updated 02:30 pm EST, Thu March 5, 2009
Ballmer on Win Mobile 6 5
Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer delivered a partial surprise at his company's Public Sector CIO Summit yesterday through remarks that his company's upcoming Windows Mobile 6.5 wasn't an intended part of the company's cellphone OS roadmap. Although the executive still considers 6.5 important, he noted the update is "not the full release [Microsoft] wanted" in 2009 and implied that it was filling in for possible delays that have put Windows Mobile 7's launch a year later, in 2010. Ballmer added that 6.5 is likely to fall short in some key, though unspecified, areas.
"We still don't get some of the things that people want on the highest-end phones," he said. "Those will come on Windows Mobile 7 next year."
What these features are wasn't elaborated at the CIO Summit, though Windows Mobile to date lacks support for capacitive touchscreens that would allow both more precise finger input as well as multi-touch gesturing. The 6.5 upgrade tries to mitigate this by introducing larger, touchscreen-sized buttons and other interface elements that would otherwise require a stylus to use comfortably. It also introduces a central mobile marketplace to compete against Apple's App Store and other competing portals.
In addressing the problem, the CEO noted Microsoft has chances to "accelerate" development and ensure that major updates come earlier in the release cycle. The company's Zune staff split and ensuing movement of some workers to the Windows Mobile team is believed to be a key part of the sped up development process.
Ballmer's statements follow criticism from attendees at the meeting that Windows Mobile is becoming steadily indefensible when end users voluntarily bring iPhones or the Android-based T-Mobile G1 into the workplace and voice a preference for their interfaces. The early Microsoft employee responded to the concerns both through the promise of Windows Mobile 7 as well as by claiming at least a short-term advantage in smartphone sales.
"We did sell more Windows Mobile devices last year than Apple did iPhones -- just an important factoid to have," he said. "Blackberry was a little bit ahead, and Google was nowhere to be seen, except in Silicon Valley, I'm sure."