Microsoft Refuses to Confirm Windows Mobile Rebranding

Microsoft refused to confirm rumors that Windows Mobile 6.x will be rebranded as Windows Phone Classic, despite a Microsoft representative supposedly mentioning the change in a Feb. 16 blog interview. Microsoft claimed during the Feb. 15 rollout of its Windows Phone 7 Series that it would continue to support Windows Mobile 6.x, although developers are raising questions about the new smartphone operating system's backward compatibility.

Microsoft refused to confirm rumors that Windows Mobile 6.x will be rebranded as Windows Phone Classic, even as the online community raised questions over the backward compatibility of existing Windows Mobile apps with its new Windows Phone 7 Series.

On Feb. 16, Long Zheng wrote on his Istartedsomething blog that Windows Mobile 6.5, launched in October 2009 and designed to slow Microsoft's long decline in the smartphone OS arena, "will be rebranded as Windows Phones Classic, and presumably the devices as Windows Phones Classic Series." Zheng wrote that he learned of the rebranding during an interview with Microsoft representatives.

Despite Microsoft supposedly confirming the information with Zheng, the company refused repeated queries by eWEEK concerning the shift. "Microsoft has nothing to announce regarding any rebranding of Windows Mobile 6.x," read a Feb. 18 statement from a Microsoft spokesperson.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer indicated during the Feb. 15 rollout of the Windows Phone 7 Series that Windows Mobile 6.5 would continue to be supported in tandem. However, in the days subsequent to the announcement, developers have begun to raise concerns over whether Mobile 6.5 applications will be supported on the new smartphone operating system. That question will likely have to largely remain conjecture until March, when Microsoft is expected to roll out further details about Windows Phone 7 Series at its MIX 10 conference.

On Feb. 18, the WMPoweruser blog posted what it purported to be leaked Windows Phone 7 development documents, which indicated that the Windows Phone 7 Series software is built on Silverlight, XNA and the .NET compact framework.

But any chasm between Mobile 6.5 and Windows Phone 7 devices and software could be too far to leap for some developers, according to analysts.

"The change will not endear Microsoft to its existing base of corporate users who will have to redesign and redeploy their apps if they are to utilize this new platform," Jack Gold, an analyst with J. Gold Associates, wrote in a Feb. 15 research note. "We don't think Microsoft can count on many enterprises making such a transition/upgrade, and most organizations will likely stay with older WinMo versions (especially those using ruggedized devices, e.g., Symbol, or those with apps that can't be easily transported."

In addition to integrating Xbox Live and Zune software, Windows Phone 7 Series offers users a series of "hubs" that aggregate content from both mobile applications and the Web. These "hubs" include "People," "Pictures," "Office," "Music & Video," and "Games."

After Microsoft's press conference, company executives indicated to eWEEK that a mobile applications marketplace for Windows Phone 7 Series would be released at some point before the device's launch. Microsoft's current Marketplace for Mobile contains around 718 mobile applications for U.S.-based Mobile 6.x smartphones, a small number in comparison to the more than 100,000 posted on Apple's App Store.

Despite ramping up to announce Windows Phone 7 Series over the past few weeks, Microsoft has also released updates to Mobile 6.5, notably the Mobile 6.5.3 currently running on the Sony Ericsson Aspen smartphone.