Microsoft launches smartphone assault

Update: UK mobile phone operator Orange and hardware maker Sendo unveil the first two handsets to use Microsoft's smartphone software

Mobile phone network operator Orange and equipment maker Sendo have announced the first mobile phones featuring Microsoft's software, Windows Powered Smartphone 2002, at separate events in London. The announcements mark the first entry by Microsoft into the potentially huge market for mobile phones with email and personal-organiser features. They may also create a serious challenge for Symbian, whose smartphone software has been licensed by most major mobile phone makers, and has recently pulled ahead of competitors in the European market. (See related story: Symbian influx boosts mobile device sales.) Sendo's long-delayed Z100 is the more powerful of the two handsets, and has a price tag to match. It is a tri-band phone, allowing it to run on GSM networks around the world, and offers high-end features such as a Secure Digital (SD)/Multimedia Card (MMC) expansion slot, synchronisation with Windows desktop applications via cradle or GPRS, Java applications and audio and video playback. For more details, see ZDNet UK's preview of Sendo's Z100. It features up to four hours of talk time or 80-120 hours of standby time and comes with 32MB of flash memory, of which up to about 10MB can be used for storing data and extra applications. It also has 16MB of SDRAM memory. The TFT screen, with a visible area of 2.2 inches, measures 176x220 pixels and displays up to 65,536 colours. It will carry a subsidised price tag of £199 inc. VAT with a service contract. Sendo said it will launch with T-Mobile in the UK later this year or early next year, and other UK network operators are also in the process of approving the device. In Spain it will launch with Telefonica and in Italy two as yet unnamed GSM operators will offer the Z100. The retailer Carphone Warehouse will carry the phone in the UK. A camera add-on will be available for the Z100 upon launch, and early next year Bluetooth will also be available as an add-on via the SD/MMC slot. Orange's new handset,the SPV (Sound Pictures Video), will arrive in shops earlier than the Z100 -- it will hit the market in early November. It is manufactured by Taiwan's High Tech Computer (HTC), which also makes the xda, a combination mobile phone/handheld organiser, for mmO2 and Microsoft. The tri-band GPRS phone has a 176x220 64,000 colour display with USB and MMC support, and supports MMS. At £179, with a 12-month service contract, the SPV is slightly less expensive than the Z100, and the price includes a USB cradle and an attachable camera. Read more details about the SPV here and see images here. Microsoft's biggest competitor in the smartphone market at the moment is Symbian, which is backed by all the major mobile phone manufacturers. Symbian's biggest success at the moment is Nokia's consumer-oriented 7650 smartphone, which features an integrated camera but is not designed for easy integration with a PC. The Symbian OS-powered Sony Ericsson P800, coming later this year, will have a built-in camera as well as high-end features similar to Sendo's Z100. However, the P800 uses a stylus, whereas the 7650 and Windows Powered Smartphone models rely on the handset keypad. Lack of major handset makers
Microsoft's smartphone strategy emphasises Microsoft's own brand and that of network operator, treating the handset hardware as a commodity -- much as in the PC market. As such it has been less attractive to large, well-known mobile phone makers, which prefer to keep the software's brand in the background. Smartphone 2002 licensees have thus tended to be commodity hardware makers who are less interested in pushing their own brands. Orange's handset, for example, is made by Taiwan's High-Tech Computing (HTC), which also manufactures the xda smartphone sold by O2 in the UK and T-Mobile in the US. HTC also manufactures devices for handheld computer makers such as Hewlett-Packard. Samsung has licensed Smartphone 2002, the only well-known handset maker to do so, but is also planning a Symbian-based device. In the US, AT&T Wireless has agreed to produce a phone using the Smartphone 2002 operating system -- possibly in mid-2003. Microsoft also makes Pocket PC Phone Edition, a version of its Windows CE software for handheld computers that include mobile phone functions, such as Hewlett-Packard's Jornada 928. PDA/phone combinations have begun to catch on. Vendors include handheld computer makers such as Palm, Handspring and HP, as well as mobile phone makers such as Nokia, Sony Ericsson and Kyocera. Nokia has recently found success with the 7650 camera-phone, its first mass-market Symbian OS device. Sales of the 7650 helped to drive Symbian to the No. 1 spot in the European handheld device market for the third quarter, above the Palm OS and Windows CE.

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