Microsoft has revealed Windows Mobile 6.5, along with an application marketplace and web-based backup and synchronisation service for the operating system.
The announcements were made by Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer on Monday at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. He also said that handsets using the Windows Mobile operating system would now be known as Windows phones, to make them "easier for the consumer".
"It's a mouthful to say 'Do you want a Windows Mobile phone?'," Ballmer said. In the future, all Windows phones will be identifiable by having a common button displaying the Windows logo.
Windows Mobile 6.5 is not yet available but was announced as a future update for three new handsets announced at the show — HTC's Touch Diamond 2 and Touch Pro 2, and LG's GM730 — which will be shipping with the current version. The new operating system has a revised user interface (UI) that incorporates touch features such as swiping to change application — although many of these new features have already been incorporated by handset makers in existing, customised versions of Windows Mobile.
The new version of the mobile operating system also has a hexagonally partitioned homescreen that presents various icons or widgets in a honeycomb-like matrix.
Also included is a new version of Internet Explorer Mobile, promising a more desktop-like experience. Called version 6, this was promised but not delivered as part of Windows Mobile 6.1, leading manufacturers such as HTC to preinstall rival browser Opera.
In a Q&A session during Microsoft's press conference, the company's senior vice president for mobile communications, Andy Lees, told ZDNet UK that Microsoft only "shipped the improved rendering engine halfway through the life of Windows Mobile 6.1".
"It was a two-phase thing — the rendering engine and now the user interface," Lees said, claiming that the late shipping meant users would see an "even higher experience".
Asked by ZDNet UK how much Opera's widespread installation on Windows phones had hurt Microsoft, Lees said the impact was "negligible".
"It's not the area where I would have aspired to see the first add-ons," Ballmer quipped, adding that he thought it demonstrated Microsoft's "open ecosystem".
The new version of Internet Explorer supports embedded multimedia content through Adobe's Flash Lite, but does not support Silverlight, Microsoft's rival technology to Flash.
"We have some more work to do on Silverlight," Ballmer conceded.
The new backup service, Microsoft MyPhone, will let Windows phone users back up and restore up to 200MB of data using a web-based repository, adding PC-based web management of the content.
The Windows Mobile marketplace did not feature heavily in Ballmer and Lees's presentation, although Lees did say that such a concept — already in use by Apple, Google and others with their handsets — "does not make a developer ecosystem" but "helps link some applications to particular customers".