First look at MS 'Stinger'-based phone

First look at MS 'Stinger'-based phone

Summary: Unlike other combo cell/Net phones, phones based on 'Stinger' can be held in one hand. It is key to Microsoft's wireless future

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Microsoft is offering more details on its wireless strategy, including an early look at its "Stinger" specification for super small smart phones.

The combination PDA and mobile phone is the latest horse in Microsoft's stable of specifications for devices, which also includes the Pocket PC platform and the soon-to-be released "feature" phone.

The device specifications, along with Microsoft's content and wireless tools, make up the key components in its wireless future.

Stinger was demonstrated Tuesday during a discussion headed by Microsoft's vice president Ben Waldman, vice president of the Mobile Devices Division. Microsoft won't build the device, but will license the underlying software technology such as the Windows CE operating system to manufacturers including Samsung.

"Three-hundred million phones were sold last year, and 500 million are expected to be sold next year, and we fully expect phones to overtake PCs as the way users will access the Internet," Waldman said.

Just as the last ten years have brought the Internet and the mobile phone into the mainstream, the future will be the convergence of these technologies in mobile devices and, by extension, wireless capabilities, Waldman said.

Acknowledging that there was no such thing as an ideal mobile device, Microsoft will support three different technologies: the already announced Pocket PC platform for handheld devices, a "feature" phone and a smart phone.

So-called feature phones are not yet available in the United States, but they are selling in Europe and, according to Microsoft, one million phones with its technology are in use in Korea.

Features phones are similar to many currently available Web phones today. Users can access the Internet with Microsoft's Mobile Explorer as a microbrowser. The browser is OS-independent, supporting both HTML and WML (Wireless Markup Language) pages.

Sony and Samsung have feature phone models available in Europe. US versions are expected later this year.

By contrast, smart phones are more of a combination PDA and mobile phone with a browser. Depending on the manufacturer, the units will have colour displays and, unlike some of the PDA and phone combo devices that have come and gone, the Microsoft smart phones will be small enough to be used with one hand.

The phone, according to Waldman, will also be capable of caller ID and smart calendars. One example of a smart calendar feature: your phone will vibrate instead of ring if you are in a meeting. Samsung is expected to have smart phones based on Microsoft's software available at the end of next year.

Microsoft is looking to provide an end-to-end wireless solution addressing the needs of carriers as well as users, Waldman said.

A software platform, codenamed Airstream, will help carriers and corporations build and deploy wireless applications. Waldman would not offer further details.

"The future isn't just about devices -- it's also about servers and applications, and they will all need to work well together," he said.

Microsoft will use its content properties including MSN, MSNBC and WebTV, to attract users to its mobile devices. The company will also offer wirelessly enabled versions of applications such as the Outlook planner.

Waldman stressed that all of its products will be based on open standards so other companies and technologies will be able to work with Microsoft products.

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