Windows Mobile 7 to be unveiled at MWC next month

Windows Mobile 7 Mockups

Microsoft looks all set to unveil its long-awaited next-generation OS, Windows Mobile 7, at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) next month.  Responding to a question about WM7 at today’s CES Financial Analyst Briefing, Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices division said that “things will be talked about at MWC,” echoing CEO Steve Ballmer’s earlier remark that “We will have a lot more to say about phones next month at Mobile World Congress.”  More info after the break.

Bach added that, having “seen it and played with it,” Windows Mobile 7 will “set the bar forward, not in (just) an evolutionary way.”  (you can see the full 50 min webcast here)  The software giant’s current offering, Windows Mobile 6.5, still holds a decent share of the smartphone market but is facing withering competition from the likes of Android, WebOS, and of course the iPhone.

For years, Microsoft has relied on a wide array of hardware partners to develop and market new phones running its OS, but this strength has also become the firm’s greatest weakness, as it cannot provide the level of integration seen in Apple’s iPhone, RIM’s BlackBerry, Palm’s Pre/Pixi, and Google’s new Nexus One phone.  As Windows Mobile phone manufacturers turn to differentiate their offerings through their own software interfaces (HTC Sense, Samsung TouchWiz, and others) that replace Microsoft’s interface, the OS’ consumer awareness has dropped even further– Windows Mobile has almost no consumer mindshare today.  Bach said Microsoft will build on its “go to market approach” and become “more engaged” with its OEM partners to fix all of this.

We expect Microsoft will expand its role beyond simply making Windows Mobile available to partners.  Sources suggest that several hardware reference designs (based on Qualcomm Snapdragon, Nvidia Tegra, and/or TI OMAP3 processors) have been developed, though these will not be marketed by Microsoft itself.  Bach pointed out the challenge Google faces in that the Nexus One may alienate its hardware partners, which Microsoft intends to take full advantage of.  It’s doubtful that the company would reverse course in just a month’s time, so WM7 will likely continue in WM 6.x’s direction in terms of distribution.  The change, however, is that Microsoft will maintain and enforce much stricter hardware and experience requirements.

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