Microsoft's Ballmer defends Nokia-WP7 deal

BARCELONA, Spain--Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) CEO Steve Ballmer used his keynote address here at the Mobile World Congress trade show to outline some advances coming to the Windows Phone 7 platform--and also to defend and explain the company's mobile partnership with Nokia (NYSE:NOK).

Microsoft said IE9 will be available for Windows Phone 7 in the second half of 2011.Ballmer said Microsoft is pleased with the feedback it has received on Windows Phone, which was unveiled at Mobile World Congress in 2010. He said 9 out of 10 customers recommend the platform and that there are currently 8,000 applications in the Microsoft Marketplace and 28,000 registered developers.

"I think it's fair to say that 2011 will be at least as fast paced, if not more so than 2010," Ballmer said. The Microsoft chief praised the company's hardware partners for the platform--Dell, HTC, LG and Samsung--but also went out of his way to explain the benefits of the Nokia deal, which was announced on Friday. Nokia, the world's largest handset maker, announced Friday it would make Microsoft's WP7 its primary smartphone platform.

In explaining the deal, Ballmer said Nokia brings several distinct advantages to the game including high-quality industrial design, global reach, supply chain management, expertise in cameras and sensors and services like Ovi Maps that will be integrated into Microsoft's Bing search engine. He said the combination of Microsoft and Nokia will offer customers more choices and drive shipment volumes.

Nokia CEO Stephen Elop also took the stage to explain the partnership. Elop said Nokia and Microsoft are a natural fit as partners, and that the deal will give operators choice beyond Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android and Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) rival iOS.

Ballmer also indicated that the first major update to the platform will come in March, and will include copy-and-paste functionality and application optimization. He also promised additional form factors and price points for Windows Phone devices in 2011.

Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of the Windows Phone Program, demonstrated several of the software additions Microsoft will add to the Windows Phone platform this year. One is the addition of Internet Explorer 9, powered by the same engine the browser has for the desktop. Another feature is multitasking for third-party applications. Belfiore showed how a hard-press of the phone's back button will bring up a gallery of previously viewed applications that can be switched to, including games.

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