Microsoft Corp. on Tuesday showed off an update to its Windows Mobile software for "smart" phones, a category where it is facing substantial competition from Research in Motion's BlackBerry and Apple's iPhone.
The new version is aimed at making the software easier to use ??” an area where Windows Mobile is seen as having some catching up to do, particularly since the iPhone set a new standard for usability when it debuted last June.
Windows Mobile 6.1 also is designed to be simpler to set up, and has a new top menu modeled on that of the T-Mobile Shadow, which uses a variant of Windows Mobile modified by its manufacturer, HTC Corp. of Taiwan.
Text messages will now be displayed as "threads," or conversations, much like they are on the iPhone, instead of being shown one to a screen.
For the first time, cutting and pasting of text will now be possible on Windows Mobile phones that lack a touch screen, like the Samsung BlackJack series. This feature has long been available on BlackBerry phones.
Phones with the new software will be appearing in a few months, Microsoft said at the CTIA Wireless cell-phone industry trade show in Las Vegas. Some current phones, like the HTC Mogul sold by Sprint Nextel Corp. and the AT&T Tilt, will be upgradeable to the new version.
Later this year, Microsoft will be upgrading the Windows Mobile Web browser, again to bring the experience closer to that of the iPhone. Pages will render more like they do in the desktop version of Internet Explorer, and the user will be able to look at an entire Web page at once, or zoom into it.
While competition is tough in the space, the category as a whole is growing, as more consumers see the advantages of "smart" phones that do much more than calling and text messaging. Microsoft sold 14.3 million licenses to cell-phone manufacturers last year, a doubling since 2005, said Scott Rockfeld, product manager for Microsoft's mobile group. Four of the five largest cell-phone manufacturers make Windows Mobile phones. The holdout is the largest of them all, Nokia Corp.