Microsoft Unveils WinMo 6.5, My Phone, and Marketplace

windowsmobileMicrosoft tried to generate a bit of buzz yesterday with a press event in Barcelona at which they unveiled three new technologies which are designed to help enhance their mobile customers’ experience. Enhance how, you ask? By getting them as close as possible to owning an iPhone, even though they still just have some Windows Mobile-based phone. The three new services all take not-so-subtle cues from Apple’s tool box, but will they help Microsoft beginning winning back ground from their Cupertino-based competitor?

First up, there’s Windows Mobile 6.5. While not the long-anticipated full version update from 6 to 7, 6.5 does still represent a major revision, with a completely redesigned lock screen, home screen, and new menus throughout. The obvious intent of the redesign? To optimize the interface for use with touchscreen devices. Everything has big, honeycomb, finger-sized icons and button, and while it doesn’t exactly look like Mobile OS X, it doesn’t look much like Windows anymore, either. It also comes with an update to mobile Internet Explorer that brings a lot of much-needed improvements and enhancements.

Next, there’s Microsoft’s answer to MobileMe, the contacts/calendar/media syncing service called My Phone, which is integrated into the new WinMo 6.5 operating system. Highlights include the ability to sync multiple kinds of media, not just photos, and web-based accessibility to the data stored on the cloud. You don’t have to pay for it, but you don’t get iDisk-type features. Plus, Gizmodo called it “fugly.”

Finally, Windows Marketplace for Mobile brings Microsoft’s own spin on an app store to the Windows Mobile platform. Unlike Apple’s store, the Marketplace will be fairly open, and will only require applicants to pass security and compatibility checks before being made available for download. Users will sign in using their Windows Live ID, keeping to Microsoft’s “One ID for access to all our questionable services” strategy.

In the case of each of the new offerings by Microsoft, one thing is obvious. Redmond (and everyone else in the smartphone market, for that matter) is still playing catch-up. Nothing they introduced today brings any revolutionary advancements to the table, and each is really a Windows-branded reiteration of what has already gone before. But it does represent a change of pace. Microsoft is actually pushing things out the door. First Windows 7, now an overhaul of their mobile offerings. They’re getting things done, not just offering glimpses at what might be on the distant horizon.

I suspect they don’t need me to tell them this, but Apple had better get moving on rolling out some new major software releases of their own. iLife ’09 is a nice upgrade, granted, but Snow Leopard would provide the real feather in the cap. iPhone Firmware 3.0 would really put some ground between them and their copycats, provided it actually brings in revolutionary changes like background push notification.

With software releases, retail stores, and imminent OS releases, Microsoft is beginning to look like quite the firecracker. Apple, it’s time to stop biding your time and make Redmond look like a sparkler to your Roman candle.

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