Major Windows Phone 7 upgrade to offer IE9, cloud support

Microsoft's Ballmer and Nokia's Elop see recent deal as way to improve WP7 presence

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BARCELONA -- A major Windows Phone 7 update coming later this year will add Internet Explorer 9, support for Twitter, additional third-party multitasking and Skydrive cloud computing functions, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced here at Mobile World Congress 2011.

Ballmer characterized the improvements as a way to please consumers, wireless carriers, WP7 developers and even existing hardware makers such as Samsung and HTC in light of the new Microsoft-Nokia agreement to put the Windows Phone operating system on Nokia devices.

"Windows Phone will be the most operator-friendly platform available," Ballmer promised. "People are falling in love with Windows phones, and we will continue popularizing the product."

The new capabilities will be in a major Windows Phone release that's due in the second half of 2011 (a specific date wasn't given). A less significant update is due out in the first two weeks of March; it will add copy/paste functionality and application improvements.

Several demonstrations during Ballmer's keynote discussion of the code for the major upgrade included a video showing an Xbox Live Kinect user in a living room using gestures to bat away balls being "thrown" from WP7 phones by two other Xbox Live users. Each phone's screen displayed a skeletal image of the living room user in front of a TV.

The coming Skydrive connectivity would allow a WP7 user to store files and folders in a cloud where permitted users could access them for review and edits.

Demos of IE9 showed how the desktop version of the browser can process video more quickly than its predecessors -- a capability that Ballmer said would also come to the WP7 version later this year.

Another demonstration of the update showed how Twitter will be available on WP7, as will the ability to multitask to third-party apps. That type of multitasking has so far been too taxing on batteries.

Ballmer was joined onstage by Stephen Elop, the CEO of Nokia, who focused his comments on cellular operators, noting that the Nokia-Microsoft partnership unveiled last week will "allow operators to deliver more choice to the ultimate consumers." He noted that "Microsoft has a modern collection of tools and Nokia contributes billing and other forms of automation" that will enhance Nokia's "iconic hardware," Elop added.

Andy Lees, president of Microsoft's Mobile Communications Business, blogged on Monday that the Windows Phone devices will move to CDMA networks such as Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel in the "first half" of 2011.

He said the SkyDrive Office document storage capability and WP7 support for IE9 will appear in second half 2011. IE9 on the phones will feature HTML5 support and accelerated graphics -- just like the PC version, he said.

One of the new multitasking capabilities demonstrated was the ability to play streaming music from Slacker in the background while using other applications, for instance, allowing a user to open and read e-mails at the same time.

Regarding Nokia, both Ballmer and Lees noted that location-based services from Nokia will be used inside of Bing across all platforms, not just Windows Phones.

"We're confident that Microsoft is on a path to be successful with Windows Phone and its growing ecosystem, because we have momentum, a clear vision for what lies ahead, and a unique set of assets that will help us move the Windows Phone ecosystem forward," Lees said in the blog.

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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