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The Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Spain is still nearly a month away, but impatience has triggered a feeding frenzy of hope and supposition when it comes to what Microsoft will be announcing at the show.
Depending on who you believe, the Redmond, WA software giant will either display its upcoming Windows Phone 7 -- a "completely different" new mobile operating system platform, as one Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) senior executive put it recently -- or it will show a fairly pedestrian offering that rumor mongers have been referring to as Windows Phone 6.6. (As of last summer, Microsoft began referring to its mobile operating system as Windows Phone.)
The first rumor, if true, could be the saving grace of Microsoft's stumbling mobile phone strategy. The second might be the death knell for a decade's worth of spending billions to play catch up -- and not very well -- against more nimble competitors.
And what does this all have to do with the rumored "Pink" mobile phone that Microsoft is supposed to field under its own brand. One financial analyst feels it's clear that Microsoft will at least show Windows Phone 7 -- if not in Barcelona, February 15 through 18, then a month later at CTIA in Las Vegas, March 23 through 25.
"We expect Microsoft to debut its long-rumored 'Pink' phone within the next two months. We believe the phone will be based on Windows Mobile 7," Jefferies & Company analyst Katherine Egbert, said in a technology note Tuesday.
"We think it will be in Barcelona," Egbert told InternetNews.com.
Other observers, however, have postulated that what Microsoft will instead show is yet another generation of devices based on what they're referring to as Windows Phone 6.6, which would apparently provide support for some touch screen features.
That would likely fall far short of the kind of "differentiated" offering that many observers are expecting from Microsoft.
Taiwan-based publication DigiTimes said late last week that its sources claim the software giant will only announce Windows Phone 6.6 in Barcelona, and that Windows Phone 7 has been delayed until 2011.
Despite mixed signals that Microsoft's PR minions have been putting out, though, it's hard to escape the conclusions of many analysts.
"If Robbie Bach is telling me I'm going to see Windows Phone 7 at World Mobile Congress, then I probably will," Philippe Winthrop, director of Strategy Analytics global wireless practice, told InternetNews.com.
During a presentation to analysts during CES, Entertainment and Devices Division President Robbie Bach said what the company will showcase at MWC will be "something that sets the bar forward -- not in an evolutionary way, but something that feels, looks, acts, and performs as something completely different."
Of course, other observers also point out that Microsoft could save the debut of "Seven," as the rumors are now referring to it, for its own MIX10 developers conference in Las Vegas March 15 through 17.
Then there are the rumors of whether, if Windows Phone 7 is actually announced, there will be one or two different versions -- one for business users and another for consumers, which has been termed Media Edition or ME.
One Windows Mobile enthusiast site, WMExperts, which said it got their information from multiple anonymous sources, claims the two versions story is likely correct.
WMExperts said reports they've received indicate there will be at least two Windows Phone 7 devices shown in Barcelona produced by LG and HTC.
"What portions of the OS will be shown off at Mobile World Congress? We're hearing HD video, a Zune-like music player, and possibly streaming TV," the WMExperts blog post said. Several sites, which claimed to have either seen or tried Windows Phone 7, also said it will feature a Zune HD-like user interface -- what was often referred to as a "Zune Phone experience."
So what does all of this mean for Microsoft? Many, if not most, observers feel that a stop gap offering like the rumored Windows Phone 6.6 would be a fatal error. However, if Microsoft can get in now with Windows Phone 7, that's a whole other story.
"We think Microsoft is partnering with a few OEM manufactures to create the Zune-like phone, which includes 720p HD video and at least a 5 mega pixel Camera," Egbert's technology note said.
Winthrop added that the future of the mobile marketplace is still in flux and nothing is a foregone conclusion, and not to count Microsoft out quite yet.
"If they can get something compelling on Windows Phone 7 and have a timeline that's half-way reasonable, they'll be back in the game," Winthrop added.
Microsoft declined to comment on the rumors or about Windows Phone 7.