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AT&T Wireless: mMode update clips clicks

The company unveils the first major overhaul of its mMode wireless Web service, including new features and less potential thumb strain.

AT&T Wireless unveiled the first major overhaul of its mMode wireless Web service, including new features such as Microsoft messaging and less potential thumb strain.

Vice President Sam Hall on Thursday said the makeover addresses mMode's biggest problem: accessing a service involved too many keystrokes. For instance, on a full-size keyboard, the 17 keystrokes necessary to buy a ring tone was no problem. But Hall said it took mMode subscribers three minutes to enter the same information on a cell phone's dozen keys.

Early adopters were willing to endure the struggle "just to have some cool technology," Hall said, but not the more lucrative mass-market customers, such as teenagers and seniors, that the carrier wants to attract. "We have to take into account people using mMode were Internet freaks and weren't just buying technology for technology's sake," Hall said.

mMode gives cell phone users access to Internet services, allowing them to read the news, check the weather or play games, among other features.

The overhaul eliminates 90 keystrokes from the service. For instance, it used to take 40 keypad punches to initially set up mMode. Now it takes one. In addition, Hall said the carrier no longer requires passwords to confirm every purchase. Although a secret word offers protection if a handset is stolen, it's otherwise unnecessary, because "we can read directly to the device. We know exactly who you are," he said.

The carrier also expanded mMode's array of downloadable items and services, putting it even further ahead of its competitors in that category, according to industry analysts. AT&T has added Cosmopolitan quizzes, pictures and articles. Players of "Bejeweled," one of the carriers' 300 downloadable games, can now play the game with each over the AT&T Wireless network, Hall said.

AT&T Wireless announced that by the end of the year, mMode subscribers will be able to access a mobile version of Hotmail e-mail, MSN Messenger instant messenger and other Microsoft offerings. The software giant already has a partnership with Verizon Wireless.

"We're setting the stage for MSN and AT&T Wireless to bring even more advanced services to customers," said Brian Arbogast, corporate vice president in Microsoft's MSN and personal services division.