Microsoft unveils new mobile software platform

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The Independent Tech

Microsoft unveiled on Monday an upgrade to its mobile operating system as the US software giant seeks to regain lost ground in the competitive handset market.

Windows Mobile 7 was made public on the first day of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, ending months of speculation about what Microsoft had in store for the industry's biggest trade show.

The new system, which follows the launch of Windows Mobile 6.5 in October, is "a major new step in our strategy," Nicolas Petit, director of Microsoft's mobile division in France, told AFP.

"It is a total break from what we were doing before," Petit said.

Microsoft completely changed the platform's interface, with a "dynamic screen" allowing users to install his or her favourite icon, from music, to contacts and social networks, he said.

It was inspired by the design of Zune, the Microsoft MP3 player that is only available in the United States at the moment.

The system includes six "hubs" that group services by themes, such as a "people" inbox that includes emails, text messages and updates from social network activities, or an Xbox Live icon to play games online.

The first phones fitted with Windows Mobile 7 will be available later this year. Microsoft's partners include phone operators AT&T, Orange and Deutsche Telekom and equipment makers Samsung, LG, HTC and Sony Ericsson.

Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer was to present the new operating system at a press conference later Monday.

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

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.