Microsoft's Mobile Explorer is a package of software for cell phones. Handset manufacturers can pick and choose which components to include from the company's Web-browsing software, Windows CE operating system or back-end Microsoft Exchange Server software.
The alliance was announced by Microsoft chairman Bill Gates at an event today in Seoul, South Korea. Microsoft executives were not immediately available for further comment.
The move is part of Microsoft's aggressive effort to position itself as the software provider for the next generation of computing, as PCs make way for a more diverse array of devices, including multifunction smart cell phones connected to the Internet.
In addition to Mobile Explorer and its Pocket PC handheld operating system, this strategy includes the yet-to-be-unveiled Next Generation Windows Services (NGWS) initiative, expected to be the company's attempt to tie its operating system with Web-based applications and services.
The market for Web-enabled cell phones alone is going to be huge, according to recent surveys. More than 1 billion wireless handsets will be sold worldwide in 2003, according to a report issued today by market research firm Cahners In-Stat. In the United States, more than 400 million handsets will be sold in 2002, up from 277 million in 1999.
Under the terms of the deal, Samsung later this year will release cell phones capable of limited Web browsing using Microsoft technology. Next year, Samsung will introduce Microsoft-powered phones capable of more powerful Web browsing and offline features such as email, address book and calendar functions, as well as hosted third-party applications.
"We are impressed with Microsoft's end-to-end wireless vision," Samsung CEO K.T. Lee said in a statement today. "The level of integration between Microsoft's mobile phones and mobile operator products is a key differentiator and the reason for selecting their solution for Samsung."
Samsung is the first licensee of Microsoft's high-end phone package, the companies said, but Sony, British Telecommunications and AT&T all have announced they will use the more limited version for phones of their own.
Other companies, including Phone.com and Palm, have developed their own software to run Internet-enabled cell phones, but the major competitor in this arena is the Symbian consortium, a European group backed by almost all the major cell-phone makers, including Nokia, Ericsson and Motorola, with the exception of Samsung.
Mobile Explorer can display HTML Web content, unlike WAP (Wireless Application Protocol), a technology used for translating Web pages for small-screen devices with slow network connections.
Support for HTML is important for a number of reasons. As wireless network bandwidth increases and technology improves, analysts expect services such as streaming audio and video, as well as more robust Web content, will be feasible on cell phones. It also means Web developers won't have to create specific versions of their sites for cell phones.