February 19, 2002 12:30 PM PST

Microsoft unveils wireless strategies

Microsoft on Tuesday announced several new efforts to bring wireless capabilities to devices using its operating systems in Cannes, France, at the 3GSM World Congress.

Among the announcements are the software maker's plans to work with chipmakers Intel and Texas Instruments to develop reference designs for phones that will run its Windows Powered Smartphone 2002 operating system. A reference design is essentially a blueprint that helps manufacturers build devices faster and get them into the hands of consumers.

In Microsoft and Intel's existing relationship in the PC industry, both companies are by far the market leaders in their respective industries.

"With these reference designs, the entire product is a ready-made solution for manufacturers," said Microsoft product manager Ed Suwanjindar. "They are essentially recipes to get products to market later this year."

Microsoft's efforts reflect an increasing trend in the handheld industry to incorporate wireless capabilities with devices. Palm has added wireless e-mail access to its latest device, the i705, and Handspring has improved its integration of voice capabilities in its recently launched Treo communicator.

As previously reported, Microsoft on Tuesday also announced its Phone Edition application, which will help handheld-device owners access data and make voice calls. The software runs on the Pocket PC 2002 operating system and will be used with Hewlett-Packard's Jornada 928 Wireless Digital Assistant, which the PC maker announced Tuesday.

Devices using Microsoft's Pocket PC 2002 and Smartphone 2002 operating systems will be able to handle both voice and data access. For devices that are connected to back-end corporate software, a key feature will be wireless synchronization to Outlook for e-mail with attachments, appointments and contacts. However, that capability is not always on, so consumers will have to set synchronization times.

Always-on access can draw significant amounts of power as well as minutes from wireless service subscription plans, Suwanjindar said.

New devices using the new reference designs are already in the works, Suwanjindar said. Compal is shopping a Smartphone product using TI's OMAP technology to carriers.

Devices using Intel's wireless device blueprint--Personal Internet Client Architecture, or PCA--are expected later this year. PCA uses Intel's XScale processors, which the chip maker announced last Monday.

Microsoft's announcements Tuesday address two categories: handhelds and wireless phones. Phones have the potential to be a much larger market given the number of units that have already been shipped--more than 10 times the number of handhelds shipped. But analysts have said that adding wireless capabilities to both types of devices could help to lift sales significantly.

The Phone Edition software targets handhelds using Microsoft's Pocket PC 2002 operating system. Phone Edition allows the applications on a Pocket PC-based device to work together more efficiently to make voice calls. For example, it allows people to dial someone directly from a contact list and to add an appointment to a calendar on a desktop and have it to appear on a handheld.

Microsoft is hoping that its alliances with TI and Intel will help to jump-start its phone efforts, which have been mostly talk thus far; a device running its Smartphone 2002 OS has yet to ship. Of the top phone makers, only Samsung has agreed to use Microsoft's wireless phone software.

In related news, the mobile phone operating system Symbian also got a spit and polish. Symbian is backed by four of the world's top five cell phone makers. Sony, Ericsson and Nokia have already launched their first phones that run on Symbian.

The new version of Symbian supports wireless e-mails that contain video clips, still photos or audio recording. Phones that use the new version will also be able to operate in Japan on NTT DoCoMo's new cell phone network.

Separately, Microsoft announced Mobile Information Server 2002, or MIS, an upgraded version of its server-based software for doling out data over the wireless Internet. New capabilities for the software include the ability to sync PocketPC 2002-based devices with Microsoft's back-end Exchange collaboration software, allowing users to access their e-mail, calendar and contact information between the programs.

Compaq Computer and HP will release new technology services built around the new mobile capabilities, Microsoft said.

The first version of the MIS server software was unveiled in June of last year. Later in the year, Microsoft ended its wireless software joint venture with Qualcomm. This version MIS 2002, was launched in New York at Internet World Wireless East 2002.

Staff writer Ben Charny contributed to this report.

 

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