Microsoft moves to bring high fashion to Windows phones

Company also discloses details about new Windows Marketplace for Mobile apps

Windows phones are about to go high fashion: Isaac Mizrahi and other fashion designers have been hired to help improve the Windows Mobile interface, Microsoft Corp. announced Tuesday.

The updated interface for the Microsoft Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system will be shown off during a keynote at the CTIA wireless conference on Thursday in Las Vegas.

Mizrahi, whose projects include designing women's fashions and household wares for retailer Target Corp., is one of several well-known fashion and product designers working to create a new look and feel for Windows phones that will begin shipping in the second half this year, said Aaron Woodman, director of consumer experience for Microsoft communications.

Mobile phone users will be able to choose color palettes and wallpaper created by fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi for the home screens of their Windows-based mobile phones.

The designers are working to improve the background wallpaper, color schemes, and the look of scroll bars and other elements in the Windows Mobile interface, Woodman said. The goal is to let users personalize their phones, he added.

Woodman also noted that Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft entertainment and devices, will outline new details about the company's Marketplace for Mobile, which sells Windows Mobile applications online, at the conference. Woodman said Bach will announce that the Microsoft online store will let users use credit cards to pay for applications or have charges added to phone bills. He added that purchasers will have 24 hours to return an application for a full refund.

From the start, Woodman said Marketplace for Mobile will offer 20,000 Windows Mobile applications created in recent years by thousands of developers. Some of the applications will be distributed free of charge while others will be priced from 99 cents, he said. About two-thirds of the applications are aimed at consumers, he said.

The Marketplace for Mobile, which competes with Apple Inc.'s App Store, will also allow mobile carriers to create a "store within a store" where they can offer their own applications on the Microsoft site, Woodman said.

Microsoft Windows Mobile customers and IT managers within businesses and enterprises will not be required to purchase applications through the marketplace, Woodman added.

Woodman said he first realized how much of a fashion statement a phone could be when he tried to buy a jewelry-encrusted case at several stores for a former girlfriend in the 1990s. Microsoft is working with the Design Museum in London and the Council of Fashion Designers of America to help Windows Mobile 6.5 users express their own personalities in their phones.

In a statement, Mizrahi said, "Phones are just as much a fashion statement as the clothes you wear. As a designer, I'm excited to team up with Microsoft to bring forth fresh and funky new ways for people to make their Windows phones a part of their personality. Cast aside your old black phone and make this about color and fun.

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