In Steve Ballmer’s keynote today, his first ever at Mobile World Congress, the CEO of Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) said that the new version of Windows Phone 7 will feature multitasking, a top-of-the-range mobile web browser and integration with Microsoft’s buzziest product of the moment: Xbox Kinect: in short, everything that the first iteration of Windows Phone 7 really should have featured.
A speech that started out looking like a tutorial on a product that is already nearly half a year old, took a turn for the more interesting today in Barcelona. With almost total absence of Internet connectivity, Ballmer and Joe Belfiore, the VP overseeing the Windows Phone platform, took the audience through some of the key new features that will be part of the next release of the platform, scheduled for sometime in 2011 and free for all Windows Phone users:
— Internet Explorer 9: Belfiore showed us the newest iteration of Microsoft’s web browser looks is getting a very tight integration with the company’s mobile platform, with a particular emphasis on video graphics. The demo, predictably, showed the browser running on a phone with incredibly smooth video, particularly compared to other browsers like Firefox on mobile.
Will users need to be on Windows phones for that experience to be as optimized? That’s not clear yet, but what is is that Ballmer made a point of emphasising how such a killer browser meant that there could be much richer mobile web-based apps created, potentially in place of native apps. That kind of conclusion might not come as a surprise from Microsoft: they are far behind Android/Google (NSDQ: GOOG) and Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) when it comes to well-populated app stores. But it is a very true and valid point, nonetheless.
— Multitasking: One of the main detractions of Windows Phone 7 was that a user, for example, could not listen to music and check an e-mail at the same time. This will get corrected in the new version of the OS. “We don’t multitask third-party apps because we wanted to make sure that we had long-life capability,” said Belfiore. “So we are shipping multitasking that we think is the right balance.”
— XBox Kinect integration: This is a nifty-sounding addition to the platform, which plays into this idea using one Microsoft device to encourage users to buy more Microsoft devices. But it is perhaps only an idea that Microsoft had thought about after the holidays, when the Kinect sold so well. Belfiore demonstrated to the audience a gaming experience where one user played a Kinect-enabled dodge ball game, while two other people, using their phones tracked him and tried to hit him with balls.
Ballmer, back to the floor after the demos, told the audience that there are now 30,000 developers registered with Windows Phone, and the toolkit has been downloaded one million times: that shows “promise” for the platform, “But we know we’ve got a lot of work to do. The WP7 platform will only thrive with scale and variety.”
Scale will, of course, get a potentially massive boost with the announcement last week that Nokia (NYSE: NOK) will be making Windows Phone 7 into its primary smartphone platform in the future. (“Concept” phones, pictured, were revealed by Nokia yesterday.) That’s something that both Nokia and Microsoft are banking on. “Nokia has incredible capabilities, whether it’s industrial design or cameras or a broad, efficient supply chain,” said Ballmer. “We’re sure from that based that Nokia will deliver absolutly phenomenal capability.”
Elop made a brief appearance (his second with Ballmer; the first being last Friday) at the end of Ballmer’s keynote to bring that partnership home — how will that go down with Microsoft’s other OEM partners, I wonder? — but it will take more than regular appearances together to convince the market: Nokia’s share price has been in decline since the the news first broke last Friday.