Microsoft's Smartphone partnership with Verizon Wireless may signal progress with carriers, but consumers still have issues with its quality and approach.
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In a fit of serendipity, my last column on Microsofts Smartphone, which attributed the products slow start to supply-side issues, appeared on the same day Microsoft announced that Verizon Wireless would be offering a phone based on the platform. While this is clearly a big win in what has been a field that has often included small carriers in countries such as Portugal and Hong Kong, it wasnt a surprise. Indeed, since Verizon Wireless has a five-year pact with MSN, it was unlikely to ask for the kind of customized choices I suggested might be required by other carriers.
That said, readers wrote in to express their concerns with the demand side of the Smartphone equation, voicing their distaste for both the product and its provider, particularly in reference to its main competitors, Symbian and its showcase handset, the Sony-Ericsson P800.
In response to my praising the Smartphones interface, one reader who claimed that he had used the next generation of the Smartphone, code-named "Tanager", wrote, "On the contrary. Id say this is one of the worst parts of the Microsoft Smartphone. I have a Sony-Ericsson P800 which is possibly two generations ahead of the SPV on the look of the UI." After noting that the P800 also has serious problems in synchronizing contacts, he continued, "Where the SPV fails is in its Web browsing and in its speed. Boot-up time for the SPV is glacial, while the P800 using Opera is simply fantastic not only for usability, but also for network speed."
John Boyd, writing from Portugal, explained that even though Orange has been selling the SPV in Europe, it hasnt set the market aglow. He wrote, "As concerns Europe, Microsoft has an almost negligible presence of around 60,000 units sold through Orange in the UK. In the U.S., AT&T and a few others may roll out Microsoft Smartphones but even here Microsoft will be hard-pressed to sell a million units. The phones are buggy and the battery life is poor. Microsoft has yet to effectively address these issues. The dumb thing was thinking that any [handset manufacturer] was going to allow the company to do in another market what it had done in the PC market. It is here that Microsofts thinking went astray."
Not everyone believed that Microsoft would be stymied in leveraging its PC dominance, though. "Scott" wrote to share his fears about Microsoft extending its secure computing platform to its handsets. "What happens when the only way that you can view your secure Outlook e-mail or secure Office document on your Phone (which will be your PDA as well by then) is through a MS based Smartphone? There is no doubt in my mind that Microsoft will make this happen and then theyll be able to extend their way into phones quite easily. They certainly wont own the market, just the really profitable people who have to be connected to everything everywhere, the cream of the crop and quite a nice section of the market to grab."
Its premature to worry about Microsofts secure computing base becoming a dominant standard. Furthermore, I dont share Scotts concern that Microsoft would limit viewing of its secure documents and messages to its mobile platforms. Nonetheless, a handset that enables operators to cherry pick the most lucrative customers would certainly prove popular among them. That might be the smartest phone of all.
Is the smartphone concept viable? What are the "must-have" features youd like to see in an advanced handset? E-mail me.
Wireless Supersite Editor Ross Rubin is a senior analyst at eMarketer. He has researched wireless communications since 1994 and has been covering technology since 1989.
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