Microsoft has unveiled a new-look user interface (UI) for the Windows Mobile 6.5 platform, which puts the company in closer competition with smartphones such as the Apple iPhone and the Google Android-based T-Mobile G1.

"Everything is now finger friendly," said Scott Rockfeld, group product manager for Windows Mobile. That means that with 6.5, most items are large enough to be clicked with a finger on a touchscreen rather than selected with a stylus or by pushing buttons to navigate through menus.

Rockfeld demonstrated the new software on an HTC phone with a large touchscreen, but said that individual manufacturers would make their own announcements about phones that will run the operating system.

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The user interface clearly takes a cue from the Zune, Microsoft's music player that has struggled to take off even as it has attracted some praise for its software. The home page on Windows Mobile 6.5 is a list of words in large clean text, much like on the Zune, and directs users to applications such as the calendar, voicemail, music and photos.

The start button, rather than launching a menu in a list or a row of icons, opens up a new honeycomb design. Interlocking hexagons contain icons linking to folders and applications such as settings, help or ActiveSync. Users can swipe their fingers up, down or across to scroll through additional icons that don't fit on just one screen.

Microsoft has also developed a new way to efficiently use the home screen when it's locked. If a user gets a new voicemail, for example, a voicemail icon appears on the locked home screen. The user can then press the icon and slide it off the screen. That single move unlocks the phone, launches the voicemail application and starts dialing the voicemail box. Text messages and emails work similarly.

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Rockfeld compares that experience to the iPhone, where users first touch the phone to wake it up, then unlock it, open the phone application, open the voicemail screen and hit the voicemail to play it.

With Windows Mobile 6.5, users will also be able to better customise their home screens. A Favorites menu item will let users list links to websites on the home page and add widgets so they can see at a glance a weather report or stock information, Rockfeld said.

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