Microsoft abuzz over Web-enabled cell phone

The software giant demonstrates the first working prototype of Stinger, a next-generation Web-enabled cell phone and a major part of its push into the wireless world.

3 min read
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.--Microsoft yesterday demonstrated the first working prototype of Stinger, its next-generation Web-enabled cell phone.

Speaking at the software maker's Silicon Valley campus, Microsoft vice president Ben Waldman showed off the phone, as well as the recently released Pocket PC handheld, in a presentation centered on Microsoft's growing focus on gadgets and wireless Internet access.

Stinger is Microsoft's code name for its family of so-called smart phones, a class of wireless phones with oversized displays and color screens designed for wireless Web access and conventional phone calls.

The product has been in the works for two to three years and will be marketed by Samsung in the United States and Europe. Microsoft plans to get the Stinger into the U.S. market next year.

Stinger will compete with a range of phones developed by the members of the Symbian consortium, which includes Motorola, Ericsson and Nokia.

Waldman, who heads the company's mobile devices unit, said handheld computers, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and Web-enabled cell phones will play an integral role in Microsoft's future success, like PCs and desktop operating systems have during the ast 24 years.

Microsoft named Waldman head of its gadget group earlier this year, moving him from its Apple business group. He oversaw the launch of the Pocket PC operating system in April and is now focusing on the development of Stinger.

Just like nearly every other technology company these days, Microsoft believes wireless Internet access is the future of computing, Waldman said. The difference, he asserted, is that Microsoft is uniquely suited to provide every facet of the software powering these devices.

PC overshadowed
The comments reflect Microsoft's response to its waning influence, as the desktop PC is overshadowed by an array of smart devices and appliances. Arguing that these products will augment rather than replace the PC, Microsoft is trying to recover from early problems in its gadget strategy.

The company's Pocket PC handheld has struggled to date, gaining less than 10 percent of the market in its two years of existence. Market leader Palm, on the other hand, has gained market share, partly through its licensing partners. These partners include Handspring, whose Visor handheld computer has grabbed 25 percent of the retail market share in its first six months on the shelves.

Glossing over the company's mishaps in the PDA arena and its future challenges in the wireless world from a variety of rivals, Waldman painted a picture of a company focused on the convergence of the Internet with appliances and mobile devices.

Unlike its competitors, he asserted, Microsoft is uniquely suited to succeed in this business because it alone provides the software necessary to power the back-end servers and the devices that connect with them, as well as the Internet content for these products.

"Mobile devices are a key part of Microsoft's new, extended vision," he said.

Devices play an important role in Microsoft's .Net initiative, he said, referring to the company's efforts to develop a world of Microsoft-dependent servers that power computers and devices of all types.

Crucial role
"No one can agree on the single ideal device," he said. "We're focusing on a broad range of devices."

Today's PC-centric Internet is still in the "mainframe era," he said, noting the current issues that need to be solved such as isolated servers powering different types of devices that do not yet communicate with one another, difficulty editing or creating information on mobile devices, and problems inherent in making these devices truly personalized.

Stinger will play a crucial role in the company's strategy of creating a variety of wireless devices that connect to corporate and Internet servers using Microsoft products and services. Showing off a version of the phone, Waldman demonstrated Microsoft's vision of surfing the Web via a wireless phone.

The phone's design, which resembles many of the higher-end phones available on the market today, includes a much larger display than typical phones. Expected to be available with a choice of monochrome or color display, the phone uses Microsoft's Mobile Explorer software to surf the Web and access personal information stored on servers and directly on the phone.

Stinger differs from current Web-enabled phones in a couple of significant ways.

The device is one of a few in the works to feature a color display capable of showcasing full Web content. Many of the current Web phones use the Wireless Application Protocol to display content, which dramatically truncates the amount of data that appears on the small displays.