At a Mobile World Congress keynote this afternoon, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and corporate VP Joe Belfiore showed off a number of new features for Windows Phone 7, including improved multitasking, IE 9 for phones; and better connections to Office documents and Xbox. Along with Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, they made the case for Windows Phone as a platform.
Ballmer said the first update to Windows Phone would be shipping in early March, with features like cut and paste. Later this year, he promised multitasking as expected. In addition, he said the company would be shipping Internet Explorer 9 for the phone, complete with hardware graphics acceleration and HTML 5 support. He also promised full Twitter integration into the “hubs” experience on the phone.
Belfiore showed an early build of a version later this year, starting with a new version of the Office hub, which already includes corporate connections to SharePoint, will now let consumers and small businesses connect to the SkyDrive service where people can store and edit documents online. This includes access to your own documents or to shared documents. It seems quite useful.
He also showed IE 9, which he said had better standards support for things like HTML 5 while taking great advantage of the hardware. He said the core browsing engine on IE would be the same on the phone as on the PC, and showed the “fish IE” demo that worked much faster than Safari on the iPhone. Other demos included a mock IMDB site using the native video tag for HTML5 using the H.264 protocol for streaming high definition video.
For multitasking, he showed the Rise of Glory fighter plane simulation switching to a phone call. In today’s systems, he said it could take 4 seconds or so, while in the new system, it was nearly instantaneous. In addition, he showed a new “task switching” menu you reach by pressing and holding the back button, the phone would show the recently loaded applications. He also showed third-party music applications, in this case, Slacker, continuing to run while running other applications. (You can do this now with the built-in music player, but not third-party versions.)
For games, he showed a video of a Windows Phone being used as a controller while playing Xbox and Kinect games.
Ballmer talked about the importance of having partners in building an ecosystem, pointing out device makers such as Nokia, Samsung, LG Dell, and HTC; carrier partners; and software partners. He said there were now over 8,000 applications in the marketplace with 30,000 registered developers and 1 million Visual Studio downloads. He said Microsoft was committed to allowing differentiation in the phones without experiencing the fragmentation other platforms have seen.
He said Microsoft was providing its operating system and back-end services; while Nokia had its own strengths such as industrial design, supply chain, and logistics. In addition, he said Nokia services in areas like mapping and navigation would be part of the entire Microsoft infrastructure “wherever Bing goes.”
Elop said Microsoft and Nokia was a natural partnership, pointing to three areas where the two complement each other: Nokia’s hardware and industrial design and Microsoft’s software; Nokia’s strengths in the global market and Microsoft’s stronger position in the U.S.; and the combination of services from the two companies. He said this would help them build a more competitive platform; work well with operators; and offer more choices to developers and most importantly, consumers.
Things like hardware acceleration in the browser and better connectivity to Office documents and Xbox are areas where Windows Phone seems to have areas of real differentiation. But it will have to bring these things to market quickly and attract a lot of developer support if it’s really going to build the third ecosystem.
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