Orange unveils first Microsoft smartphone

The first Windows Powered Smartphone to hit the high street will be Orange's SPV, offering picture messaging and desktop connectivity. Orange hopes it will be a revenue booster, in the absence of 3G

Orange on Tuesday unveiled the details of its upcoming smartphone, the SPV, which will be the first Microsoft-powered handset on the market when it arrives early next month. The handset aims to combine consumer-friendly features such as an attachable camera and multimedia messaging (MMS) with Windows software integration along the lines of Microsoft's Pocket PC handheld computers.

See images of the SPV here.

The SPV made its debut at the same time as Sendo's long-anticipated Z100, also based on Windows Powered Smartphone software. The Z100 (see ZDNet UK's preview here) has many of the same features, as well as add-ons such as Java support, and will carry a somewhat higher price tag when it hits the market late this year or early next year. (See related story: Microsoft launches smartphone assault.)

Orange's handset is aimed at a mainstream market, and as such carries a somewhat lower price tag than the Z100, at £179 (subject to a 12-month contract) compared to the Z100's £199 (approx.). Unlike the Z100, the SPV's price includes several add-ons, including snap-on camera, USB cradle for connecting to a PC and an SD memory card.

The handset will launch in France, Denmark and Switzerland in the weeks after its UK launch, and said it would roll out in its international markets such as Belgium, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Romania and Thailand in early 2003.

The Microsoft software provides such services as photo messaging (MMS), email, calendar, contacts, instant messaging, text messaging, Web browsing and audio and video playback. Like a Pocket PC handheld computer, the phone can synchronise with desktop applications via a USB cradle. Calendar and contacts data can be synchronised over a GPRS wireless connection using Microsoft Mobile Information Server -- functioning much the same as the BlackBerry device from Research in Motion, offered in the UK by mmO2.

Orange will also offer an over-the-air backup service for contacts and calendar data.

The handset features a 2.2-inch TFT LCD screen displaying 176x220 pixels and 64,000 colours. It has a Secure Digital/MultiMedia Card expansion slot, allowing for storage cards of up to 256MB to be added. The battery provides three hours of talk-time or 100 hours in standby mode, Orange said.

The hardware, designed by Taiwan's High Tech Corp. (HTC), is based on Texas Instruments' OMAP platform, and uses a 120MHz ARM-based processor. It includes 32MB of flash read-only memory (ROM) and 16MB of SDRAM, more than 6MB of which is available for user storage. It has an infrared port, but no built-in Bluetooth, although an add-in Bluetooth SD card may later become available. Orange said that other accessories such as a car kit and attachable keyboard would be on offer soon.

Microsoft also makes Pocket PC Phone Edition software, which is designed for combo devices that lean more towards the handheld computer side. The best-known example of Phone Edition is currently the xda, also manufactured by HTC and offered in the UK by mmO2. These devices include a stylus and tend not to have a built-in keypad.

On the other hand, both the Z100 and the SPV are aimed at PC-savvy consumers. By contrast, Nokia's first mass-market smartphone, the 7650, doesn't include a PC synchronisation cable, and its marketing focuses more on consumer applications such as MMS and taking pictures with its built-in camera than on handling data. Nokia's handset, with a service contract, costs around the same as the Windows smartphones.

Orange argues it has hit the right balance between consumer and data features, and sees the device as key to revenue growth. "With the SPV, we now are able to deliver a suite of advanced services well before the advent of third generation networks," said Richard Brennan, executive vice-president for OrangeWorld and Brand, in a statement. "The SPV will help drive Orange toward its predicted data revenue target of 25 percent of total revenues by 2005."

Time will tell how receptive buyers are to a mobile phone handset made by a manufacturer such as HTC, which doesn't brand its products. Handset makers such as Nokia and Sony Ericsson have argued that mobile phone handsets are not a commodity, like PCs, and require manufacturers with hardware, software and branding expertise.

Nokia's 7650 took the Symbian OS on which it is based to the top of the European handheld device market for the third quarter, above Windows CE and Palm OS, according to Canalys.

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