Ballmer: Windows Mobile 6.5 set for H2 2009, so whither WM7?

Developers seeking a complete functionality overhaul for future Windows Mobile-based smartphones may have to wait until late in 2010, as comments from Microsoft's CEO indicate the next WM version is just a refresh.

Last October 30, Motorola Mobile Devices CEO Sanjay Jha made an off-the-cuff remark during Motorola's quarterly conference call, saying his company was planning for Windows Mobile 6.5 in the second half of 2009. Effectively confirming that date, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer last Thursday told analysts attending a conference in Melbourne, Australia, in conjunction with its carrier partner Telstra that the next wave of mobility features will be realized in Windows Mobile 6.5 -- not Windows Mobile 7 -- due in H2 2009.

In responding to a question from one analyst about what Microsoft is doing to catch up in the functionality department against competitors such as Research in Motion and Apple, Ballmer said, "Everybody's racing, because we're still very early in the game. This year, there'll be about 1.2 billion, something like that, mobile phones sold around the world; and maybe, maybe, on a global basis, 100 million are smartphones...Most of the innovation's in front of us. We've been trying to take a broad approach. That's why we don't build hardware; we only build software, and we'd like to have smart software that ranges from low-cost devices to high-cost devices, from the business market to the consumer market.

"In a way, life's simpler; and in a way, we've seen good work on that approach done from Apple and BlackBerry, and I congratulate them," Microsoft's CEO continued. "But I also know that in the last year, our partners sold almost 20 million Windows Mobile devices -- more than either Apple or BlackBerry. It's a little bit more what I would call 'lunch bucket' -- it's not just high-end, very expensive stuff. And with releases we'll make this year, releases we'll make with Windows Mobile 6.5 next year, Windows Mobile 7, I think we've got a pretty interesting roadmap, and certainly one that we're really excited with our engagement with Telstra on."

Ballmer's remark was first noticed by blogger Edward J.R. on MSMobiles.com.

Jha's comments late last month came in response to an analyst who asked for some guidance as to how much market share Motorola expects to regain in successive quarters. The co-CEO responded first by declining to give further guidance, then following up with some further guidance, saying that a lot depends on other events.

"My view is that we will start launching smartphones on Windows Mobile Platform 6.5 in second half next year, and for Christmas season, based on Android platform, and in '10, we will deliver a much richer portfolio based on both of these two platforms," Jha stated. (Our thanks to Seeking Alpha for the transcript.)

Speculation about the potential content of WM7 began earlier this year, with rumors that the new smartphone environment would be more music-intensive. That could create a situation, some said, where WM7-based handsets competed directly with -- and could conceivably outclass -- Microsoft's own Zune MP3 player.

Update banner (stretched)

11:20 am EST November 10, 2008 - A Microsoft spokesperson told BetaNews this morning that any comment Steve Ballmer may have made during the Telstra conference should have been treated as candid, and not as part of any official company roadmap. The spokesperson could not comment on the Motorola co-CEO's statement.

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