6.5 welcomes new name and UI
Microsoft has unveiled the next iteration of its mobile operating system - Windows Mobile 6.5 - which has been given what it describes as a complete graphical makeover and a rebranding.
Alfredo Patron, Microsoft's director of mobile communications business EMEA, told silicon.com: "Our own UI has to improve. Now hardware capacity and the power you get in a handset allows us to do that without giving you a slowed down device."
The updated user interface focuses on customisable icon-based menus, widgets and one-click shortcuts. The 'Start' menu button is still there but it puts a series of customisable icons on the homescreen instead of bringing up a text-based menu. The homescreen can also be customised to include widgets and other core shortcuts.
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Internet Explorer mobile has also been completely redesigned and includes support for Flash, he said.
It's no secret competition in the consumer smartphone space has been hotting up since Apple's iPhone arrived on the scene. Microsoft's view is that business and consumer tech worlds are merging - so it is rebranding its mobile effort as 'Windows' - rather than the previous 'Windows Mobile' tag. It will also do away with the different editions - Standard, Professional, etc - to further simplify matters, according to Patron.
"On the one hand the market is merging so the business scenarios and the consumer scenarios are merging. A business user now wants to browse the web and take photos and the other way around," he said.
He added that Microsoft will continue to partner with big name manufacturers - citing makers such as HTC, LG, Samsung, Sony Ericsson and Toshiba - but will perhaps have fewer partners than in previous years.
Patron said Microsoft will limit what mobile makers can put on top of the new OS as it's keen the Windows experience is not "diluted" - adding it wants Windows phones to have a consistent user interface, to help create a more identifiable brand for consumers.
"[What] we want to do is we want to be consistent on the look and feel of the devices. Partners will still be able to innovate on top of it but we'll be more careful on how much we allow them to completely dismiss the UI and put their own stuff," he told silicon.com.
In another keeping-up-with-the-mobile-world announcement, Microsoft said Windows Mobile 6.5 will include an app store - the Windows Marketplace for Mobile - to help build on the 20,000 apps currently available for its devices.
The company is also launching a mobile data cloud back-up subscription service called MyPlace - a me-too rival to Apple's MobileMe service. Prices for the service have yet to be announced.
Asked whether the company is considering changing its licence fee model for Windows Mobile - in light of rival platform Symbian going open source and the rise of Google's open mobile platform Android - Patron said: "We are looking at that because now as we are going into services as well… that changes the game."
However don't expect a Zune phone any time soon - "We're not going to get into the business of building phones," Patron said.