For a couple years now, Microsoft's CEO has been making bold promises about the company making a serious effort to be a player in mobile. He criticized the failed Windows Mobile 6.5 effort and promoted Windows Phone 7 as a game-changer. Then Windows Phone 7 shipped with the fewest capabilities of any competing mobile OS (despite having a nice UI) and quickly became a joke and a flop. Likewise, Ballmer made promises on Windows tablets a year ago that the company never even tried to fulfill.
Yesterday, Ballmer announced that Windows Phone 7 would be updated late this year to make Internet capabilities a "first-class citizen" (his words, not mine, though it's nice to see him agree that the early version was second- or third-class). Ballmer promised that Microsoft would address the features currently missing from Windows Phone 7, such as HTML5 support and multitasking.
Microsoft previously said it will add cut and paste to Windows Phone 7 this year as well. Not so clear is whether Microsoft plans to fill in all the security and management holes that disallow its use in most corporate networks, such as lack of VPN and on-device encryption, as well as substandard support for Microsoft's own Exchange ActiveSync policies (it supports fewer of those policies than any competing platform).
What Ballmer is promising to deliver -- multitasking and HTML5 support -- are basic capabilities that should have been in Windows Phone 7 at the outset. Apple's iOS, Google's Android OS, Hewlett-Packard's WebOS, and Research in Motion's BlackBerry OS 6 (introduced with the Torch last summer) all do. This is Microsoft just finally getting the basic in place, not an advancement that should get people excited.
The basics matter -- especially if Nokia's adoption of Windows Phone 7 is to have a prayer of working (I think it's a suicidal move). But in the competitive mobile market where Apple continues to set the pace and Google continues to follow fast, simply staying on the track isn't good enough.