Microsoft shows Windows Mobile 6.5 smartphones

Phone parade features new models from HTC and Toshiba running Windows Mobile OS.

Microsoft smartphone partners are expected to deliver about 30 new Windows Mobile 6.5 devices by the end of 2009, including HTC and Toshiba shown for the first time at a Microsoft Open House in New York City today.

The 30-or-so Windows Mobile 6.5 smartphones will be sold in approximately 20 different countries, said Robbie Bach, head of Microsoft's entertainment and devices division, speaking at a Microsoft open house. (See Our "Windows Mobile 6.5 Phone Gallery")

Windows Mobile devices getting first-time looks encompassed the HTC Tilt 2 from AT&T, the HTC Imagio from Verizon Wireless, and an as-yet-unnamed device built by Toshiba and anticipated for sale in the Japanese market.

In his keynote, Bach suggested this kind of hardware diversity is a key selling point for Microsoft in its struggles with Android, iPhone, Palm, and others for greater consumer mindshare.

Apple's iPhone, after all, has been available in very limited form factors, and the same has held true so far for Android phones promulgated by Google.

Bach noted that while some users like large touchscreens, some practically can't live without keyboards, and others prefer slider architectures that give them a choice of using a keyboard.

True to Bach's words, the Windows 6.5 smartphones displayed later in the day -- hung in and around artificial trees in a mock treehouse set up for the occasion -- sported a variety of different form factors.

Although pre-loaded this time around with Windows 6.5, the Tilt 2 looks and feels quite similar to the original Tilt, a device known for its slider architecture, powerful speakers, and solid video performance.

While it's about the same size as the Tilt, and its screen size is a comparable 3.6-inches, the Imagio seems slightly thinner, and lacks a slideout keyboard.

The as-yet-unnamed smartphone from Toshiba -- so far codenamed the TG0I -- boasts a much larger screen, estimated by one Microsoft rep at 4.2 inches. But it also lacks a slider.

In a briefing during the event, Elizabeth Sloan, senior marketing manager for Windows Mobile pointed to another type of differentiator for Microsoft. Sloan contended that Apple targets its phones mainly at consumers, while RIM aims for corporate customers, Microsoft is uniquely positioned to provide both business- and consumer-oriented capabilities in a single mobile OS.

"We've figured out that the business user is often the same person as the one who uses the phone for personal things," Sloan noted.

Sloan also honed in on some of the new features in Windows Mobile 6.5, including MyPhone; Windows Marketplace, Microsoft's answer to Apple's App Store; a mobile browser based on Internet Explorer (IE) 6.0; Theme Creator; and new, user-friendly screens such as the Today Screen, for accessing e-mail, calendar items, photos, favorites, and other frequently needed items from the same place.

In addition to helping users locate their lost cell phones, MyPhone lets users back up as much as 200 MB of contact info and other mobile data free of charge in the cloud, she said.

MyPhone's phone-finding capabilities will work even when the smartphone has been turned off, according to Sloan. Microsoft can use GPS to locate a missing phone, and then "wake it up" remotely.

Microsoft is offering the phone-finding service free of charge for the first month. After that, the user will be charged $4.99 per incident.

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Jacqueline Emigh

PC World (US online)
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