Microsoft set to unveil new mobile platform

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The Independent Tech

Microsoft seeking to regain its footing in the fiercely competitive mobile market is expected to unveil a new smartphone platform at the industry's biggest trade show on Monday.

The US software giant has remained tight-lipped about what chief executive Steve Ballmer will announce at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, but analysts widely believe he will reveal an upgrade of the Windows operating system.

Microsoft has been up against strong competition from telecommunications giant Nokia's Symbian platform and Internet giant Google's Android.

"They do seem to have been pushed on to the backfoot with the Android which seems to have caught them on hoof," said Jeremy Green, mobile analyst at research firm Ovum.

Google has made a splash in the mobile phone industry with its Android operating system, launched in 2007 in a direct challenge to Microsoft.

Smartphones fitted with Microsoft Windows Mobile had 7.9 percent market share in the third quarter of last year compared with 11.1 percent in the same period in 2008, according to research group Gartner.

The leaders during that quarter were phones with Nokia's Symbian technology, with 44.6 percent market share, followed by BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion (RIM) (15.9 percent) and Apple's iPhone operating system (12.9 percent), according to Gartner.

"A couple of years ago the perception was that the OS war was between Microsoft and Symbian and then suddenly nobody talks about Microsoft anymore," Green said.

"All the running and all the excitement have been about Android," he said.

South Korean mobile phone maker Samsung Electronics announced Sunday that it would launch five new smartphones powered by Android this year, in addition to five other handsets fitted with Samsung's own Bada operating system and a handful with Microsoft's platform.

Mobile operating systems are the lifeblood of the increasingly popular smartphones, which allows users to surf the Internet, check and send emails, play music and videos, and take pictures.

Global shipments of smartphones surged by 30 percent in the last quarter of 2009, according to Strategy Analytics. By comparison, overall handset sales rose by 10 percent in the same period.

Google also entered the hardware business last month when it launched its own smartphone, Nexus One, in a challenge against another big rival, Apple, which never attends the Mobile World Congress.

In a signal of Google's ambitions to become a leader to the mobile phone industry, chief executive Eric Schmidt will address the Barcelona event for the first time.

The competition from Google and Apple has fuelled speculation on industry blogs that Microsoft was working on its own mobile phone based on its Zune MP3 player, but reports say it will likely unveil its Windows Mobile 7 operating system.

"They (Microsoft) will have some sort of announcement the question is how big and how significant it is," Green said.

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