Microsoft and Apple square up in phone battle

The handset wars reshaping the technology and mobile industries are set for another twist in the coming days, as both Microsoft and Apple prepare to unveil important new products.

Microsoft’s announcement, scheduled for next Monday, will involve the first handsets in which the software company has had a close involvement in the overall design and user experience.

Meanwhile, Apple is to show off a new version of the iPhone software this Thursday, paving the way for an expected launch this summer of a fourth generation of the hit smartphone.

Microsoft’s new handsets mark a departure from its traditional practice of confining itself to building a mobile operating system – a stand-off approach that senior executives have conceded leads to less compelling products than those built entirely by one company, such as Apple’s iPhone.

The company refused to comment on next week’s launch, but people familiar with its plans confirmed it would unveil two handsets developed by a division formed from its acquisition of handset maker Danger more than two years ago.

Like Danger’s original Sidekick device, these will be “feature phones” rather than full smartphones, with heavy emphasis on integration with social networking services.

Microsoft’s plans for the new Danger phones, developed as part of a project codenamed Pink, have been plagued by problems at the division. Some of Danger’s top executives left soon after the acquisition, and the business suffered a public relations disaster when T-Mobile, which sold Sidekick in the US, blamed the Microsoft division for losing many users’ data.

Apple watchers expect the latest software update to introduce full multi-tasking, overcoming a main shortcoming of the device.

Multi-tasking could also help the iPad, which uses the same operating system, improving productivity in a device that aims to be an alternative to a netbook.

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