Ballmer bigs up Windows Phone future at MWC

Microsoft has chosen the venue of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona to unveil its plans for the Windows Phone series in 2011 - and while many of the features announced by Steve Ballmer were already known, there were a couple of surprises.

During his keynote speech, Microsoft chief executive Ballmer confirmed his company's plan to bring Internet Explorer 9 to the Windows Phone series - allowing the company's smartphone OS and desktop OS to share the same core browsing engine for the first time.

That means that devices running the Windows Phone series mobile platform will benefit from the same power that a full desktop browser offers - including support for HTML5, full desktop preferences synchronisation, and hardware acceleration of page rendering and graphics display.

Ballmer also spoke of the importance of multi-tasking in a mobile operating system, claiming that technology had progressed to the point where adding the ability to run any task in the background no longer causes the battery life to visibly decrease.

"People want a phone that makes information much more accessible," Ballmer claimed in his speech. "The market has been swamped with phones with fairly similar design. Users just see a sea of icons. Our smart design improves user experience," he continued, referring to the Windows Phone 7's customisable, tile-based home screen.

Perhaps more impressively, Ballmer also decided that it was time to reveal a hidden feature coming to Windows Phone 7 later this year: tighter Xbox integration.

In a demonstration, the company showed off a Kinect-equipped Xbox 360 console where a Windows Phone 7 device was being used as a supplementary input device - offering the user quicker access to more controls than is possible with the motion-sensing peripheral on its own.

While the demo did take the shine off Microsoft's claims that Kinect offers controller-free gaming, it was an impressive indication of the future of Xbox integration on the company's mobile platform.

Whether there's demand for such a thing, however, remains to be seen - but with Kinect outselling Windows Phone 7 devices massively, it's a gamble Microsoft is sensible to take.

The Kinect demo is reproduced below, if you're curious as to how it would work.