Stung by surging competition from Apple's iPhone and other consumer-oriented smart phones, Microsoft on Monday announced a new generation of Windows Mobile software, devices, and services. The products were announced at the Mobile World Congress 2009 in Barcelona, Spain.

"Windows phones bring together the best of the Web, the PC and the phone so you can connect instantly to the experiences you care about, no matter where you are," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said during a keynote address at the event. "We're working with partners across the industry to deliver a new generation of Windows phones that break down the barriers between people, information and applications and provide great end-to-end experiences that span your entire life, at work and at home."

Monday's announcements included the first public discussion of Windows Mobile 6.5, an interim version of the company's smart phone software designed to stem the iPhone gap. Windows Mobile 6.5 includes a new Zune-inspired home screen, improved touch capabilities, and a new version of Internet Explorer (IE).

Microsoft also unveiled its free My Phone service for consumers. My Phone will allow Windows Mobile users to back up their personal information and other data to a password-protected Web site and sync calendars, contacts, and email. My Phone is available now in a limited, invite-only beta but will be opened up to a wider audience in the future.

Confirming a long-discussed rumor, Microsoft also announced Windows Marketplace for Mobile, its answer to Apple's popular App Store for the iPhone. Windows Marketplace for Mobile will provide a central location for finding, browsing, and purchasing mobile applications that run on Windows Mobile devices and it will be included on all Windows Mobile 6.5 phones.

In addition to its own wares, Microsoft also showed off a number of upcoming new Windows Mobile 6.5 smart phones, including the stylish LG-GM7300, and the HTC Touch Diamond 2 and Touch Pro 2. These and other Windows Mobile 6.5 devices will appear in the second half of 2009.

That schedule, of course, speaks to one of the biggest problems with the Windows Mobile platform: Its lack of speed to market. By the time Microsoft and its partners put this cobbled-together interim release into the hands of consumers, Apple will have already shipped its third major iPhone release. And if market share numbers are any indication, Apple should surpass Windows Mobile sales sometime this year as well.