Microsoft Aims Windows Mobile Guns At Apple, Google

In a Wednesday report, the Taiwan-based tech journal DigiTimes said Microsoft plans to use both Windows Mobile 6.5 and Windows Mobile 7 to compete with Google's Android and Apple's iPhone.

Quoting unnamed sources with knowledge of Microsoft's road map, DigiTimes said Microsoft plans to launch Windows Mobile 6.5 on Oct. 1 and then follow that with an upgrade next February that adds a touch-screen interface.

Windows Mobile 7, which Microsoft has said will offer a user experience commensurate with that of the highest-end smartphones, won't launch until the fourth quarter of 2010, according to DigiTimes. Microsoft hasn't offered a timetable for Windows Mobile 7, but its industry partners expect it to arrive early next year. The oft-delayed Windows Mobile 7 has been linked to the reported struggles of Microsoft's top-secret 'Pink' smartphone project.

When Windows Mobile 7 is completed, Microsoft will cut the price of Windows Mobile 6.5 and go to market with both versions, using the former to compete with the iPhone and the latter to compete with Android devices, DigiTimes reported.

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Given Microsoft's Windows Mobile struggles and the software giant's borderline clinical obsession with both Apple and Google, all of this sounds extremely plausible. However, Microsoft declined to comment on the DigiTimes report.

"We have said we will deliver new Windows phones this fall and we remain on track to do that," a Microsoft spokesperson said in an e-mail. "We have nothing new to say about future versions."

Microsoft in February introduced the term "Windows phone" to describe devices running Windows Mobile and services. While this was interpreted as an effort to rebrand Windows Mobile, it's actually part of Microsoft's strategy of portraying Windows as a hub for the "three screens" of PCs, mobile devices and televisions.

At Microsoft's financial analyst meeting last month, Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices division, said Microsoft will continue to invest in and build on the brand of Windows phones, and also will strive for "dramatic improvement" in integrating Windows Mobile with devices built by hardware partners.

"To date, we haven't done as good a job as I would like in building the relationships and getting the right level of integration with our hardware OEMs," Bach said at the event.

But even if Microsoft were to launch Windows Mobile 7 today, the iPhone's momentum would likely continue to cause insomnia within Microsoft's executive ranks. Apple sold 5.2 million iPhones in its most recent quarter, and RBC Capital Markets recently predicted that Apple will sell 31.4 million iPhones in its 2010 fiscal year and 82 million iPhones in fiscal 2012.

Meanwhile, Microsoft officials continue to put on a brave face with respect to the iPhone. Last month, Bach said the Windows Mobile 6.5 Web browsing experience will be better than that of the iPhone, and Steven Hegenderfer, group product manager of Windows Mobile, said it's too early to assume that Apple will be the dominant player in mobile applications. Microsoft has also begun luring iPhone developers over to Windows Mobile.

While it's still early days in the mobile industry, Microsoft will have to start figuring out how to deliver more quickly on its Windows phone vision or Apple and other industry foes are just going to continue padding their already sizable lead in the space.