There were no big Windows Mobile announcements in the Microsoft keynote at CES - and no details of Windows Mobile 7. Instead, there was a roll call of the 11 phones that have sold over a million units each and the 20 million Windows Mobile units sold in the last year.
That range of devices is how Windows Mobile will compete with the iPhone, says Senior Product Manager Greg Sullivan. "We don't have just one Windows Mobile phone and we do a pay a price for that by missing out on some degree of recognition. We don't have just one iconic phone: we have eleven million-selling phones.
"We have the notion of choice; I can run that version of Windows on whatever phone I like. And it doesn't stop with the hardware underlying your platform; it includes the network I use it on. It's very important not only to choose the mobile operator you prefer, but to be able to move to another network if you change your mind. You have choice in terms of services and applications... and you can also choose where you buy that. I can download from Handango or go to the Microsoft Total Access site. We believe one size does not fit all."
New apps on Windows Mobile
Ballmer showed off the Netflix app, which Sullivan points out is the first official mobile Netflix application on any platform, which lets you look at your queue of movies, browse for new titles to order, get a preview and choose what to watch first when you get home.
Windows Mobile also has a new Pandora application (for US users). The Sony Ericsson Facebook panel for the Experia X1 isn't actually new, though Sullivan says it proves Windows Mobile isn't just for business any more:
"I can scroll through and see what all my friends are doing. It's fun just to play with and that's something we're appreciating more. You used to hear Microsoft brag about the density of information on the home screen: I want to see my appointments and how many emails I have, a very dense display of information on my home screen. It turns out some people are at least as interested in the aesthetics and how it feels and to play with it and the animations - and that is important as well."
What is new is a service from MSN Direct called Microsoft Tag; multi-coloured triangular barcodes that can be used like 2D barcodes for tagging objects and looking up information with a Windows Mobile application.
The advantage is that they store more information and they can be recognised even without being in focus, so you don't need a macro lens on your mobile phone. Microsoft Surface will switch to using the new tags instead of its own hexagonal barcodes and Microsoft is selling kits for creating tags for posters, business cards, retail packaging, museums and anywhere else you want people to be able to look up information.
A new version of the Live Search for Windows Mobile client came out during CES as well, using the cell tower your phone is connected to for location.
And there were some brief demos of the long-awaited IE Mobile with Flash and FlashLite 3.1 support. This will be on new Windows Mobile devices in the first quarter of 2009, but Sullivan confirmed that you won't be able to upgrade existing handsets: "There are very particular hardware requirements - not just the processor but the RAM and even the ROM version. It would just be a very limited number of handsets that we could upgrade and that would be very confusing for consumers."
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Mary (Twitter, Google+, website) started her career at Future Publishing, saw the AOL meltdown first hand the first time around when she ran the AOL UK computing channel, and she's been a freelance tech writer for over a decade. She's used every version of Windows and Office released, and every smartphone too, but she's still looking for the perfect tablet. Yes, she really does have USB earrings.