Microsoft Planning Windows Phone Updates

Microsoft today announced forthcoming updates to Windows phones at the Mobile World Congress event taking place this week in Barcelona, Spain.

Two updates are planned. There will be a free update to all Windows phone users in the first two weeks of March this year. That update will consist of adding copy and paste functionality plus a Windows phone performance enhancement.

Additional Microsoft and third-party product integration will happen with the second update, which Microsoft has mapped out for release sometime in the second half of this year. Microsoft expects to make the Windows phone platform available more broadly via CDMA networks through partnerships with Verizon and Sprint. The phones are currently available from 60 operators in 30 countries, Microsoft has previously indicated.

Twitter integration will be part of Microsoft's third-party app support planned for the second half of 2011. The social networking app will be integrated into the Windows phone's "people hub." Microsoft also plans to integrate its own Windows Live SkyDrive cloud storage space with Windows phones sometime in that same time period. SkyDrive, a free document storage service for Office Live Web Apps, has been used by more than 70 million people, according to Microsoft.

Internet Explorer 9, now available for PCs as a release candidate version, will be available to work on Windows phones too. Integration is planned for the second half of 2011. Emerging HTML 5 standards will be supported in the Windows phone version of the browser, allowing native support for video, without requiring add-ons. IE 9 for Windows phone will also tap the graphics acceleration capabilities enabled by phone's hardware.

According to a blog post by Dean Hachamovitch, corporate vice president of Internet Explorer, the PC and phone versions of IE 9 both use the same browsing engine. In addition, Windows phone IE 9 users will have access to the same SmartScreen reputation service available with the PC version. This SmartScreen feature helps ward off malware by sending a warning to users before they visit suspect Web sites. Hachamovitch also indicated that the newly introduced tracking protection privacy feature, which is part of the release candidate version of IE 9 for PCs, will be available on Windows phones -- presumably in the second half of this year.

Microsoft showed off multitasking capabilities of the Windows phone platform at the Mobile World Congress event. The phone can run two games at once. It can run an application in the background, such as streaming music, while the user switches to other apps. These capabilities will be available on Windows phones in the second half of 2011. Microsoft plans to provide more details at its MIX event in April.

In the meantime, developers can write apps that use the copy-and-paste feature today, as well as mobile HTML 5-based apps, a Microsoft blog post explained. Microsoft first announced its Windows phone products in November and now there are more than 8,000 apps available in its Marketplace. In addition, more than 30,000 developers have registered with Microsoft on the Windows phone platform, the company claims.

Microsoft earlier announced a strategic alliance with No. 1 smartphone vendor Nokia, which was announced late last week. Microsoft is already working with Nokia on a Windows phone device, according to Microsoft CEO Ballmer. However, the phones may not be seen until next year. Andy Lees, president of Microsoft's Mobile Communications Business unit, indicated in a blog post that Microsoft is preparing "to deliver significant volume of Nokia Windows Phones in 2012."

Nokia will use Windows Phone as its primary smartphone platform. The company will continue to sell phones based on its open source Symbian platform, but that effort will wind down. In an analyst briefing today, Lees talked briefly about Qt, Nokia's cross-platform Web app development platform. He said that Microsoft will be helping Nokia's developers with the transition from Qt to the Windows phone platform. Lees didn't elaborate on what that might mean.

Lees said that Microsoft was selected by Nokia "through a rigorous evaluation process," over a few months' time. He said that operators want a balance of ecosystems, adding that other ecosystem providers are increasingly seen as "hostile" by using their platforms to control relationships with customers. That idea was a major Microsoft talking point. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said at Mobile World Congress that the mobile phone business has moved from being a device battle to a platform battle.

Microsoft still hasn't fixed some existing issues with Windows phone, according to comments in Lees' blog post. One reader complained that the camera does not save settings. Another asked for Windows Live Messenger support. One person complained that the Windows phone Marketplace isn't available in India and Sweden, even though the phones are sold there.

Also there was no talk at Mobile World Congress about enterprise integration during Microsoft's presentation at the event. SharePoint support and Windows phone management features likely will be big selling points for corporate adoption. However, right now, Microsoft seems just focused on persuading consumers that Windows phones are the hot ticket.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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