultaneously, perhaps to steal a little thunder from HTC and other mobile-device manufacturers, Sony Ericsson announced that its upcoming Xperia X2 device will also be a Windows phone. The company did not disclose a specific release date for the device, which will have built-in access to Flash-supporting Internet Explorer Mobile and Windows Marketplace for Mobile as part of Windows Mobile 6.5.
The Xperia X2 will also have a feature called SlideView, which allows users to rapidly access frequently used applications such as Windows Live and games through a set of preloaded and downloadable touch-screen panels.
As the Oct. 6 rollout date for Windows Mobile 6.5 approaches, Microsoft has been slightly more forthcoming about its strategy in the mobile space. Stephanie Ferguson, Microsoft’s general manager of product management, mentioned in a Sept. 1 blog post that the Microsoft mobile team had absorbed user feedback about the operating system and had committed to “making the user interface more touch-friendly and improving notifications and updates from e-mail, text and calendar items.”
Part of that process has been the integration of applications into Windows Mobile such as My Phone, which backs up user data, and a version of Internet Explorer for mobile phones. Windows Mobile 6.5 will debut in North America on phones manufactured by HTC, LG Electronics, Samsung, Hewlett-Packard and Toshiba, and on the AT&T, Bell Mobility, Sprint, TELUS and Verizon Wireless networks.
How Microsoft Will Woo Users
In order to compete against the Apple iPhone, the Palm Pre and other smartphones that dominate the smartphone market, Microsoft has updated a number of interface features in Windows Mobile 6.5, including improving touch capabilities and adding customizable widgets.
Windows Marketplace for Mobile represents another vital aspect of Microsoft’s strategy in the mobile space. By the time the mobile application store launches, Microsoft plans to have 600 applications available for download-more than Palm’s App Catalog, but far less than the 65,000 applications on offer through Apple’s App Store.
Perhaps in a bid to encourage loyalty among developers, Microsoft has been suggesting that the community charge higher prices for any applications developed for Windows Mobile. “We would definitely want to promote [the idea] that you make more money selling applications than selling your application in a dollar store,” Loke Uei Tan, senior technical product manager for Microsoft’s Mobile Developer Experience team, told a gathering of mobile application developers on Aug. 19.
An August report from Gartner found that, although smartphone sales increased industrywide by 27 percent during the second quarter, Microsoft’s share of the smartphone operating system market had declined to around 9 percent.
In order to better fight this uphill battle against other IT giants already entrenched in the smartphone arena, Microsoft may release the next-generation Windows Mobile 7 in the fourth quarter of 2010, according to recent rumors from Taiwan. That version of the operating system will supposedly feature functionality designed to allow it to compete head-to-head against higher-end devices such as the iPhone and the Pre.
The rewards for victory-or at least maintenance of market share within the space-are potentially enormous: a recent report by Juniper Research suggested that the number of mobile application downloads will approach nearly 20 billion per year by 2014.