A day after it inadvertently leaked information about an upcoming online service for Windows Mobile-based smart phones, Microsoft went public about the service, called My Phone. Essentially a free competitor to Apple's lackluster and bug-prone MobileMe service--which also comes with a $99 a year subscription fee--My Phone works with smart phones built on the software giant's Windows Mobile platform and provides cloud-based synchronization of contacts, calendars, photos, and other data. The service will be released to the public in beta form next month, Microsoft says.

"Microsoft My Phone syncs information between your mobile phone and the web, enabling you to back up and restore your phone's information to a password-protected web site, access and update your contacts and appointments through your web account, and share photos on your phone with family and friends," an informational site about the service reads. "Your Microsoft My Phone account gives you 200 MB of free storage on the Microsoft My Phone web site. Currently, Microsoft My Phone works only on phones that run the Windows Mobile 6+ operating system."

My Phone, previously codenamed "Skybox," is one of several smart phone/cloud computing products that Microsoft will officially unveil next month. Others include a Windows Mobile application store in the cloud, similar to Apple's iPhone App Store, and a new version of its Windows Mobile software. This software, Windows Mobile 6.5, seeks to close the gap between Microsoft's smart phone systems and the iPhone, but the software giant is planning a much bigger upgrade, Windows Mobile 7, for early 2010.

Microsoft's moves can't come quickly enough: While it say sales of Windows Mobile-based smart phones rise from 11 percent of the market to 13.3 percent in 2008, sales of Apple's iPhone surged from 3 percent to 9 percent in the same time period. Apple is credited with making smart phones approachable to the mass market, while Microsoft has only slowly evolved Windows Mobile, choosing to cater instead to the corporate crowd. This week's My Phone revelation proves that Microsoft is now serious about tackling the consumer market as well.

But Microsoft faces more competition than Apple, of course. In addition to recent pushes by RIM, maker of the Blackberry, Microsoft faces strong competition from Google's Android platform and the recently-reenergized Palm, which launched its eagerly anticipated Pre phone last month at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.