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Is Windows Mobile 6.6 Microsoft's Barcelona big bang?

At the Consumer Electronics Show, Microsoft execs held off those restless for an upate on Windows Mobile with the refrain of "just wait until Barcelona." But what happens if Barcelona doesn't provide the big bang many are expecting -- and that Microsoft needs in the mobile space?
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor on

At the Consumer Electronics Show, Microsoft execs held off those restless for an upate on Windows Mobile with the refrain of "just wait until Barcelona." But what happens if Barcelona doesn't provide the big bang many are expecting -- and that Microsoft needs in the mobile space?

DigiTimes is reporting that Microsoft may end up using the upcoming Mobile World Congress (MWC) show in Spain in mid-February not as a showcase for Windows Mobile 7, but as the launch pad for Windows Mobile 6.6 -- an interim version of Windows Mobile that is designed to take advantage of capacitive screen phones with advanced touch capabilities. (That rumored WinMo capacitive-screen update has gone by various names over the past few months, including Windows Mobile 6.5 and 6.7.)

I went back and looked at the exact wording of what Microsoft Entertainment and Devices President Robbie Bach said to Wall Street analysts at CES who peppered him with questions about Microsoft's Windows Mobile strategy. One analyst asked him very specifically about Windows Mobile 7 timing. Here's what Bach said (from the transcript):

"So, the challenge for us as we come into 2010 and we are going to have some new things that will talk about at Mobile World Congress, as we come into that, the first bar people should look at is to say, wow, are they doing a great job with the product.  And when you look at the product, I'm sort of like, I have the luxury of having seen it, to be able to look at it and played with it a little bit, but I'm certainly confident people are going to see it as something that's differentiated and something that really does move the bar forward, not in an evolutionary way from where we are today, but it's something that feels, looks, acts and performs completely different."

Given that the question was not about Windows Mobile in general, but Windows Mobile 7, specifically, I believed (as I'm sure others listening live and remotely) that he was talking about Windows Mobile 7 here. But if Bach was doing what he seems to do quite often --  providing an answer vague enough that it says nothing -- he'll be able to say his answer was misrepresented. The actual wording of his answer doesn't use the words "Windows Mobile 7," meaning, he could claim he was referring to WM 6.6 or whatever the rumored capacitive screen release comes to be called.

Another worrisome piece of evidence: Some time in the past week, Microsoft removed any references to Windows Mobile from the Mix 2010 show site. A week ago, I saw a session placeholder saying there'd be some Windows Mobile content of interest to Mix attendees at the show, but it was too early to provide specifics. That placeholder is now gone, as are any references in the "Sessions" area to Windows Mobile.

Microsoft officials will have a tough time wriggling out of that one. At the Professional Developers Conference in November 2009, Microsoft execs committed to having more to say about Windows Mobile 7 at Mix in mid-March 2010. From the transcript of the keynote by Office Vice President Kurt DelBene from PDC:

"The other thing is I'd love to kind of now that we're wrapping up at least the keynotes in terms of this conference, I'd like to invite you to the next one, to the MIX conference where we will be talking about Windows Mobile, kind of talk about Windows Mobile 7 and where that's heading, where that new advancement is, talk again about Silverlight, and just a whole raft of additional things."

In case you're wondering whether the Redmondians are confirming/denying any of the recent claims that Windows Mobile 7 is slipping out beyond 2010, they aren't. They also aren't confirming whether Windows Mobile 7 will get its debut in Barcelona. I asked, and got the usual statement, that Microsoft doesn't comment on rumors.

My gut is Microsoft will talk about Windows Mobile 7 in Barcelona. Will they actually demo it? They should -- if for no other reason than to prove beyond any shadow of a doubt that it does exist. Will this be the "launch" of it? No way.

The real question, of course, is when Microsoft will release Windows Mobile 7 to manufacturing. If Microsoft wants phones out in time for holiday 2010, it needs to be this summer, I'd think. If it gets much later, some phone makers will likely be unwilling/unable to get their Windows Mobile 7 phones out until early 2011....

Update: Directions on Microsoft analyst Matt Rosoff mentioned to me (via Twitter) that he's hearing the long-rumored Pink phone could make its debut in Barcelona, too... I wouldn't be too stunned to see/hear about the Pink services, but it would be interesting if the Pink phone(s) finally got official confirmation there, as well.

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