Microsoft unveils enterprise heir to Windows Mobile

Windows Embedded Handheld, rather than the consumer-focused Windows Phone 7, will replace Windows Mobile in business handsets, according to Steve Ballmer

Microsoft has introduced a new mobile platform, called Windows Embedded Handheld, that will be the enterprise-focused successor to Windows Mobile.

In a video message released on Thursday, Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer said the first version of Windows Embedded Handheld will be released in six months' time. That version will be based on Windows Mobile 6.5. However, the second iteration — scheduled for release in the second half of 2011 — will be based on "Windows 7 technologies", Ballmer said.

Ballmer said that Microsoft's Windows Embedded team is "focused on extending Windows and the benefits of cloud computing to the world of specialised devices", and Windows Embedded Handheld forms part of that strategy.

"We are also working to provide a clear path for enterprises to migrate line-of-business applications to our new application platform based on Microsoft Silverlight and Visual Studio 2010," Ballmer said. "These releases will provide proven management and security functionality, while giving customers confidence that investments in handheld enterprise devices and line-of-business applications will be protected over time by an extended support lifecycle."

Microsoft announced its first successor to Windows Mobile — Windows Phone 7 — in February. Windows Phone 7 is very much a consumer-focused platform, and it uses different technologies, such as Silverlight, from its predecessor.

This has led to a lack of compatibility between legacy Windows Mobile applications and Windows Phone 7. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that Windows Phone 7 is designed for capacitive touchscreens, whereas Windows Mobile has always used less responsive but more accurate resistive touchscreen technology.

Until Thursday, Microsoft had offered little explanation of what it would be offering its enterprise mobility customers in the future.

Ballmer's video message was shown to journalists at a pre-launch event for Motorola's ES400, a handset that will be launched with Windows Mobile 6.5.3 but will be upgradeable to the first version of Windows Embedded Handheld. It is not clear whether the ES400 will be upgradeable to the second version.

Kevin Burden, vice president of mobile at ABI Research, told ZDNet UK on Thursday that the number of manufacturers choosing Windows Mobile for their enterprise devices had "dwindled very quickly over the past few years", but Microsoft nonetheless had to "keep the platform working" for those who do want it.

"The enterprise is Microsoft's heritage," Burden said. "The volumes are low [compared to the consumer market], but they're consistent, a consistent volume they can count on every year.

"Windows Mobile has been developed over a decade — it's really hard to just cut and move on. A lot of the hard work is already done, [so Microsoft is making] enhancements to the platform rather than rebuilding from scratch."