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Microsoft Puts Windows Phone on MIX Agenda

Microsoft on Wednesday tacitly acknowledged that it will have something to say after all about its next-generation mobile platform, including a possible Windows Phone in March.

In a Wednesday update to its MIX10 agenda, Microsoft indicated that it will have sessions for developers looking to build new applications and games for its next-generation Windows Phone. The move comes just two weeks after all references to Windows Mobile were removed from the MIX sessions list.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took heat from critics for not having anything new to say about the company's mobile efforts during his keynote address at this month's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. While some are wondering whether any news will surface at next month's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, to date no senior Microsoft executives are on the keynote roster.

Microsoft had indicated in November 2009's Professional Developers Conference that news would come in the timeframe of MIX, the company's annual gathering of Web designers and developers. In the Wednesday session post, Microsoft offered only cryptic information.

The future of Windows Mobile has been a major topic of discussion for some time, as rivals Apple, Research In Motion and Google have shot past Microsoft in functionality, mindshare and (perhaps most troubling to the company) market share.

Although Microsoft remains mum on future releases of the Windows Mobile platform, analysts this week have stepped up speculation that multiple offerings based on a Windows Mobile 7 kernel are in the works.

A research note on Tuesday by Katherine Egbert, a software research analyst at Jefferies and Co., suggested that based on "industry checks," Microsoft is on the cusp of introducing its own mobile phone.

"We expect Microsoft to debut its long-rumored 'Pink' phone within the next two months," Egbert wrote. "We believe the phone will be based on Windows Mobile 7, which has not yet been made generally available."

That long-rumored device could be based on the remnants of Microsoft's acquisition of Danger, maker of the Sidekick device.

"I suspect that will be a tightly locked-down device," said Directions on Microsoft analyst Matt Rosoff in an interview.

Speculation was also on the rise in the blogosphere this week about plans for multiple Windows Mobile SKUs in development. WMExperts, a site devoted to covering Windows Mobile news, reported on Monday that it has heard a business and media version may be in the works. Though WMExperts said the information came from multiple anonymous sources, the plans remain unconfirmed. It was not clear whether the media version would have a Zune-like interface, though the report raised that possibility.

"It's hard to know because they are not saying anything, but the idea of multiple SKUs, that's not new. Microsoft does that with Windows today," Rosoff said. "Microsoft seems committed to the idea of supporting a lot of different form factors, not being bound to any carrier or any particular handset maker. That's very different from what Apple does. It's more like what Google is doing with Android, although I think Microsoft wants to have a little more control than that."

Building a business-focused phone without games and multimedia features may make sense for certain enterprise customers who just want to focus on personal and group productivity and using line-of-business applications, Rosoff said. A media edition, meanwhile, would let it compete for consumers.

Rosoff and others don't believe Microsoft will release a phone that is unlocked, as Google did with Nexus One earlier this month. Nor is it likely that Microsoft will release a Zune-based phone using Apple's iPhone manufacturing and distribution model. But Rosoff didn't rule out Microsoft releasing a device that emphasizes the Zune brand and feature set. "Microsoft wants to sell software and services," he said.

"Will they be able to execute? I have no idea," Rosoff added. "I don't have a lot of faith in their execution just based on what I have seen so far, but it's too early to tell. You've got to give them a chance to get their latest crop of mobile OSes out there before you can really judge them."

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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