Microsoft prepares for wireless Internet assault

After nearly missing the boat the first time around, Microsoft is getting ready for the second coming of the Internet, the wireless Internet

Internet cell phones have the potential to overtake PCs as the primary means of accessing the Internet. After nearly missing the first Internet wave, Microsoft is positioning itself for the second coming. Microsoft has two specs for Internet cell phones, the feature phone and the smartphone. The feature phone will be operating system independent and can access the Web, while the smartphone will be a more expensive unit with PDA and phone features for voice and data connections.

Analysts believe that the simpler feature phone will be the bigger hit with consumers because it will be more affordable. In addition, the smartphone is a type of device that users have already seen and deemed too bulky.

The feature phone will use Microsoft's Mobile Explorer browser, which supports HTML and WAP. The phones will be primarily for online browsing and voice and will not have much storage capacity, making for an affordable phone, probably in the £100-200.

"The feature phone will resemble many of the Internet phones on the market now, only it will come with more features," said Perry Lee, product manage for Microsoft. Lee went on to say that current Internet phones will evolve into what Microsoft is calling a smartphone.

Smartphones will be based on Windows CE and will have PDA and phone features for online and offline capabilities. While the feature phone will be more of a text-based browsing experience, the smart phone will offer more of a high-resolution graphical Web surfing experience and will come with Pocket Internet Explorer.

With local storage, a higher-end CPU and a better resolution display, the smartphone is likely to cost several hundred dollars more than the feature phone. And price may determine the fates of both phones in the US.

"Users in the US are so used to subsidised phones and that will be a major factor. But Microsoft might actually have it right with the feature phone," said Ken Hyers, analyst at Cahners In-Stat Group.

Smartphone-like devices have already come and gone in the wireless market with units such as Qualcomm's pdQ and Nokia's 9100 Communicator phone.

Hyers went on to say that phones with too many features are difficult to personalise and will probably remain a niche in the market. Hyers cited size and price as being the major obstacles for widespread adoption.

The feature phone is expected to hit US shores later this year and the smart phone is due at the end of next year. Microsoft has agreements with Samsung and Sony to provide the platforms for each phone manufacturer. A feature phone, Sony's CMD-Z5, has been shipping in Europe for about a month.

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