BARCELONA – With its new Nokia deal and some significant platform improvements, Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 is poised to expand in 2011, Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer and other Microsoft executives said her at the Mobile World Congress trade show today.
“Nokia’s involvement … will drive volume, will create new innovation and products, and will accelerate the adoption of the Windows Phone platform,” Ballmer said during a keynote presentation. “The additional energy that comes with this announcement … will help consumers get new hardware, fresh choices, and amazing services.”
“Nokia’s support will help Windows Phone overall to build strength versus the other eco-systems,” Ballmer continued.
Those other eco-systems include Android. Ballmer took a page from Steve Jobs’s playbook to ding Google for what he considers to be a fragmented platform.
Microsoft is working to ensure that innovation “doesn’t lead to the kind of fragmentation for developers that other platforms in the phone arena are currently experiencing,” Ballmer said. “That’s going to allow more phone designs at a broader range of price points and more exciting new apps and experiences for Windows Phone customers than we can imagine.”
Windows Phone 7 debuted in the U.S. this fall with several devices on AT&T and T-Mobile. Sprint and Verizon will join the club in 2011, both carriers have said. While the platform has a small market share relative to Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS operating systems, the new deal with Nokia is likely to increase that.
“We’re off to a strong start, we know we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Ballmer said. He pledged to make Windows Phone the most “operator-friendly platform available” and invest significantly “to continue popularizing the product.”
Nokia CEO Stephen Elop made an appearance at Ballmer’s keynote, and said that Microsoft will help Nokia address the challenges of re-entering the U.S. market. “The world is shifting from a battle of devices to a war of eco-systems,” Elop said. (For more, see PCMag’s interview with Elop from earlier today).
In terms of Windows Phone capability, Ballmer said that copy and paste, Twitter integration, a form of multitasking, and Internet Explorer 9 are all coming to Windows Phone in 2011. The multitasking will be similar to Apple’s, Microsoft executives said. Initially, it will focus on being able to play media in the background and being able to resume paused applications very quickly. By tapping and holding on a Windows Phone’s Back button, you’ll be able to pull up a stack of recent items, pick one, and jump right back in where you left off.
Microsoft also announced that SkyDrive support services will offer users the ability to access cloud-based Microsoft Office programs via their phone.
On IE9, “the core browsing engine on IE9 that ships on PCs is the same core browsing engine that will ship on phones,” Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of Windows Phone, said during a demo. “This is good for developers, he said, because “when Web site developers create a site; if it works well on the PC, it’ll work well on the phone, too.”
Microsoft has avoided third-party multi-tasking, meanwhile, because “we want to make sure a user has a long, predictable life for their battery,” Belfiore said. “We’re going to ship a multi-tasking approach that does the right balance of protecting the user’s battery” and providing multi-tasking.
A first update will come within four weeks containing copy and paste and a faster launch/resume process for applications, but not multitasking or IE9. Although operators have to approve the updates, Microsoft execs said they don’t see a problem with operators delaying Windows Phone updates.
Microsoft execs also said they are working on full integration with XBox Live gaming. In a dodgeball game played on an XBox with Kinect, for instance, people standing in the same room can use their phones to fire and steer balls at the main player.
Playing live-action games over mobile networks is a bit more of a challenge because of the long latency times involved, but that may become easier when Windows Phone 7 supports 4G wireless systems. There’s no 4G support in the platform yet.
One thing we didn’t hear was about updates to Windows Phone’s “chassis.” Microsoft’s strict hardware spec for the phones requires the use of now-older Qualcomm processors. Chassis updates are coming, Microsoft insists, but the company didn’t give any details. Nokia has said it intends to produce lower-cost Windows phones, and Nokia has a long-term relationship with TI, so we’re thinking we may hear more from Nokia soon on that.
Microsoft promised to deliver more details on Windows Phone’s evolution at the MIX conference this April.