Is Microsoft's Danger play a poke at Apple? Google? (updated)

Microsoft said Monday that they're acquiring Palo Alto, CA-based Danger Inc., maker of the T-Mobile Sidekick QWERTY smartphone.
Written by Jason D. O'Grady, Contributor
Microsoft said Monday that they're acquiring Palo Alto, CA-based Danger Inc., maker of the T-Mobile Sidekick QWERTY smartphone.

Sidekicks feature a novel flip-up screen that reveals a full-size keyboard making easy work of texting and email. It could even be argued that the Sidekick (which the company brands "Hiptop") was one of the pioneers of the QWERTY smartphones. Wikipedia has a good history of the device.

So what's Microsoft's interest in Danger, Inc.? Their Windows Mobile platform conflicts with Danger's proprietary OS. According to Danger's developer Web site:

Danger has written its own operating system and JVM for the hiptop. The Operating system has preemptive multitasking and a soft real-time scheduler, and it has been tuned specifically for running our JVM. All end-user applications are written in Java, as is the overwhelming majority of the high-level operating system. Arguably, Danger has the premiere "Java Operating System" on the market today.

Microsoft said the acquisition will align Danger's expertise in the mobile-consumer space with Microsoft's focus on expanding its mobile offerings.

"The addition of Danger serves as a perfect complement to our existing software and services, and also strengthens our dedication to improving mobile experiences centered around individuals and what they like," said Robbie Bach, Microsoft's president of entertainment and devices.

Full coverage of Robbie Bach's keynote address at Mobile World Congress 2008 in Spain is on MSN Money Central.

iLounge has a good analysis of the Sidekick timeline:

Danger’s lack of forward momentum began to make sense when its founders were revealed to have left the company to start Android, a venture Google purchased and built into a widely-discussed open mobile phone platform.

(emphasis mine)

Clearly Microsoft isn't buying Danger for the Hiptop OS. The acquisition appears to be a hardware play. Microsoft most likely wants to leverage Danger's experience building mobile handsets to develop a ZunePhone to compete with iPhone and the Google phone. iLounge contends that Microsoft is "folding the unit into the gaming and media device."

It's a curious move though because Microsoft has always maintained that they don't want to be a hardware company and want to leave that side of the business to their partners.

What's your take on the MS acquisition of Danger? Hardware play? Portable gaming device? iPhone/gPhone hedge? Chime in.

Update: Danger co-founder Joe Britt is ex WebTV and 3DO and along with Matt Hershenson are both ex Catapult (think Xbox Live over POTS, circa 1995).

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