Throughout the course of Windows Phone 7's paced, deliberate unveiling this year, Microsoft has been very clear on the fact that it doesn't intend for Windows Mobile -- the legacy platform we know today -- to disappear, arguing that it's got several years of life left in it for certain verticals. We're starting to see that philosophy play out today with the introduction of Windows Embedded Handheld, which is essentially a warmed-over version of WinMo 6.5.3 with some key UI and enterprise-focused enhancements. Microsoft is specifically calling out an "extended support life-cycle" for the platform, a sign that these phones aren't for the gotta-have-it crowd -- instead, the company intends to push these things through corporate fleets where Windows Mobile has traditionally dominated, places where Windows Phone's flashy stylings and locked-down underpinnings won't have the same draw.

To that end, Motorola has announced the ES400 as Windows Embedded Handheld's inaugural device, a rugged smartphone with a 600MHz Qualcomm MSM7627 core, resistive VGA touchscreen, fingerprint scanner, and a trick 3.5G radio that can be user-switched between GSM and CDMA. Naturally, you're not going to see this on carrier shelves, but the ES400 is being pushed as a solid option for field sales and service, healthcare, and retail use -- so if you're working in any of those fields, you might have a harder time shaking off the last remnants of WinMo than you ever imagined. Follow the break for Microsoft's press release.

Update: Sprint just pinged us to remind everyone that you will be able to buy the ES400 through its Business Direct and Business Solutions Partners sales channels, so carriers are offering it -- it's just not really a consumer-facing sort of thing.

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Microsoft Outlines Commitment to the Future of Enterprise Handheld Devices
Microsoft unveils new brand and road map, and extends support for the enterprise handheld devices market.

Redmond, Wash. - June 17, 2010 - No one would argue the way we work has changed. From retail, medical, manufacturing and a host of other industries, being tied to a fixed office location simply isn't an option for a growing portion of the work force, and Microsoft is tackling this trend head-on. "Our Windows Embedded Business is focused on extending Windows and the benefits of cloud computing to the world of specialized devices," said Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO.

Let's face it: Real-time access to information isn't just about increasing productivity. It's how business is conducted every day around the world.
Steve Ballmer outlines Microsoft's commitment to the future of enterprise handheld devices and the Motorola ES400.

Historically, Microsoft has offered two software platforms to help original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) deliver the next generation of enterprise handheld devices: Windows Embedded CE (the Windows Embedded Compact 7 community technology preview was announced June 1 and is available for download) and Windows Mobile.

Today, during Motorola's launch event for its ES400 enterprise digital assistant (EDA) in New York, Ballmer announced that Microsoft is making several key investments in the enterprise handheld device market, including the new Windows Embedded Handheld brand. "These releases will provide proven management and security functionality, while giving customers confidence that investments in handheld enterprise devices and line-of-business applications will be protected over time by an extended support life cycle," Ballmer said.

Windows Embedded Handheld is a new software platform designed to meet key line-of-business (LOB) scenarios and boost productivity of the mobile enterprise work force by enabling users to capture, access and act on business critical information where and when they need it. The first release under the brand is scheduled to come this calendar year and build on the Windows Mobile 6.5 platform with trusted management and security features, as well as enhanced protection for existing enterprise investments in LOB applications on devices.
The ES400, Motorola's smallest and pocketable EDA, offers the comprehensive voice and data capabilities required to enable workers to not only receive information, but to take action immediately.
The ES400, Motorola's smallest and pocketable EDA, offers the comprehensive voice and data capabilities required to enable workers to not only receive information, but to take action immediately.
Click for larger version.

For users, this means OEMs can take enterprise handheld devices - like the ones you see store employees using when you're out shopping - and create something extraordinary. These devices can vary greatly in functionality, but imagine the potential to enhance key LOB applications with the rich, immersive user experiences of touch or gesture response, plus enhanced connectivity to Windows-based PCs, servers and enterprise services.

In addition, Ballmer announced that Windows Embedded will continue to support developer tools used in building applications and experiences on today's devices, including Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 and Windows Forms. This will help provide confidence that the existing investments will be protected over time as Microsoft releases new software platforms, as the operating system support life cycle will be extended to more closely align with the typical life cycle of devices in the enterprise.

Likewise for enterprise customers of our OEMs, investments in existing enterprise LOB applications will also be protected. An updated Windows Embedded Handheld platform based on Windows 7 technologies (Windows Embedded Compact 7) will be released in the second half of calendar year 2011, offering enhanced features and functionality to meet the needs of networked enterprise devices. The platform will also enable new key scenarios through support for rich user interfaces and natural input. A clear migration path will be available for these applications with Microsoft tools and technologies to a new application platform based on Microsoft Silverlight and Microsoft XNA, as well as Visual Studio 2010, with the Windows Embedded Handheld release in 2011.

The future for enterprise handheld devices is endless. A current white paper from analyst firm VDC Research estimates there were 2.3 million device shipments in 2009 and anticipates this number to exceed 4.3 million by 2014. The Windows Embedded CE and Windows Mobile platforms accounted for 87 percent of these 2009 shipments, according to VDC Research, and the relationships with its partner ecosystem continue to strengthen.
There are two distinct product groups focused on mobility at Microsoft: one for the enterprise handheld devices industry (WEB), and one committed to the mobile phone needs of customers for all types of end users (MCB).
There are two distinct product groups focused on mobility at Microsoft: one for the enterprise handheld devices industry (WEB), and one committed to the mobile phone needs of customers for all types of end users (MCB).
Click for larger version.

Motorola's ES400, just announced today, is a great example of what can be achieved when companies like Motorola and Microsoft collaborate to meet the needs of this space.

The ES400 integrates voice and advanced data capabilities, which bring out the full potential of mobile professionals by empowering them with the information and interaction they need to transform operations, increase enterprise profitability and complete their jobs virtually anywhere, anytime.

The next year is going to be a very exciting time for Windows Embedded as it continues to bring innovation to the enterprise handheld device space. Be sure to keep an eye on the Windows Embedded Newsroom for updates in the days, weeks and months ahead.