Microsoft To Start Cellphone Tests

Tuesday, February 20th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) — Microsoft will begin consumer tests of a ``smart phone'' this summer, extending a late, but determined thrust into mobile devices that started with the PocketPC handheld computer.

The software maker planned to show off the latest prototypes of a cellphone powered by its ``Stinger'' operating system on Monday at the 3GSM World Congress, a wireless industry conference in Cannes, France.

The Stinger is Microsoft's attempt at squeezing the most popular features of a handheld organizer — especially a bigger screen for e-mail and datebook functions — into a cellphone-sized package.

In addition to announcing market trials with wireless carriers such as Vodafone, Microsoft also planned to announce that two new partners, Mitsubishi and Sendo Ltd., will be making phones based on Stinger. Samsung Electronics was the first to sign on.

It is the Sendo model, which Microsoft worked most closely in developing along with chipmaker Texas Instruments, that will be tested in Europe and Asia, said Phil Holden, director of Microsoft's mobility group. Microsoft is still working to arrange trials with a U.S. carrier, he said.

Sendo is a British manufacturer whose handsets are sold by wireless service providers under their own brand name. The phone, weighing less than 4 ounces and equipped with color screens, is being made by Samsung Electronics, Mitsubishi and

If the trials go well, the phone could go on sale in time for this year's holiday shopping, though much more likely in Europe than in the United States, he said. No retail price has been disclosed, though Microsoft hopes to keep it below the $400 price tag that seems to be the upper limit for high-end phones.

Stinger, a much-hyped Microsoft project, is part of a three-pronged strategy to make sure the company doesn't get left behind as the focus of technology shifts from desktop computers to mobile devices.

The other two prongs were launched last year with the PocketPC, a direct assault on the dominant Palm operating system for handheld computers, and Mobile Explorer, an Internet browser for wireless phones introduced overseas.

Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft is hoping its products will appeal to computer users who are already familiar with the workings of its Windows operating system and other popular Microsoft programs like Outlook, the e-mail, calendar and contact manager. All three mobile software platforms are designed for an easy exchange of information with those desktop systems.

Although current wireless networks can only deliver a trickle of basic information to mobile devices, carriers are spending billions of dollars to buy more airwave capacity and upgrade with next-generation equipment that can transmit Web pages and pictures in full color.

Meanwhile, leading wireless players such as Nokia, Ericsson and Motorola have been struggling for several years to strike the right balance between size and computing power.

Many people find it hard to read and type words on the tiny screen and number pad of a typical mobile phone, but they're also unwilling to lug around larger devices such as the PDQ SmartPhone, the pioneering cellphone-Palm combination developed by Qualcomm and recently reintroduced by Kyocera.