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Microsoft working hard on Windows Mobile improvements

The company just held an event for developers to come check out Windows Mobile 7, and while they can't say much, one attendee hopes Microsoft gets the new version out sooner rather than later.

Microsoft just held a summit on the next version of Windows Mobile, and one attendee is excited about the product, but worried about the timing.

Brandon Miniman of PocketNow posted a recap (thanks, Gizmodo) of his trip to Redmond for the Microsoft MVP Summit to check out Windows Mobile 7. He couldn't get into details, as he had signed an NDA about the event, but hinted that the leaked screenshots earlier this year are pretty close to what you should expect from Windows Mobile 7.

Windows Mobile 6.1
Windows Mobile 7 is expected to be a dramatic improvement over 6.1, shown here, but when will it arrive? Microsoft

Microsoft just released Windows Mobile 6.1 at the CTIA show on April 1. The latest version was a pretty incremental improvement to Windows Mobile 6, with a redesigned home screen as the most prominent change. Microsoft's Robbie Bach spent much of his keynote address to CTIA attendees talking about how Microsoft needs to make Windows Mobile easier for consumers to use and enjoy.

While he honored the terms of his NDA, Miniman said "as icing on the cake, think of your biggest complaint with Windows Mobile 5.0 or's likely that in Windows Mobile 7, it's been fixed." Most Windows Mobile users in the unofficial smartphone survey I conducted last month complained about a stodgy user interface that looks pedestrian compared to Apple's iPhone, so that's the biggest hint of what might be to come.

But Miniman came away from the summit with two thoughts. One, Microsoft won't be ready to release Windows Mobile 7 until 2009, and maybe not until the second half of the year. That's a bit of speculation on his part, but he makes the point that Apple, RIM, Google, and even Palm will probably have released improved operating systems by mid-2009, and Microsoft will just be catching up.

His second suspicion is that Microsoft is going to use the talent it acquired from Danger to build a Microsoft-branded hardware phone. As recently as last month, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told my colleague Ina Fried that Microsoft wanted Danger's expertise in delivering applications to handhelds, not the handhelds themselves, when it acquired the company.

But given Microsoft's success with building the Xbox hardware division, it's interesting to ponder whether it would try and turn the mediocre-at-best performance of the Zune group into a phone.

Miniman closes by saying: "Microsoft is working like mad to make Windows Mobile 7 be an OS that we all drool over (both for businesses and consumers), and they've listened pretty well to our bitching and complaining over the last few years." However, he points out that if the company waits too long, it might not matter.