Europe to get Microsoft smartphone before US

Despite an early announcement from US-based Cingular Wireless, Microsoft's Smartphone 2002 will make its first appearance in Western Europe in the first half of the year

Microsoft's Smartphone 2002 software will make its debut in a matter of weeks in Western Europe in a handset manufactured by the UK's Sendo, beating its appearance with Cingular Wireless in the US.

On Monday, Microsoft and Cingular said they would introduce Sendo's Z100 smartphone handset in the US in the second half of this year -- the first carrier announcement for Microsoft's Windows Powered Smartphone 2002. However, the handset will go on sale in the UK, France, Spain and possibly Germany in "the next two or three months", according to a Sendo spokeswoman.

"We've already done the contracts. It's up to the carriers when to announce them," she said.

The Cingular announcement came more than a year after the original February 2001 announcement of the Z100, at which time the device was expected to be on the market in autumn 2001. However, last year the wireless industry saw dreadful market conditions as a result of the global economic slowdown, and the GPRS data networks upon which smartphones depend have not matured as quickly as planned.

Nevertheless, the Z100 is to be the first device on the market running the Microsoft smartphone software. It will offer email, Web browsing and other handhed computer features in a compact mobile phone form factor. Samsung is another key Smartphone 2002 player, and plans to market a Microsoft-based smartphone near the end of this year. Samsung is also making a Palm-based smartphone and is developing a Symbian OS handset.

Sendo's handset weighs 99 grams and claims to be the smallest and lightest GPRS tri-band smartphone. It has a 65,000-colour TFT display and uses the 900, 1800 and 1900 GSM bands, allowing it to function in Europe, Asia and the Americas. Among its PDA-like features are Web and WAP browsers, digital music player, USB, IrDA and serial connectivity and a Multimedia Card/Secure Digital Card slot for memory expansion. Like many of the upcoming handsets announced at last week's CeBIT, the Z100 supports Java for downloadable games and other software.

The phone includes an unspecified amount of RAM and 32MB of Flash memory, and runs on an ARM9 core-based processor from Texas Instruments. Sendo estimates it will cost about $399 (£279) with operator subsidies, or $999 without subsidies.

Sendo has been shipping more conventional mobile phone handsets since May of last year, with a focus on the European market, and the company's experience with European networks is mainly responsible for the earlier introduction of the Z100 here, Sendo said.

Microsoft paid more than $10m last year for a stake of less than 10 percent in Sendo, but the software company has given Sendo a fairly free hand in design decisions. For example, Microsoft opposed the use of Java, which is made by rival Sun Microsystems, but Sendo says it included Java because of demand from network operators.

The main competition for Smartphone 2002 is the Symbian OS, which has been around in handsets from Ericsson and Nokia for more than two years. However, the lack of stable GPRS data connectivity has kept such devices from gaining traction so far.

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