MediaTek, Yahoo look to enhance feature phone allure

Taiwanese mobile chipset maker introduces Maui Runtime Environment middleware; signs on Yahoo as first partner to offer Web access and services in entry-level feature phones.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

SINGAPORE--MediaTek is aiming to bring Web access and services previously available only on smartphones to feature phone users via its Maui Runtime Environment (MRE) middleware platform, with Yahoo's instant messaging and e-mail services first to be made available.

MediaTek Chairman Tsai Ming-Kai said the Taiwanese mobile chipset maker is committed to helping its phone manufacturing customers create more product differentiations to address the feature phone market. To this end, he introduced the company's MRE software to circumvent "conventional limitations" to preinstall software on feature phones.

Speaking at a media briefing held here Wednesday, Tsai pointed out that feature phones can only contain limited number of preinstalled apps and cannot accept new content downloads. With MRE and "smart-feature phones" to be introduced by its handset partners, these users will now be able to enjoy mobile Internet services "at an affordable price", he noted.

"MRE has opened the doors to service and content providers to develop all sorts of services, from mobile games and multimedia entertainment to delivery of up-to-date stock market information," he added.

Yahoo's other services such as Flickr and news reports will be rolled out in the fourth quarter of this year, the company noted.

Asked if the middleware will conflict with operating systems (OSes) commonly found in feature phones such as Symbian or Java, Jason Wu, product manager at MediaTek, said most phonemakers will use the chipmaker's feature phone OS when they purchase its chipset.

This way, there will be "no issues" when utilizing the MRE on their phones, noted Wu who was also at the briefing. "It doesn't make [financial] sense for the handset makers to just buy our chipsets but license the OS from someone else," he said.

Its OS is licensed from a third-party developer but MediaTek makes further tweaks before the platform is installed on handsets, Wu explained. The OS has several benefits over other competing platforms such as Java, for instance, where the amount of space needed to deploy the OS as well as middleware on the phone with the MRE is only 140 kilobytes, while Java needs 1.7 megabytes, he added.

He also stressed that MediaTek will not compete with existing service and content partners as it will focus primarily on its chipset business. However, the Taiwanese company will "support" these partners in deploying their apps quickly and creating billing systems when needed later on, he noted.

Its current focus is on fostering the "open" ecosystem and bringing in more content providers onboard the MRE platform, Wu elaborated. In the long term, MediaTek will be looking to open up the software development kit (SDK) for all to use, down to individual software developers, he added.

Mobile key to Yahoo's strategy
For Yahoo, the global partnership will extend its content services to a wider audience, said Rose Tsou, senior vice president of Yahoo Asia-Pacific.

Citing figures from internal studies, she pointed out that in countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia, mobile Internet access via mobile phones or PDAs (personal digital assistants) has been growing in all three emerging markets at the expense of fixed access points such as Internet cafes. Tsou added that Yahoo has a 82 percent reach in Southeast Asia markets, particularly for its news, Web mail and instant messaging products.

With these statistics in mind, she said the partnership with MediaTek is an example of how mobile will be a "cornerstone" of Yahoo's business strategy going forward.

"The mobile Internet presents a wealth of opportunity for Yahoo and our partnership with MediaTek will further connect us with our audiences in growing markets such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam and India, where new Internet users are coming online for the first time through their mobile devices," she noted.

Feature phone makers and telcos will also be looking to cash in on the partnership, with Indonesia's Nexian, Malaysia's Spice CSL and Philippines' Cherry Mobile revealed as MediaTek's hardware partners during the briefing.

Nexian, for one, has pledged its support to grow the MRE ecosystem to increase the attractiveness of phones preinstalled with apps running on the platform. Martono Jaya Kusuma, CEO of Nexian's selular group, told ZDNet Asia that "if done right", MediaTek's partnership with Yahoo will boost its phone sales.

To help populate the ecosystem, Nexian's app development arm will create software relevant for Indonesian users, added Kusuma, at the sidelines of Wednesday's briefing.

He also expressed confidence that MediaTek's price-competitive chipsets and OS will do well against Google Android-powered low-end phones, particularly in the entry-level feature phones segment. This is because Google's mobile OS will not "run well" on low-end chipsets, unlike the Taiwanese company's OS, he said.

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