A major Windows Phone 7 update coming later this year will add Internet Explorer 9 (IE9), more third-party multitasking, Twitter, and Skydrive cloud computing functions, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced in Barcelona, Spain, at Mobile World Congress 2011.
Ballmer characterized the improvements as a way to please consumers, wireless carriers, Windows Phone 7 developers, and even existing hardware makers such as Samsung and HTC in light of Microsoft's new partnership to put the Windows Phone OS on Nokia devices.
"Windows Phone will be the most operator-friendly platform available," Ballmer promised. "Today, 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 in the second half of 2011, although no date was given. A less significant update is due out in the first two weeks of March, and will add copy/paste functionality and application improvements.
Several demonstrations during Ballmer's keynote 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 Windows Phone 7 phones by two other Xbox Live users in the same game. A skeleton of the living room user before a TV monitor showed on the phones.
The coming Skydrive connectivity would allow a Windows Phone 7 user to store files and folders in a cloud where permitted users could access them for review and edits. The IE9 capabilities showed how IE9 on a desktop can more quickly process video, something that Ballmer said would also come to Windows Phone 7 later this year.
Another demonstration of the update showed how Twitter will be available to Windows Phone 7, 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 on cellular operators as well, 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 IE9 support for Windows Phone 7 will appear in second half 2011. IE9 on the phones will offer HTML5 support and accelerated graphics, the same as on 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 email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more about mobile OSes in Computerworld's Mobile OSes Topic Center.