Just when it looked like an iPhone-Android-BlackBerry troika was shaping up, Microsoft and Nokia each tries one last shot.

Microsoft finally announced Windows Phone 7, its latest mobile OS, at Mobile World Congress last week.

Also, Nokia and Intel used the show to reveal they are dropping their respective smartphone OS contenders - Maemo and Moblin - and instead merging the two efforts and produce a new smartphone OS called MeeGo this spring, with devices to follow by Christmas.

Do Windows Phone 7 OS and MeeGo change the equation for users of and developers for smartphones? Yes and no.

Windows Phone 7: Upsetting the smartphone cart

The awkwardly named Windows Phone 7 is a radical remake of Windows Mobile, whose complex, variable interface and attempt to cram a computer into a smartphone's small screen simply didn't work.

Originally popular in some industries as a minicomputer for field forces, Windows Mobile has increasingly been displaced by the iPhone and then Android operating systems.

Microsoft hasn't shared many details of WinPhone. But based on what Microsoft has demoed, the WinPhone is at least interesting.

WinPhone mixes a very 20-something UI heavy on messaging, games, music, and photos with standard 40-something business capabilities such as a mobile Office productivity suite and the mobile Outlook email client.

And there's the mobile Internet Explorer web browser for users of all ages.

Microsoft is clearly taking a big page from Apple's book by putting its Zune and Xbox capabilities front and centre - much as the iPhone did with its iPod functions at the 2007 launch of the iPhone.

The computer capabilities of the WinPhone are hardly mentioned, a major break from Windows Mobile's microcomputer legacy. And Microsoft is emphasising gaming, much as Apple does for its phone-less iPod touch - but unlike Apple, Microsoft can leverage its Xbox reputation for the WinPhone.

But Microsoft is not only copying Apple's playbook - it's lifting some innovations from the Palm WebOS, specifically the notion of cards.

Additionally, it's aping Android's execution of combined capabilities in a single 'tile', in which Android lets you see all messages in one app, rather than having to switch among dedicated apps for email, SMS, Twitter, and the like.

What's hardly mentioned is the ability to run apps, an iconic capability of the iPhone that every other smartphone vendor has copied.

WinPhone will run apps and tap into the Windows Mobile Marketplace, though it's unclear whether old WinMo apps will be WinPhone-compatible.

It's just that Microsoft is trying to not let Windows Phone 7 look like yet another iPhone clone.

Still, at first glance, Microsoft appears to have something new on the table.

Would I wait on getting an iPhone, Android smartphone, or Palm Pre because of Windows Phone 7?

No. Every so-called iPhone-killer has revealed significant flaws at actual product release, and I can't imagine that Microsoft would be any different.

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NEXT PAGE: A force to be reckoned with in 2011

  1. Microsoft and Nokia have another crack at the market
  2. A force to be reckoned with in 2011
  3. What's the point of MeeGo?