Microsoft dreams of conquering the phone business, but it knows that 'pink' is just one hue in a very broad palette.
The leaked photos that emerged on Gizmodo on Wednesday, while genuine, paint just one part of the picture of how Microsoft hopes to get back into the phone game.
According to sources familiar with the company's plans, the designs shown on Gizmodo are are more the evolution of the Sidekick than they are an effort to take on the mass market or even Apple's iPhone. The devices themselves won't be built by Microsoft itself and are unlikely to arrive before next year, the sources said. A Microsoft representative declined to comment on the Gizmodo report.
Microsoft has been working for years now on plans to revitalize its phone business after ceding ground to Apple, Research In Motion, and others. The software maker has been working on a major overhaul of its operating system--Windows Mobile 7, which was supposed to be in phone makers' hands by early this year but has suffered a number of delays.
The new devices draw heavily on the company's 2008 acquisition of Danger, the maker of the T-Mobile Sidekick. Although they use Windows Mobile at their core, they are geared at the same kind of consumer who bought a Sidekick--one who is heavily into social networks, instant messaging, and other online services.
Microsoft is counting on Danger for more than just its cachet with teens and young adults, though. Danger also specialized in delivering much of its technology via services. Indeed, the Sidekick evolved as a device where nearly all of the data lived in the cloud as opposed to being managed by the phone itself.
That will be an important component of Microsoft's phone push, even beyond the range of these devices.
In outlining the future of its phone strategy, Microsoft is trying to keep the breadth of its existing Windows Mobile ecosystem, while at the same time developing a few, closer partnerships that could yield more worthy rivals to the most popular handsets.
Microsoft has signed deals with a few phone makers, such as LG, that are expected to offer Windows Phones designed more closely with Microsoft.
However, this project appears to be in addition to that effort, expanding on the legacy of the Sidekick. Sources wouldn't provide any exact timing, but I'd think about a year or so, given what I have heard. That also appears to be the current timing for Windows Mobile 7.
For this year, Microsoft is focused on a more modest evolution of Windows Mobile--Windows Mobile 6.5--as well as efforts to re-brand products using its operating system as Windows Phones.
Microsoft also continues to shift executives and other resources to strengthen its phone efforts.
Former server executive Andy Lees now runs the phone business, while former Mac Business unit chief Roz Ho heads a "premium mobile experiences" team responsible for some of the Pink work. The software maker has also tapped folks from its Tellme unit to help bring improved voice recognition capability into Windows Mobile.
In a July interview with CNET News, Entertainment and Devices unit president Robbie Bach acknowledged that Microsoft also just needs to pick up the pace.
"If your point is we haven't advanced Windows Mobile as fast as we like, I think the answer is that's true," Bach said. "You are going to see that change."