Microsoft's Windows Mobile 6.5, the newest version of its smartphone operating system released on Oct. 6, is the company's attempt to start afresh in the mobile space, according to a Microsoft executive.
Windows Mobile 6.5 represents "a restart of our efforts in the mobile space and a continuation of the work we've done in the past, with new capability delivered in a much more frequent way," Greg Sullivan, senior product manager for Windows Mobile, said in an interview with eWEEK. "It's the right time to take a look at the brand, the new capability that we built in and the new business experience."
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Microsoft has spent the past few months heavily promoting the release of Mobile 6.5, attempting to reverse a trend that has seen Microsoft's mobile operating system market share decline to 9 percent in the second quarter of 2009, according to an estimate by research firm Gartner. There has also been pressure for Microsoft to provide the same sort of functionality and mobile applications offered by its competitors, the most robust of which include Research In Motion's BlackBerry line, the Apple iPhone and the Palm Pre.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, speaking to a crowd of investors at the Venture Capital Summit on Sept. 24, allegedly suggested that Redmond had "screwed up" with regard to its Mobile strategy.
In his eWEEK interview, Sullivan defended the unit's marketplace performance. "There are tens of millions of phones that run our software. People underestimate the reach of Windows Mobile because it doesn't coalesce around one phone, but we have a lot more phones on the market than people realize."
Part of the company's attempt at a comeback revolves around launching Mobile 6.5 on a variety of smartphones, including ones by HTC and Sony Ericsson, three by LG Electronics, and two HTC devices offered by AT&T. Some 13 Windows phones are expected to make their debut by the end of 2010.
There has also been a giant push within Microsoft to create a mobile application ecosystem for Windows Marketplace, Microsoft's competitor to Apple's App Store. During the summer, executives suggested they wanted 600 apps available through the Marketplace on Oct. 6, although Sullivan declined to say whether the company had met that mark.
In order to encourage developers to design applications for the Marketplace, Microsoft has encouraged them to price their mobile applications at a higher price point than 99 cents, a very common price on Apple's App Store. That strategy will also place the Marketplace in more direct competition with RIM's BlackBerry App World, which tends to price its mobile applications at a more premium price of $2.99 and above.
"We would definitely want to promote that you make more money selling applications than selling your application in a dollar store," Loke Uei, senior technical product manager for Microsoft's Mobile Developer Experience Team, told mobile application developers in Redmond, Wash., on Aug. 19. "But 99 cents, come on, I think your app is worth more than that."
Mobile 6.5 will supposedly boast improved touch capabilities, for easier navigation of those applications via taps, swipes and finger flicks. In addition, it will include a new version of Internet Explorer Mobile, which can render Web pages on a smartphone in a richer desktop-style manner.