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Microsoft's smartphone partners: history lessons

Does the history of Microsoft's partnerships with mobile device manufacturers hold any clues as to how its tie-up with Nokia will go? We trawl the ZDNet archives for some instructive examples.
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1 of 6 Charles McLellan/ZDNet

Nokia's recent strategic partnership with Microsoft has set the tech community abuzz: over the past week, legions of commentators have pondered the future shape of the smartphone market following the announcement that Windows Phone 7 is to step into Symbian's shoes as the Finnish company's primary OS platform.

Of course, Microsoft has partnered with many mobile hardware manufacturers over the years (although none as dominant in the mobile space as Nokia), and we've covered the results regularly here on ZDNet UK.

So sit back and enjoy (unless, perhaps, you're a Nokia person) a Microsoft-smartphone-themed trip through the archives...

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2 of 6 Charles McLellan/ZDNet

Sendo
Sendo was a British company, formed in 1999 by ex-Philips and Motorola employees and based in Birmingham. In the run-up to launching its Windows CE-based Smartphone 2002 platform, codenamed Stinger, Microsoft invested in the company, took a seat on the board, and lined up the Sendo Z100 as its inaugural smartphone showcase.

We got hold of a prototype and published a preview of the Z100, but the product was canned in late 2002 without ever being properly launched. Microsoft-Sendo relations soured to the point of lawyers following the unexpected appearance of the HTC-manufactured Orange SPV (reviewed here by the late, great Guy Kewney). Following the Z100 debacle, the British company moved onto Symbian but eventually went out of business in 2005.

Our leader article on Sendo's demise had some sage advice:
"The lesson is clear. If you have to deal with a company much bigger and richer than you, and with interests not directly aligned with your own, you have to be very careful indeed. It may be that no matter how good the deal looks, you won't have the resources to defend yourself if it goes sour. In which case, it's better to step back and find another way."

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3 of 6 Charles McLellan/ZDNet

Motorola
Motorola's first Windows-based smartphone was the flip-open MPx200, which appeared in late 2003 — running the then-outdated Smartphone 2002 (its main rival, the Orange SPV E200, had already moved on to Windows Mobile 2003 for Smartphone). Motorola continued to release Windows-based smartphones until 2007's Windows Mobile 6-based Q9, but, apart from some rugged vertical-market devices, is now firmly in the Android camp, notably with its Droid/Milestone range.

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4 of 6 Charles McLellan/ZDNet

Sierra Wireless
Canadian company Sierra Wireless made its only foray into the Windows smartphone business in 2004 with the Windows Mobile 2003-based Voq Professional, which was notable for its dual-mode flip-open keyboard.

We liked the business-focussed Voq Professional for its clever keyboard and useful software bundle, but good reviews and user reception didn't help: Sierra Wireless exited the smartphone arena in 2005 to concentrate on its core embedded module business.

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5 of 6 Charles McLellan/ZDNet

Palm
PDA pioneer Palm inherited a range of smartphones when it merged with one-time offshoot Handspring in 2003 and took over its Treo range. Palm OS diehards were horrified in 2005 when palmOne (as the merged company became) announced the Windows Mobile 5-based Treo 700w. The UK had to wait until 2007 to get a Windows-based Palm device, the Vodafone-branded Treo 750v. We liked it, despite "the absence of Wi-Fi, a cramped screen, the lack of a front-facing camera and proprietary cables".

Palm has had a particularly chequered history, spinning off (in 2003) and then repurchasing (in 2005) its software arm, developing a brand-new mobile operating system (webOS) in 2009 and most recently being bought by HP in 2010.

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6 of 6 Charles McLellan/ZDNet

HP
The HP (formerly Compaq) iPAQ range of PDAs and smartphones has been one of the longest-established Windows CE-based platforms. HP iPAQs were often at the leading edge, for example offering multiple wireless connections (quad-band GSM/GPRS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and infrared) in 2004's iPAQ h6340 and adding GPS to the smartphone mix in 2005's hw6515 Mobile Messenger (pictured above). Microsoft's naming system for its mobile OS never did it any favours, it must be said: the hw6515 was based on "Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC, Second Edition, Phone Edition".

Today, of course, HP's mobile OS is webOS, purchased along with Palm last year. The smartphone world is waiting to see whether the tech giant can establish its nascent platform as a significant competitor to Android, iOS and Windows Phone 7.

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