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Microsoft makes ambitious play for mobile

Microsoft brought the full might of its weight to Mobile World Congress with a raft of announcements: an upgraded Windows Mobile operating system, a Web backup and photo-sharing service, a marketplace for mobile apps and new voice search technology.

The software giant's CEO, Steve Ballmer, also unveiled the company's first Windows phones with the new operating system and debuted Microsoft Recite, a new voice search technology for Windows phones that potentially competes with Google.

In a another coup, Microsoft expanded its relationship with South Korean electronics giant LG Electronics, making Windows its primary operating system for LG smartphones. With this deal, Windows moves up from being the operating system on one LG smartphone to 26 by 2012 and overall more than 50.

Microsoft rounded it off by announcing that six new European publishers and two wireless carriers had signed on the company as their mobile advertising partner.

The news was all released as part of one big hurrah at Mobile World Congress, a gathering in Barcelona, Spain, of nearly 50,000 mobile executives from the carrier, publisher, agency, service provider and software sides.

User experience, Web, apps and search
Let's examine the new products.

The new Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system has been redesigned for easy finger navigation on a better touch-screen interface, Microsoft claims. The goal is to improve user experience.

For example, the lock key on the home screen lets users listen to the latest voicemail or respond to a new email or text with a single swipe.

In addition, the new honeycomb interface on the Start menu is designed to make it fun to scroll through the contents of the mobile phone with considerable ease.

A third component is the updated IE Mobile. This browser will execute up to 48 percent more tasks than the majority of mobile browsers, per third-party research sponsored by Microsoft. Included in this are tasks such as checking into a flight, buying movie tickets or making a bank transaction.

Overall, the Windows Mobile 6.5 home screen offers a dashboard-like experience to mobile activities such as new emails, text messages, missed calls and calendar appointments.

Microsoft's My Phone service, whose debut was leaked ahead of schedule, is designed to connect the phone to the Web.

Adding a cross-channel layer, Microsoft My Phone will let people back up and share their photos, text messages, videos and contacts to a password-protected Web portal. There is potential for this service, Microsoft claims: 77 percent of mobile phone pictures never move beyond the device.

Also, if a Windows phone with My Phone is lost or stolen, it is easy to retrieve the backed-up data onto a new device. Another benefit is that it is free.

Windows Marketplace for Mobile is obviously a play for the booming mobile apps market. This marketplace is designed as a repository for searching, browsing and buying mobile apps created for the user's phone directly from a Windows phone or from the Web using a Windows Live ID.

The new marketplace will be incorporated in all Windows phones based on Windows Mobile 6.5 to make it easier to find, install and experience apps.

Microsoft claims developers will be able to offer apps to customers via the Windows Marketplace through a simple security and compatibility check from Microsoft.

More than 20,000 apps have been built for Windows phones, a figure that is similar to the Apple app base. Developers created these Windows apps.

Finally, Microsoft Recite is a voice search technology for Windows phones that lets consumers capture, search and retrieve spoken notes and reminders using their voice. Microsoft Recite users do not have to navigate menus or type text.

Microsoft trotted out more than 20 mobile phone manufacturers and wireless carriers at Mobile World Congress, each one of them expressing support for Windows phones.

What these developments indicate is a stronger Windows branding for mobile and an increased Microsoft interest in an ecosystem that is set to pit Google, Apple, Yahoo and the company that Bill Gates founded against each other -- a replay of the wired Internet.

But Microsoft sees mobile as a key component of its three-screen strategy which also includes television and computer.

For more on the Redmond, WA-based software company's mobile strategy, Mobile Marketer staff reporter Dan Butcher interviewed Marc Henri Magdelenat, director of mobile advertising, marketing and sales at Microsoft.

How does mobile fit into Microsoft's three-screen strategy? How can advertisers run successful cross-platform campaigns?
Mobile advertising is a key component to Microsoft's strategy to provide brands with solutions that reach and engage audiences throughout their digital day -- at home, at work and on the go across multiple platforms, devices and geographies.

With mobile adoption increasing around the world and mobile devices becoming more sophisticated, there is a prime opportunity for advertisers to connect with consumers who no longer use their mobile to simply place calls.

Mobile advertising allows brands to connect with audiences when they're on the move and away from the computer. Incorporating a mobile element into a digital campaign complements other avenues for engaging today's increasingly fragmented audiences.

Which mobile sites does Microsoft own and operate?
For the U.S., Microsoft operates both the MSN Mobile and Windows Live for mobile platforms, which give mobile users access to the MSN homepage, MSNBC News, MSN Entertainment, MSN Money, MSN Weather, Fox Sports, MSN Astrology, Live Search, CNBC, Hotmail and Messenger via their Web-enabled mobile device.

Microsoft also recently announced a five-year agreement involving Live Search and mobile advertising with Verizon Wireless.

On Jan. 7, Verizon Wireless, the No. 1 wireless carrier in the U.S., selected Microsoft to provide portal, local and Internet search, as well as mobile advertising services to customers on its devices.

The agreement goes into effect later this year in which Live Search will be available on new Verizon Wireless feature phones and smartphones.

In addition, Microsoft will manage search and display advertising on Verizon's mobile Web service, creating a one-stop integrated way for advertisers and ad agencies to reach mobile consumers.

Which brands have tapped Microsoft for mobile advertising, either via mobile search, its owned and operated sites, or one of its publisher or carrier partnerships?
Mobile search advertising customers include eBay, Countrywide, Mazda, Progressive, Kia and InterContinental Hotels.

Some of our current mobile display advertisers include Coca-Cola, Paramount, Best Buy, McDonald's, Nike, Bank of America, Ford Motor Co. and Adidas, to name a few.

What is the importance of Web-enabled handsets -- such as those on the Windows Mobile OS -- as a platform for mobile marketers and advertisers?
Web-enabled handsets are essential for mobile marketers to reach and connect with their audiences when they're on the go.

Internet usage over a mobile device allows advertisers to use similar ad formats as their traditional online campaigns, including search engine advertising, graphical display advertising and video advertising.

This also helps marketers retain consistent messaging throughout the entirety of their campaign across devices.