Microsoft Places its Smartphone Bet on Windows Mobile 6.5

Software giant Microsoft has formally launched Windows Mobile 6.5, the latest version of its mobile operating system that it hopes will be able to compete with offerings from the likes of Palm, RIM, Google, Nokia, and Apple. And while Microsoft also showcased Windows Mobile 6.5 handsets—now dubbed Windows phones—from makers like HTC and Samsung, Microsoft made clear that part of the appeal of Windows Mobile is that the platform will offer a wide range of device options form a number of carriers, rather than locking consumers into a handful of devices from a restricted list of operators.

HTC Pure

“We all want to connect quickly to the people and information that’s important to us from across our lives at work and at home,” said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, in a statement. “A Windows phone lets people take their entire world of digital information, communications, applications, and entertainment with them wherever they go.”

Microsoft touts Windows Mobile as its easiest-to-use and most customizable mobile operating system yet, with features that enable it to be tailored to both enterprise and business customers (who are mostly concerned with email, calendaring, and document functions) to consumers (who are often concerned with social networking, entertainment, and media). Industry opinions are mixed: while most agree that Windows Mobile 6.5 is a cosmetic improvement over Windows Mobile 6.0 and previous editions, most agree the new features and capabilities—including Microsoft’s own Windows Mobile application store—are somewhat underwhelming. The primary selling points of Windows Mobile devices seem to be the operating systems’ exclusive and near-exclusive features: mobile version of Microsoft Office applications, enterprise-level support for Exchange email and communications services. Many say they plan to wait for Windows Mobile 7, which promises to be a more-comprehensive rewrite to bring make Windows Mobile more competitive with other smartphone operating systems.

Microsoft showcased four handsets running Windows Mobile 6.5: the HTC Pure, the HTC Imagio, the Samsung Intrepid, and the HTC Tilt 2. The HTC Pure and Imagio fall on the consumer side of the fence, designed for one-handed operation and offering 3.6-inch touchscreens. The Samsung Intrepid and HTC Tilt 2 offer integrated and slide-out QWERTY keyboards (respectively) aimed more at the business crowd. Microsoft says additional Windows Mobile 6.5 handsets are due from makers like HP, Acer, LG, Sony, Toshiba, Sony Ericsson, and others in short order.