May 10, 2005 9:00 AM PDT

Microsoft hits redial in cell phone battle

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show up on existing product lines.

But Microsoft is clearly focused on the market for cell phone devices--and on touting its progress against chief competitor Nokia--by adding support for hard drives and USB 2.0 connections, and by making it easier to create phones with keyboards.

Meanwhile, Symbian, maker of a rival OS, announced on Tuesday that its first-quarter shipments of phones running its software nearly tripled from the prior year.

"Symbian OS shipments grew strongly in the first quarter of 2005 to 6.75 million, representing more than 180 percent year on year growth," Interim CEO Thomas Chambers said in a statement.

In Windows Mobile 5.0, the software maker also addressed a key shortcoming: Devices running previous versions of Windows Mobile often lost key information if the handheld or phone's battery completely drained. The problem was so bad that some device makers wrote their own software, but Microsoft said it has implemented a feature in the OS called "persistent memory storage," which is designed to take care of the issue.

A RIM killer?
In the past, Microsoft has had three distinct flavors of Windows Mobile: one for handhelds, one for phones and a third for handheld-shaped devices that also packed phone capabilities. The distinctions still exist, but Horn said the barriers between the categories are starting to fall. He said that roughly 90 percent of the code is now common among the categories, though in many cases software written for one class of device still needs to be modified to run on a different kind of Windows Mobile product.

Although Microsoft is updating the operating system that runs on mobile devices, the company is not providing a concurrent upgrade to ActiveSync. That's Microsoft's software that connects cell phones and handhelds to corporate servers. Some had said Windows Mobile 5.0 would be a "RIM killer," directly targeting the maker of BlackBerry devices that are popular in the business world.

While there are not many features directly targeting Research In Motion's stranglehold on mobile e-mail, analysts say Microsoft has set the stage for a showdown through its broader support for devices with keyboards.

"By enabling easy customization, handset manufacturers should be able to introduce attractive BlackBerry handheld alternatives," Stanford Group analyst Pablo Perez-Fernandez wrote in a report issued Monday.

Microsoft added a number of networking enhancements including improved Bluetooth short-range wireless networking. Also, Wi-Fi, which was supported in Pocket PC devices, is now supported for smart phones as well.

The new Windows Mobile version should help RIM's server software rivals including Good Technology, Seven Networks, Visto and Intellisync, Perez-Fernandez said. "Most alternative push e-mail suppliers are already customizing their platforms to run under (Windows Mobile 5.0), and we believe that a barrage of...products will soon hit the market."

"RIM is being attacked from every angle," Perez-Fernandez said, "and we think things will get worse."

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After what MS has done to the PC...
... I certainly do not want to see MS getting into my cell phone. I
also don't want any of the supposed 'features' MS claims it will
provide. And I don't want any such 'features' from anyone else.
All I ask of my cell phone is that I can communicate with
selected people when and where I want. For me, anything else is
a gross waste of time and money.

Other people can get what they want, and pay for it, and
complain about how it doesn't work. That's their choice. I just
ask that I get mine too.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
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