Microsoft has informed some of its partners that the latest release of its Windows Mobile platform has been delayed until the second half of next year, says CNET News, which cites unnamed sources. The report notes that Microsoft has not fixed a launch date for Windows Mobile 7 but many partners had expected the platform to be ready in early 2009. The reported delay is seen as blow for Microsoft as it faces increasing competition in the smartphone market from the likes of Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android and Research In Motion’s BlackBerry, which have all made significant progress this year. Among the features expected to be introduced on Windows Mobile 7 are gesture recognition and speech input, the report says, adding that a number of operators and handset makers have been working with Microsoft to add new touch interfaces and other features that are separate from Microsoft’s operating system updates.

Despite the delay to the core operating system, CNET News notes that Microsoft is planning to debut some other applications ahead of the release of Windows Mobile 7, including an improved mobile browser based on Internet Explorer 7. Microsoft is also understood to be working on an applications ‘marketplace’ service for the Windows Mobile platform in an apparent attempt to compete with Apple’s ‘App Store’ and Google’s ‘Android Market.’