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Windows Mobile 6.5 to take on Apple's iPhone starting Oct. 6

Microsoft announced Tuesday that hardware equipped with Windows Mobile 6.5, its latest smartphone platform to compete with Apple's iPhone, will be available to consumers on Oct. 6.

In a post on the official Windows Mobile blog, Apple's rival to the north declared that hardware equipped with Windows Mobile 6.5 will arrive in just five weeks. The first phone offerings in the U.S. will be on carriers AT&T, Sprint and Verizon, as well as Bell Mobility and TELUS. Hardware makers at launch include HP, HTC, LG Electronics, Samsung and Toshiba.

"On Oct. 6th, you’ll see new Windows phones designed for a variety of tastes, needs and price points - with or without keyboards, with or without touch screens, as well as your choice of GPS, accelerometer and high resolution camera," Microsoft said. "There are a lot of great options and we can’t wait to show them to you. Until then, keep an eye on our partners as they announce details on new Windows phones and where you can find them this fall."

Devices will also debut on Orange, Deutsche Telekom AG and Vodafone in Europe; NTT DOCOMO, SOFTBANK Mobile, SK Telecom, Telstra and WILLCOM in Asia Pacific; and TIM Brazil in Latin America.

The blog post also noted that there is apparently confusion among users regarding Windows Mobile. It said that Microsoft intends to simplify its branding on mobile devices.

"Interestingly enough, we discovered that most people who carry a Windows phone don’t realize it’s running Windows Mobile," the site reads.

Following Apple's entry into the smartphone market in 2007, Microsoft has struggled to maintain marketshare and gain mindshare among consumers. Weeks ago, a report found that the iPhone outsold all Windows Mobile phones in the second quarter of 2009. Apple had a 13.7 percent share of unit sales for that period, while Windows Mobile devices sold 9 percent.

In its attempt to fight back, Microsoft has integrated a touch screen interface with Windows Mobile 6.5. The new operating system also includes improved notifications and updates from e-mail, text and calendar, as well as an upgraded Internet Explorer mobile browser. The platform will also have Windows Marketplace, an App Store-like hub for software downloads.

Weeks ago, a rumor suggested that even with Windows Mobile 7 looming next year, Microsoft willmaintain a dual-platform strategy to take on competitors Apple and Google Android. That report said that Microsoft is expected to lower the price of Windows Mobile 6.5 when version 7 launches in late 2010. That strategy would allegedly allow the lower-priced 6.5 to compete with the free, open source Android platform, while Windows Mobile 7 would be the premium competitor geared toward the iPhone crowd.