Developers in Microsoft's Windows Mobile team have apparently let slip the news that Microsoft has finally finished work on Windows Mobile 6.5, although it's unclear how much impact that milestone will have on Microsoft's ability to keep pace with smartphone market competitors.
Last Thursday, Windows Mobile developers posted a Twitter message heralding the completion of Windows Mobile 6.5, which Microsoft had been expected to launch at its TechEd conference last week.
"For the record, Windows Mobile 6.5 is DONE... complete... looks really good IOHO and every bit functional. ping us if u want to know more," the Windows Mobile Developer team said in the Twitter post.
A Microsoft spokesperson confirmed that Windows Mobile 6.5 has been released to manufacturing and said 20 phone makers and mobile operators, including Acer, HP, HTC, LG, Orange and Toshiba, have signed on to support Windows Mobile 6.5.
"We expect support from several more partners, but we have nothing further to announce today," according to the spokesperson, who said Microsoft expects Windows Mobile 6.5 phones to arrive in the second half of the year.
Microsoft unveiled Windows Mobile 6.5 in February at the Mobile World Congress and highlighted its improved touch-screen user interface and navigation, but has positioned Windows Mobile 6.5 as a stopgap until Windows Mobile 7 arrives.
Windows Mobile 7 has been repeatedly delayed and devices aren't expected until spring of 2010, and in the meantime, Microsoft is falling behind the rest of the smartphone market. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has acknowledged the need for faster Windows Mobile development.
Windows Mobile is strong in the business world, and in terms of sales to end users, accounted for 11.8 percent of the market in 2008, compared to 8.2 percent for the iPhone, 16.6 percent for BlackBerry, and 52.4 percent for Symbian, according to Gartner.
The problem for Microsoft is that hard-charging competitors like the iPhone and BlackBerry are gobbling up a consumer market that Windows Mobile has yet to crack. And Google's Android phones continue to attract attention from device-makers looking to shave costs.
Windows Mobile 7 delays have also impaired Microsoft's ability to make a game-changing splash in the mobility market. Microsoft's long-rumored 'Pink' smartphone project, which reportedly consists of Microsoft software running on a third-party device, was originally intended to tap into the underlying technologies of Windows Mobile 7.
But Windows Mobile delays have forced developers to use other, less advanced Microsoft technologies, casting the future of Pink into doubt, according to sources familiar with the project.
This article updated at 1:45 PDT to add official comment from Microsoft on the Windows Mobile 6.5 RTM