Microsoft Sets the Date for a Windows Phone Reveal

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is widely expected to personally unveil more of the company's Windows Phone plans, including at peek at Windows Phone 7, at the opening of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona on Monday.

According to a media alert on Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) Web site, Ballmer will "discuss Windows phones."

The news marks the latest in what's become a closely watched waiting game, as industry watchers anticipate what's ahead in Microsoft's efforts to safeguard its position in mobile and better compete with Google Android, the Apple iPhone, and other rivals.

Microsoft officials, including Ballmer, have made no secret since the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January that the company plans to show off in Barcelona the latest incarnation of what had been previously known as Windows Mobile, and what has since become labeled Windows Phone 7. Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's Entertainment & Devices division, said as much during a presentation to financial analysts at CES.

Bach said he had the opportunity to "play" with Windows Phone 7, and that he felt it was not "evolutionary," but was instead "differentiated" and "something that feels, looks, acts, and performs as something completely different." He did not go into detail, however.

Meanwhile, later rumors pointed to the possibility that Microsoft will announce two new Windows Phone versions -- Windows Phone 7 (often just referred to as "Seven") and a potential "dot" release of Windows Phone -- numbered version 6.6 and meant to keep the 6.5 line of what used to be called Windows Mobile alive.

Rumors also have Microsoft displaying a Windows Phone 7-based mobile handset it designed itself and possibly plans to market under the Microsoft brand. That device is often -- referred to as having been codenamed "Pink."

The MWC show, which runs from Feb. 15 through 18, has become the worldwide premier event for the mobile industry.

Microsoft has been in the mobile device market for a decade but recently the small niche it had started to eke out in mobile solutions for business has been under assault. Additionally, the company has never had serious penetration into mobile consumer markets.

That means it's crucial for Microsoft to make a splash with operators, handset makers, and users.

In order to do so, however, many analysts have said that Microsoft will have to deliver what it promises and to do it on schedule.

Some rumors say that Microsoft may not deliver Windows Phone 7 until next year, for example, which would leave more time for other recent competitors like the Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone and Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) Android to become more firmly ensconced in the marketplace.

However, what will be in Windows Phone 7's feature set is another area that's rife with rumors and speculation.

Many of the speculative accounts have the system sporting a Zune-like user interface with touch capabilities, with 720p high-definition video, as well as a 5-megapixel camera. However, some have decried the system as missing the ability to multitask.

At least some of the questions are likely to be answered on Monday during Ballmer's press conference, which will be Webcast at 9 a.m. Eastern time.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.


Microsoft, Windows Phone 7, Mobile World Congress (MWC)