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Microsoft Hits Reset With Windows Phone 7

At the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona on Monday, Microsoft took the wraps off Windows Phone 7, a redesigned version of Windows Mobile with integrated services and a more consumer-oriented message.

If Windows Mobile was too closely aligned to business users, Windows Phone 7 is Microsoft's attempt to reshape it into something that's more appealing to consumers.

"At the end of the day, this really is all about the phone and how consumers will react to these devices," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in a press conference at the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona.

In addition to games and video, every Windows Phone will have a dedicated hardware button for Bing search, as well as integrated Office apps and a built-in feature that automatically synchronizes photos from the device to PCs and Web photo storage sites.

Windows Phone 7 comes with six hubs labeled People, Pictures, Games, Music + Video, Marketplace, and Office. The Windows Phone 7 Start screen features icons called "live tiles," which can provide a continually updating view of a friend's latest photos and social networking chatter.

Joining Ballmer onstage at the MWC press conference was Joe Belfiore, vice president of Windows Phone at Microsoft, who said the focus on integrated experiences in Windows Phone 7 will allow users to take better advantage of downtime.

"We think that this altogether is really a different kind of phone that will work great for busy people whose lives are constantly in motion and want to make the most of every little moment they have available," Belfiore said.

Microsoft says Windows Phone 7 devices will arrive in stores in time for the holiday season, and device makers include Samsung, LG, Sony-Ericsson and HTC. Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Verizon and Vodafone will be among the carriers supporting Windows Phones. Microsoft will also continue to invest in Windows Mobile 6.5, Ballmer said at the event.

In a video segment shown at the press conference, Microsoft talked about how today's smartphones are becoming increasingly less differentiated from each other, and how devices' inability to run more than one application at a time is frustrating users. Windows Phone 7 is positioned as the solution to these problems, and Microsoft's re-birth messaging is seen in the video's proclamation: "This isn't the next chapter in the story of the smartphone -- this is a new beginning."

With Windows Phone 7, Microsoft is hoping to halt the steady market share slide that Windows Mobile has been experiencing. Given the fierce competition that exists in this market, Windows Phones will have to offer something that competitors do not, but Microsoft says it has learned much from its Windows Mobile missteps.

"There's no question that we had to step back ... recast and reform the strategy and approach, and I think we're well on our way to making progress in something that's pretty exciting," Ballmer said.

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