Microsoft plans to concentrate on improving music in its next version of Windows Mobile software for mobile phones.

The company’s mobile communications division provides operating systems for mobile devices based on the Windows Mobile platform. Microsoft’s partners include Samsung Electronics, Motorola, High Tech Computer and Asustek Computer.

“One thing that Apple has leveraged on is the music scenario, and I think that that is something the operators and ourselves are partnering on, just to make sure that consumers can use live music in the best way,” Andy Lees, senior vice president of Microsoft’s Mobile Communications Business told Reuters.

Microsoft rivals include Apple’s iPhone, Research in Motion’s Blackberry, Palm and Nokia.

Lees said music in mobiles was a big business opportunity with people buying 10 times as many music-enabled mobile phones as iPods.

Windows Mobile users manage their music through the Windows Media Player program on their mobiles, similar to the one that operates on their desktops.

In the first quarter of this year, Microsoft shipped 4.3 million units of its Windows Mobile software, an increase of 1.9 million units from the same quarter a year-ago. Apple sold a total of 1.7 million iPhones in the same period, according to research firm IDC.

IDC estimates sales of Windows Mobile smartphones will double that of the iPhone over the next four years. Microsoft says global unit sales of its Windows Mobile software will grow at least 50 percent annually in fiscal years 2008 and 2009.