Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 6.5 Arrives

The global roll-out of Microsoft’s new fleet of Windows Mobile 6.5 phones is underway as Redmond also lifts the curtains on its new app store.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) is supporting the new devices with two new services. The first, Windows Marketplace for Mobile, lets customers buy and download apps directly to their phones, and marks the software giant’s long-awaited entry into the mobile app store realm.

The second service, My Phone, lets users sync and back up information on their phones — such as contacts, appointments, messages, photos and videos — to a password-protected Web site.

Also new with the crop of handset debuting today is the branding, as the family of devices are being called “Windows phones,” and will feature logos to differentiate them on retail shelves.

The new phones promise an improved feature for Windows Live photo sharing across social networking sites such as Facebook, Flickr and Twitter, as well as the ability to sync files on the phone through Windows Live Media Manager and play media files with Windows Media Player.

The devices also boast enhanced e-mail management to sync Outlook Mobile and Exchange Server, and the ability to use PowerPoint and open and edit Word and Excel documents through Microsoft Office Mobile. Microsoft has also redesigned Windows Internet Explorer mobile browser with Adobe Flash Lite2.

Though the roll-out includes dozens of phones for overseas markets, the smartphones available in the United States include the HTC Pure and HTC Tilt 2, available through AT&T, the Samsung Intrepid from Sprint, and HTC Imagio, available on Verizon’s network.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer marked the roll-out with a press event at the company’s campus in the Paris suburb of Issy-Les-Moulineaux.

“These phones are only the beginning of a stream of mobile innovations that will be coming from Microsoft and our partners,” Ballmer said. “Over the coming months you’ll see a regular drumbeat of exciting new devices from our partners and updates to our software to keep pace with evolving customer demands around browsing, touch and multi-touch capabilities, to name a few. So stay tuned.”

The company’s partners are expected to deliver more than 30 new phones in more than 20 countries by the end of the year, according to Microsoft’s Stephanie Ferguson, a general manager of the business mobile team. “Not everyone wants the same model or the same service provider. We give people choice,” Ferguson said in a statement.

This expansion overseas is critical to the long-term success of the Windows Mobile operating system, according to recent data issued by research firm iSuppli.

Despite the heavy competition from new entries, namely Palm’s (NASDAQ: PALM) webOS, Google’s (NASDAQ: GOOG) Android and former partner Motorola’s turn toward Android, the use of Windows Mobile in smartphones is slated to triple from 2009 to 2013, according to research firm iSuppli.

By 2013, almost 68 million smartphones will run Windows Mobile, up from 27.7 million this year. On the global stage, that mark would give Microsoft’s mobile operating system the No. 2 ranking with a market share of 15.3 percent, trailing only Nokia’s (NYSE: NOK) Symbian, which will command 47.6 percent of the OS market, according to iSuppli’s projection.

Although Windows Mobile is expected to fall to third place in the smartphone OS market for 2009, the swell in usage will allow it to retake the second-place position it held in 2008 by 2012.

“The battle over smartphone software has spread beyond the operating systems,” said iSuppli analyst Tina Teng. “To win in today’s environment, a company needs not only an operating system but also device support, an application store, a broad portfolio of applications and support from the developer community. While Windows Mobile is losing some share to competitors in 2009, most of the alternatives cannot match Microsoft’s complete suite of offerings.”

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