BARCELONA, Spain — Apple rocked the wireless business by combining the functions of a phone and an iPod. Now, more than two years later, Microsoft has its comeback: phone software that works a lot like its own Zune media player.
The software, which was unveiled Monday at the Mobile World Congress, is a dramatic change from previous generations of the software that used to be called Windows Mobile. But Microsoft is, for now, sticking to its model of making the software and selling it to phone manufacturers, rather than making its own phones.
Microsoft's mobile system powered 13.1 percent of smart phones sold in the United States last year, according to research firm In-Stat. That made it No. 3 after Research In Motion's BlackBerry and the iPhone. But Microsoft has been losing market share while Apple and Google's Android gain.
Phones with the new software will be on the market by the holidays, Microsoft said. All four major U.S. carriers will offer phones, just as they sell current Windows phones.
The new ones won't be called "Zune phones," as had been speculated. The software will be called "Windows Phone 7 series."
Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin said that the new software looked promising, but that it was also Microsoft's "final chance to get it right." He notes that those who have current Windows phones don't seem excited about the brand.
With the new software, "We really wanted to lead and take much more complete accountability than we had in earlier versions of the Windows phone for the end user experience," chief executive Steve Ballmer said at the Barcelona launch event.
Microsoft is imposing a set of required features for Windows phones. Manufacturers must include permanent buttons on the phone for "home," "search" and "back"; a high-resolution screen with the same touch-sensing technology as the iPhone; and a camera with at least 5 megapixels of resolution and a flash. Hardware QWERTY keyboards will be optional.
Windows Phone 7 Series borrows the clean look of the Zune software, departing from the more "computer screen" look of earlier Microsoft efforts. Microsoft "is resolved at a company level to be successful in mobile," said Andy Lees, senior vice president of Microsoft's mobile communications business, saying Microsoft is willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on marketing to ensure it's successful.