Impressions of the Microsoft press event and Windows Mobile 6.5

wm65-home-screen1The Microsoft press event announcing the next version of Windows Mobile has concluded and we can now offer impressions of everything covered.

Steve Ballmer kicked off the event with the usual “we are mobile” message and while it’s only my impression, he seemed extremely uncomfortable.  I have seen numerous press events and keynotes by Ballmer, some live, and this was the first I’ve watched where he looked like he wanted to be somewhere else.

Microsoft announced three new products today: Windows Mobile 6.5, the Windows Marketplace and the My Phone backup service.  The lion’s share of the event was devoted to WM6.5 not surprisingly and a little bit of the My Phone service was shown.  Strangely, apart from the initial announcement of the Marketplace not much else was divulged about it.  They made it clear that from now on WM devices will be called “Windows phones” by MS and OEMs.

A live demo of WM6.5 was conducted and it looked so much better than WM6.1.  The new home screen and lock screen actually look useful and everything seems optimized for touch control.  Microsoft is making an effort to combine user’s work and home lives into one device, something we heard from Palm at the Pre announcement earlier this year.

The new version of Internet Explorer for Windows Mobile was demonstrated briefly but they pretty much only showed it running msn.com.  It is much better than the old version of Internet Explorer, no question, and seemed to be very responsive to touch.  The page rendering seemed to be very fast, too.  Microsoft made it clear that this new version of IE supports flash but a question at the end of the event resulted in the information that Microsoft’s own Silverlight will not be supported in this version of IE.

The demo was pretty hokie with the “geek gets a date” theme used as a premise.  It showed very standard stuff in the new OS, such as email, IM and the like.  These were shown using only MS products – Hotmail, Live Messenger, etc.  The demo was done with an actual phone that seemed to be running wirelessly and at one point the phone seemed to hang.  The presenter quickly grabbed a second phone to continue the demonstration.  Both phones were HTC phones, I believe.

The following companies announced support for and upcoming phones for WM6.5:

Samsung, HTC, Sprint, Toshiba, Orange, Telstra, LG, Verizon, Sony Ericsson.

The CEO of HTC announced that the Touch Diamond 2 and Touch Pro 2, both only announced earlier today as shipping with WM6.1, will be offered a free upgrade to WM6.5 when it’s available later this year.  LG announced  strategic and research alliance with Microsoft and that Windows Mobile would be their “primary platform” for the next few years.  Orange stated they will continue to work with Windows Mobile.

A brief Q&A session at the end of the event rendered the following information not previously covered:

OEMs will be expected to continue to add their own innovation to Windows phones, MS will provide the core OS.  Business as usual, in other words.  Devices will be available with WM6.5 in the fall of this year.  There will be a downloadable client for WM6.1 devices to work with My Phone, otherwise it requires WM6.5 and higher.

Windows Mobile 7 has no availability date yet but likely will appear next year.  Ballmer stated that he noticed that some of the demo was run using WM7 even though not divulged during the demo.  This is interesting as it implies WM7 will look just like WM6.5.  MS stated that all Windows phones must have a minimum of three buttons: Windows key, Start and End.

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