Microsoft vs. the Rest of the Wireless Data World
By William Fellows, Tue Nov 05 16:00:00 GMT 2002
Let the battle commence...
Microsoft has opened a new front in the battle for platform supremacy in the wireless market with the launch of its Smartphone 2002 operating system, formerly known as Stinger.
As part of its mobile workplace program, it has engaged Cap Gemini Ernst &amp; Young, Accenture and Hewlettt-Packard to provide businesses with integration services for Smartphone devices. Microsoft will also work with local wireless enterprise companies – such as Commtag in Europe, which manages wireless email – and in conjunction with operators to create vertical market product packages.
It's another advance forward for Microsoft in its push to mobilize its assets. The company also announced that it's bundling Mobile Information Server into future Exchange releases, and that all Windows releases will include support for wireless functions. Key to all its efforts will be the ability to leverage the .NET Compact version of Microsoft's Web services architecture across all the mobile platforms.
Smartphone offers users a phone platform that integrates wireless data services seamlessly, enabling business users to stay connected with corporate email, PIM and other applications. It's designed for one-hand use with single-click access to all services, and is a complement to the PDA-oriented Pocket PC, which is cut from the same Windows CE code.
Pocket PC pitched Microsoft against Palm and other PDA makers, and now Smartphone pitches it against Symbian, wireless Java and its supporters, notably Nokia. Its unifed messaging capability also puts it more directly in competition with RIM and Good Technology.
Business users are seen as the low-hanging fruit in wireless data services by all camps. Smartphone is a better phone platform than Pocket PC. While it has a less rich Web experience (and is designed for use in devices with regular mobile screens), it has a better unified messaging interface. Putting its best foot forward, Microsoft has elected to use Smartphone-powered phones from Orange to enable its UK workforce to stay connected to email and other corporate applications. Its endorsement must be worth something. Microsoft's battle with Symbian – read Nokia – for platform supremacy is now set-up. This is a step forward for wireless data – now will the users come?
Microsoft launched Smartphone in conjunction with European operator Orange. A device called the SPV – Sound, Pictures, Voice – is being marketed at business and consumer users at a discounted price of £179 ($278). The SPV (including a camera for MMS messaging) looks more like a phone than a PDA.
Microsoft itself has stepped up to the challenge of promoting this class of device for business use, touting it as the ideal way of giving employees remote access to corporate intranets when they are away from their desks for short periods. Microsoft UK's 1,700 employees will be using the tri-band SPV to connect with their email, sales and support applications.
The company kicked off its mobile workplace initiative by working with operators, such as Vodafone, to link wireless laptop, PDA and phone users to Exchange applications.
Orange's SPV is made by HTC, which also manufactures the iPaq and O2's XDA. Orange has 200,000 on order – which it expects to sell by the end of the year. Samsung, Sendo and other device vendors are lining up Smartphone devices, too.
Orange leads the list of operators, including AT&amp;T Wireless, Cingular Wireless, Verizon Wireless and Vodafone Group, by announcing immediate plans for Smartphone-based services. It's good to see the company has been doing something other than throwing money at 3G licenses. By 2005, Orange is hoping to derive 25% of its total revenue from data-based services, up from 10% today. It is characterizing SPV as a second-generation device with 3G functions.
Smartphone is the latest cut of the Windows CE operating system – Pocket PC being the first. What's the difference? Smartphone is a mobile phone platform first, and Pocket PC is a PDA platform first. Smartphone is designed for single-handed use and provides single-click access to each function. Devices using it will have a phone keypad and a regular TFT screen, not the touch-sensitive screens that feature on Pocket PC devices.
Moreover, Smartphone devices don't have to be used in conjunction with PCs – they can very usefully be synchronized, managed, provisioned, upgraded and configured over the air. But to upload data (files, images, MP3 and so on) to the SD storage card, users will probably want to synch the devices via a cradle connection. Orange is using WaterCove to manage subscriber sessions and provision wireless data services, and it promises a raft of new offerings over the coming months.
Smartphone includes Pocket Outlook and Pocket IE, PIM, MSN Messenger, digital camera, 256MB SD (1GB in 2003) or MMC expansion cards. What's key is that for the first time a unified inbox provides seamless access to SMS, MMS and email messages and a much easier way of sending messages in either format to contacts, fixing a problem that bedevils users of wireless Pocket PC devices.
Its Web browsing functions, however, are less capable than those of the Pocket PC – although this depends to a certain extent on how operators chose to implement it. In SPV, instead of booting up IE with a URL entry line, the user is encouraged to create favorite site lists within Orange's pre-selected portal of preferred content partners. Getting to a URL entry screen and then entering and saving sites is not intuitive, and certainly not a single-click operation. Users aren't going to enjoy looking at regular Web pages on Smartphone devices, unlike on Pocket PC, where web surfing is just about bearable.
Games and other Windows 'downloadables' (not wireless Java, of course) will execute on the platform. Paid-for content can be added to a subscribers' bill starting next year (paid for directly or at Orange France by use of a stored wallet). Push email will be integrated from the first quarter of next year.
At the rollout, Orange announced that on top of a subscribers' monthly plan (which includes a pre-defined message limit) it would charge £6 a month for 'all you can eat,' enabling users to access as much other Web content as they chose to – potentially email access through Hotmail or Yahoo. But, when the451 pressed Orange EVP Richard Brennan, it turns out this isn't as much a free lunch as the company claimed. In fact, under this program, Orange has set a use limit of 10MB per month on its GPRS network, which amounts to viewing perhaps 400 Web pages, 100 emails and a couple of downloads.
Smartphone has been long in the making, and Microsoft admits that before it saw what Orange was planning to do with Smartphone it had conceived of the platform as a strictly business, rather than consumer, opportunity. This is why the Pocket PC and Smartphone releases got so out of synch with one another.
Pocket PC took Microsoft's mobile battle to Palm and other PDA makers. Smartphone takes the battle to Symbian and wireless Java and its supporters, notably Nokia. Its unifed messaging capability also pitches it more directly against RIM and Good Technology.
Microsoft's long-term ambition for its mobile workplace program is to establish the .NET Compact architecture as the way to deliver wireless applications and data.
The451.com offers critical news analysis, comment and opinion on the technology, communications and media industries with an emphasis on their convergence.