Microsoft expected to launch 'Pink' smartphone April 12

Whatever Microsoft does, it needs to build mobile momentum, analyst says

Microsoft is sending out invitations to a mystery event for press and analysts on April 12 that could be the unveiling of a new "Pink" smartphone or a new "Courier" tablet/ e-reader that opens like a book with dual screens.

Neither product has been confirmed by Microsoft officially, and Microsoft officials could not be reached today to comment. Various sources have pieced together tidbits and photos of each device based on unnamed sources and rumors. According to Engadget , which said it received an invitation via "snail mail," the mystery event will be held in San Francisco and has been been described cryptically with the words, "It's time to share. "

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates who also got one of the mystery invitations, said the event could be to announce the rumored Pink phone, the Courier or something else. "I'd be surprised it's Pink, since that was expected later in the year," he said.

One industry source who asked not to be named said the event will focus on Pink, however.

The Pink has been shown in early versions to several analysts who said they had seen it but were not allowed to discuss it under nondisclosure agreements. Several of those analysts, all of whom asked not to be named, said that it seems to share elements of the Windows Phone 7 Series operating system with earlier Windows Mobile OS versions. Microsoft announced the new OS in February at Mobile World Congress and demonstrated it to reporters at the CTIA trade show in March on prototype hardware.

The Pink is expected to be a Microsoft smartphone that uses the company's own hardware and software, several analysts have said. The Windows Phone 7 Series OS, however, will appear later this year on devices made by various cell phone makers that traditionally have built Windows Mobile-based phones.

Gold and other analysts said it is critical for Microsoft to show it can innovate with mobile devices. "They have absolutely lost momentum in the mobile space and have been a non-player in e-readers," Gold said. "If they can't get momentum soon, it's not going to matter."

Gold said it is possible that Microsoft could be so desperate to show momentum that it will announce on April 12 a reference design for a new phone that third parties would fully develop, not a complete device.

If Microsoft is announcing Courier, it would be coming shortly after Apple started shipping its iPad tablet on Friday . Some analysts have dubbed 2010 as the year of the e-reader device, with dozens of such devices expected to hit the market.

Of all the tablets coming out, including the iPad , Microsoft's concept for Courier could be the most unusual, with its dual screens. Microsoft was expected to launch the Courier at the CES trade show in January, but the device never appeared.

Reports of the Courier started to emerge last fall, describing the device as more of a day planner/notebook than as an e-reader. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at one point had said the company was not interested in creating an e-reader.

Based on what was reported in the fall, first by Gizmodo, Courier would have two 7-inch color screens with a hinge in the middle to allow it to close like a book. It would also allow input with a stylus or pen for handwriting, or multi-touch from a user's fingers. Wi-Fi connectivity and a camera on the back would be provided as well.

Will Stofega, an analyst at market research firm IDC, said it makes sense that either the Courier or the Pink could be announced, but the event could also be as simple as an announcement of a refresh of Microsoft's application store.

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