Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer speaks at the Mobile World Congress… (Josep Lago / AFP/Getty Images )
After years of being overshadowed by smart-phone rivals, Microsoft Corp. said Monday that it was ready to step into the limelight with its latest mobile technology.
At a mobile industry conference in Barcelona, Spain, the software giant unveiled a new touch-screen operating system for smart phones that will run on devices from major international wireless providers and manufacturers. The system's debut is aimed for this fall, in time for the holiday season.
Called Windows Phone 7 Series, the operating system represents Microsoft's renewed effort to fight rival technology powerhouses Apple Inc. and Google Inc. in the increasingly competitive market for mobile communication devices.
"In a crowded market filled with phones that look the same and do the same things, I challenged the team to deliver a different kind of mobile experience," Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer said.
Like Apple's iPhone and several of Google's Android phones, the new Microsoft-based phones will allow users to navigate quickly between a variety of everyday functions, including making phone calls, taking photos and listening to music.
The phones also will allow users to log into the Redmond, Wash., company's popular XBox Live service to play games and even create documents and spreadsheets with its Office software.
Microsoft's renewed push into the smart phone race generated excitement among online commentators, but some analysts were less than impressed with the offering, which they said was too little too late.
"If you were sleeping for the last year and a half, you better come out with a product that is eye-popping," said Trip Chowdhry of Global Equities Research. "You can't come out with a product that's barely at par with the competition."
The new operating system will replace the Windows Mobile product, which runs on a variety of handsets but trails Apple's iPhone and Research in Motion's BlackBerry.
Microsoft systems account for about 18% of U.S. smart phones, according to recent data from digital ratings firm ComScore Inc. BlackBerrys control 41.6% of the market, while the iPhone has 25.3%.
In a separate development at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, dozens of wireless providers and handset makers said they had formed an alliance to cooperate on a new marketplace for mobile applications.
The Wholesale Applications Community, as the group called itself, will compete with existing app bazaars that cater to specific types of phones. Apple's popular App Store, for instance, is home to more than 140,000 small programs that can run on smart phones.
The group includes major telecommunications firms such as AT&T, Verizon Wireless and China Mobile, and phone makers such as Samsung and Sony Ericsson.
The alliance, which boasted a collective audience of 3 billion cellular consumers, said the plan for the new market would be ready within a year.