Microsoft expected to launch 'Pink' smartphone on April 12

Whatever Microsoft does, it needs to build mobile momentum, analyst says

Microsoft Corp. is sending out invitations to an April 12 mystery event for press and analysts that could be the unveiling of a new smartphone code-named Pink or a new tablet/e-reader, code-named Courier, that opens like a book with dual screens.

Neither product has been confirmed by Microsoft officially, and Microsoft officials could not be reached today for comment. Various sources have pieced together tidbits and photos of each device based on unnamed sources and rumors.

Engadget, which received an invitation via "snail mail," said the mystery event will be held in San Francisco and has been described cryptically with the phrase "It's time to share."

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, who also got one of the mystery invitations, said the event could be to announce the rumored Pink phone, the Courier or something else. "I'd be surprised if it's Pink, since that was expected later in the year," he said.

However, an industry source who asked not to be named said the event will focus on Pink.

Early versions of the Pink device have been shown to several analysts who said they had seen it but were not allowed to discuss it under nondisclosure agreements.

Several of those analysts, all of whom asked not to be named, said that Microsoft's forthcoming smartphone seems to share elements of the Windows Phone 7 Series operating system and earlier Windows Mobile OS versions.

Microsoft announced the new operating system in February at the Mobile World Congress and demonstrated it on prototype hardware to reporters at the CTIA trade show in March.

The Pink device is expected to be a Microsoft smartphone that uses the company's own hardware and software, several analysts have said. The Windows Phone 7 Series operating system, however, will appear later this year on devices made by various cell phone makers that traditionally have built Windows Mobile-based phones.

Gold and other analysts said it is critical for Microsoft to demonstrate that it can innovate with mobile devices. "They have absolutely lost momentum in the mobile space and have been a nonplayer in e-readers," Gold said. "If they can't get momentum soon, it's not going to matter."

Gold said it's possible that Microsoft could be so desperate to show momentum that what it announces on April 12 will be a reference design for a new phone that third parties would fully develop, not a complete device.

If Microsoft announces the Courier, it would, of course, be doing so a little more than a week after Apple Inc. started shipping its iPad tablet. Some analysts have dubbed 2010 as the year of the e-reader device, and dozens of such devices are expected to hit the market in the coming months.

Of all of the tablets coming out, including the iPad, Microsoft's Courier, with its dual screens, could be based on the most unusual concept.

Microsoft was expected to launch the Courier at the CES trade show in January, but the device never appeared.

Reports on the Courier started to emerge last fall. At that time, the device was described to be more of a day planner/notebook than an e-reader. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at one point had said the company was not interested in creating an e-reader.

Based on what was reported in the fall, first by Gizmodo, Courier would have two 7-in. color screens connected by a hinge in the middle to allow the two panels to close like a book. It could also allow handwritten input with a stylus or pen, or support multitouch gestures by a user's fingers. Wi-Fi connectivity and a camera on the back could be included as well.

Will Stofega, an analyst at market research firm IDC, said it makes sense that either the Courier or the Pink could be announced, but the event could also be nothing more than an announcement of a refresh of Microsoft's application store.

Meanwhile, Apple is planning to preview its next-generation operating system on Thursday for the iPhone and release developers tools in preparation for a midsummer upgrade of the hardware.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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