Is Microsoft Ready to Unveil Windows Phone 7?

It’s official — or at least “semi-official.” The long awaited Windows Phone 7 is apparently set to be shown at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next month.

At least, that clearly was the tone of hints that Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) Entertainment and Devices Division, dropped during a meeting with financial analysts in Las Vegas Thursday, during the first day of the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

Asked by one analyst whether Microsoft would showcase the much rumored Windows Phone 7 — also referred to as Windows Mobile 7 — the replacement for Windows Mobile 6 and 6.5 — at the mobile show in Spain in mid-February, Bach appeared to say Yes.

“I have had the pleasure … to look at it and play with it, and I’m confident that people will look at it as differentiated, as something that sets the bar forward — not in an evolutionary way, but something that feels, looks, acts, and performs as something completely different,” Bach answered.

Although Microsoft has been extremely reticent to talk about Windows Phone 7 since word of it first leaked out more than a year ago, analysts say that the company must come out with a mobile operating system that competes favorably with Apple’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone and Google’s (NASDAQ: GOOG) Android soon or lose out in the mobile market going forward.

“We’re going to have new things we’ll talk about at the Mobile World Congress,” Bach said, although he didn’t go farther.

But he also appeared open to admitting Microsoft’s stumbles in the mobile area to date.

“Our [mobile user] experience is very skewed towards business users, and it’s not as modern as it needs to be … the number one thing we’ve got to do going forward is about the experience people have with the phone itself.”

He did not go into features that are on the docket for Windows Phone 7 — and indeed, he never directly used the name. However, one area that Windows Mobile 6.5, which rolled out last year and started showing up on mobile handsets as of last October, gives faint lip service to is support for multi-touch screens like the iPhone provides. Support for full multi-touch screens is considered a requirement for Windows Phone 7 in order to compete.

Mobile World Congress is scheduled for February 15 through 18.

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