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Handsets featuring Microsoft's first come-back to the touchy-feely iPhone are due to hit retail stores on October 6.

The company is today expected to promise that phones running Windows Mobile 6.5 will hit retail stores around the world on that date.

In a parallel move, meanwhile, the long-awaited Windows Marketplace for Mobile - Microsoft's answer to the App Store - will open for business at the same time.

The company said the Windows Mobile 6.5 phones would debut with "a wide variety of approved and certified applications" from Windows Marketplace for Mobile.

As an added incentive to lure customers away from Apple's App Store, Microsoft re-iterated that the marketplace will provide an easy return policy for customers to "buy with confidence".

The Windows Mobile 6.5 phones will also be backed up by Microsoft's My-Phone service, which will let customers back up and sync content such as photos, music, contacts and text messages from their phone to the web.

Again, the idea is to tempt uses away from Apple, only this time they are targeting those who fear that losing their phone also means an unrecoverable of loss of self.

Windows Mobile 6.5 was released to manufacturing in May, with Microsoft promising official availability in the fall. You could, of course, download and install the code yourself.

From October 6, though, Windows Mobile 6.5 will officially come on handsets in the US from Hewlett-Packard, HTC, LG, Samsung and Toshiba, with services delivered by AT&T, Bell Mobility, Sprint, TELUS and Verizon Wireless. Europe will see phones from Acer, HTC, LG, Samsung, Sony Ericsson and Toshiba and services from Orange, T-Mobile and Vodafone.

On the Windows Marketplace for Mobile, Microsoft had said to expect the store to open for Windows Mobile 6.5 this fall. Millions of phones running Windows Mobile 6.0 and 6.1 must wait until around December to use the store.

Interest in both Windows Mobile 6.5 and Microsoft's Marketplace has been building, as people want to see how they'll fare among both developers and consumers against Apple.

Touch is expected to be fairly limited in Windows Mobile 6.5, with version 7.0 touted by Microsoft as offering the full touch- and motion-based answer to the iPhone.

That was the plan, anyway. DigiTimes last month reported that Microsoft now plans an interim update to Windows Mobile 6.5 in February 2009, and that this will see Windows Mobile 7.0 now pushed back to fourth-quarter of 2010.

It is unclear whether that "release" means release to manufacturing or release on handsets. If it's the former, then based on the length of time it took Windows Mobile 6.5 to move from RTM to handset, you could expect Windows Mobile 7.0 in March 2011 at the earliest.

That'll give not just Apple more time to increase its market share in smart phones, but it will also give Palm and RIM time to take more business from Windows Mobile as Microsoft gets its act together. ®

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