First impressions of Microsoft Smartphone 2002 and the Orange SPV

What does the launch tell us?
Written by Tony Hallett, Contributor

What does the launch tell us?

Microsoft and Orange were yesterday walking around with their chests puffed out. It was understandable. The software giant has seen its Smartphone 2002 platform used in two devices, available for the Orange network from 11 November, and Orange gets to play its 'leading mobile operator' card again. But will this fanfare launch - and they did pull out the stops - amount to much more than earlier Orange firsts, such as a commercial videophone a couple of Christmases back? We think it will. Will it make the handset leaders - including Palm and those backing Symbian, most notably Nokia - quake in their boots? We're not so sure. Yesterday saw the launch of the Smartphone 2002-based Z100 device from Sendo, a handset which will be available from operators around Europe over the coming year. At the launch event, however, more attention was placed on the Orange SPV, which looks and feels very similar. It is interesting that the manufacturer - Taiwan's HTC, the maker of O2's xda and the iPaq, as well - took a back seat. The assumed wisdom is that Orange and Microsoft wanted this roll out to be about them, though Microsoft will say it is happy just to get licensees. More on that in a moment. The SPV device was good to use - not a joy but certainly up there with the best cutting-edge phone experiences. Microsoft has been at great pains to point out that "it's a phone first and foremost". Thus we get most options no more than two clicks away and, notably, no stylus input system, a feature of PocketPC devices - and competing smart phones based on the Palm OS, from Handspring and Kyocera for example. In short, the device looks like a mobile phone, with a large, good quality colour screen. It will allow voice calls, SMS, MMS, WAP and web surfing, as well as messaging (a version of Outlook is included) and synchronisation with corporate data, either via a synching cradle or connecting to Exchange servers via MIS (Mobile Information Server) and the Orange network. There is also the option of backing up information with Orange. While the usability and choice of content - there are a number of partners at launch from various games providers to enterprise software vendors such as PeopleSoft - is pretty good, we were particularly impressed by the pricing. A subsidised SPV handset will cost £179 on a contract and monthly online costs - in addition to voice, SMS and MMS bundles - will be a flat £6 for GPRS network access. MSN Messenger for instant messaging is included and SD cards will allow functionality to be 'plugged in' to the devices, which will also be sold on the ability to download upgrades - including patches to the OS software? - over the air. Launching with Orange is good news for Microsoft - it is even stumping up half the funds of a £25m marketing campaign - but is it enough to make it a real player in the phone business? Anne-Marie Duffy, Microsoft UK Wireless and Mobility marketing manager, told silicon.com: "Two and a half years ago we launched PocketPC with four OEMs, now we have 21. We launch [Smartphone 2002] with four, so it'll be interesting to see where we are in four years." The underlying story is that Nokia controls over a third of the world handset business and is committed to the Symbian OS, even if it is playing with different user interfaces, so there are questions as to whether Microsoft can get to where it wants to be in mobility without somehow winning over the Finnish giant. Among the three device manufacturers it has on board - in addition to HTC - is Samsung, rapidly emerging as the main pretender to the Nokia throne. This is a big endorsement for Smartphone 2002 but it should be noted Samsung is promiscuous in this area - it is also a Palm and recent Symbian licensee. It is also unlikely Samsung will do an HTC and take a back seat, brand-wise. However, a future where an increasing number of PDAs and smart phones are Wintel-based, carrying those company's logos along with the network operators', looms. The SPV is based on a Texas Instruments processor, though Microsoft is working closely with Intel, which is making a major play for the small device market. Microsoft says that with this roll out it is "changing the world" - clearly it isn't, at least not a in a huge way. But there are similar announcements on the horizon from operators including T-Mobile, Telefonica and, in the US, AT&T Wireless, Cingular and Verizon Wireless. Orange will see some benefit from being first, and first with an attractive, reasonably priced multimedia device. Microsoft will, it hopes, see returns over the long term, from numerous partnerships, the only realistic timeframe when it can challenge mobile's heavy hitters. For a review of the Z100 Sendo handset which also features Microsoft Smartphone 2002, see our partner site:
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