Microsoft’s plan to get back in the phone game

Microsoft’s efforts to regain lost ground in the mobile phone business will see the company offering two different versions of its operating system next year.

The company will continue to broadly sell Windows Mobile 6.5 to a large variety of handset makers, while working more closely with several handset makers to sell phones built on a new version of Windows Mobile that has been several years in the making, according to a source familiar with the company’s plans.

While Windows Mobile 6.5 is a fairly interim update to the mobile operating system that Microsoft has been selling, Microsoft has also been working on more radical efforts to overhaul the operating system. Both its plans for Windows Mobile 7 and its long-running “Pink” project aim to match the kinds of experiences seen on the iPhone and Android, using more advanced voice and touch interfaces and higher-end hardware.

Microsoft demonstrated Windows Mobile 6.5 at the GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. That interim update to Windows Mobile will start arriving on phones this fall, while a more radical overhaul of Redmond’s cell phone OS is due next year.

(Credit: Marguerite Reardon/CNET News)

A Digitimes report this week called the effort a “dual-platform” strategy, although I’m not sure I’d use that term to describe two versions of Windows Mobile being sold at the same time.

What is clear is that Microsoft needs to do something serious if it hopes to live up to its mobile ambitions. For years now, the company has made rather modest updates to the Windows Mobile operating system, which dates back to the days of code powered PDAs and other organizers that were neither phones nor, in some cases, even connected to the Internet.

In that same time, Palm has gone back to the drawing board and reinvented itself with the WebOS-based Pre, while the iPhone and Android have entered the market and even Research In Motion has arguably done more to capture consumer interest than has Microsoft.

Internally, Redmond has shifted a number of its people into the mobile unit. In addition to former server executive Andy Lees, who now runs the phone business, former Mac Business unit chief Roz Ho has been leading a top secret “premium mobile experiences” team responsible for some of the “Pink” work. The company purchased Danger, known for creating the teen-centered T-Mobile Sidekick, and Ho heads that unit as well.

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CNETNews Microsoft’s plan to get back in the phone game

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