Microsoft unveils Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system

Focuses on improved user experience for phones shipping in second half

Microsoft unveiled its Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system today on what are being called "Windows phones" that focus on touch-friendly features and quicker navigation, acknowledging the influence of the iPhone. The phones should ship as early as July.

"We're building on our expertise in the business-user segment to expand the platform ... for consumers," said Greg Sullivan, senior product manager at Microsoft in a recent interview. Microsoft executives announced the operating system at the GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Sullivan admitted that Windows Mobile has taken some criticism from Motorola, bloggers and even the public for providing an operating system in the current Windows Mobile 6.1 and earlier versions that has been termed "kludgy" or even unsophisticated when compared with those in newer smartphones by competitors.

Nonetheless, LG Electronics today announced it is making Windows Mobile its primary smartphone platform, with 26 different mobile models using the operating system in 2012.

Sullivan demonstrated beta software of 6.5 on an HTC Touch Pro, but handheld makers were expected to show new devices that Microsoft has decided to brand as "Windows phones" and that will ship early in the second half of 2009 using the updated operating system.

Microsoft provides the operating system for several major device manufacturers and has been concerned that its role in the highly competitive smartphone market has been diluted, especially because of the success of Apple, which makes the iPhone's operating system as well as the device, and Research In Motion Ltd., which makes the operating system for its many BlackBerry models. One current Windows Mobile manufacturer, Motorola, recently said it will wait for Windows Mobile 7.0 to ship sometime in 2010 for its smartphones, skipping over the 6.5 release.

More than 20 million phones with Windows Mobile shipped last year from four major manufacturers.

Sullivan said Microsoft wants to "improve the user experience" and has designed 6.5 "on the notion that users want to get to their stuff and get it rather quickly."

For example, the 6.5 operating system allows "fat finger touching" on a resistive touch screen, rather than requiring a user to pull out a stylus to make more precise touches as in earlier versions of the operating system, Sullivan said. That innovation means a user can make touches on smaller smartphones with one hand, using the thumb for touching icons. The home screen has a honeycomb look, with the icons further apart than with other home screens for easier touches.

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Matt Hamblen

Computerworld
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