The Ghost at the Party

Opinion: You could feel the ghost of Sendo, the phone maker that was supposed to design the first Windows smart phone, at a recent tech gathering in London.

HTC, once known as High Tech Computer, is now Britains newest mobile phone maker.

Yes, were talking about the inventor of the first successful Pocket PC—the iPaq. Of course, the corporation is still based in Taiwan; but it now has a London (ish) office.

And so we had a good party to celebrate, and all sorts of important people came to say how vital it was for the future of the mobile networks that really good smart phones arrived, and how great HTC had been for them and their businesses.

We even had the head of Microsoft EMEA, Neil Holloway, stand up and imitate Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, and make a speech to advertise HTC and its excellent qualities.

I enjoy a good party, especially this time of year when people take time out to share good cheer—and I dont begrudge HTC this moment of glory—but one couldnt help noticing the absence of Sendo.

The simple fact is, we never did get to hear what the terms were, when Banquo and Macbeth (sorry, Sendo and Microsoft) settled out of court a year ago.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read about how phone companies are offering new deals to appease regulators.

Much of what was expected to come out was at least as gruesome as an encounter with three Weird Sisters on a blasted heath in Scotland, and much of the story cannot be told, even when we are sure of our facts, for fear of legal repercussions.

But the public bit of the story was that Sendo, a British startup phone maker, and Microsoft did a deal to jointly develop the first true Windows smart phone. Sendo, which knew about phones, would design the hardware, and Microsoft, which knew about software, would do the OS.

And, if you care to dig out your archives, you will discover that Microsoft pulled the plug on the project, called for Sendo to be wound up, and instead HTC produced the first Windows smart phone.

I cant say too much about the events of those days, but I can tell you that Sendo was expecting to be the main podium player at the Big Launch. And I can tell you that they were dumbstruck when the famous Billingsgate Fish Market by the Thames in London was hired for the launch, and the HTC Sound Pictures Video, or SPV smart phone, was the one that was shown.

Sendo said that the design of the SPV was a Sendo design, and that Microsoft had given the design to HTC. Microsoft contested this, behind the scenes, but the rest of us assumed that both designs would launch.

And then, it all went to pot. Microsoft said that Sendo failed to make the phone.

That happens to be an exaggeration, because as a reviewer of the phone, I had a working sample, and it functioned. It still does. I can probably still put my hands on the Z100, and if we charge it up and put a SIM card in it, we can make calls.

It was at least as good as the HTC version, and noticeably smaller and neater in design—which wasnt a big surprise, because it wasnt Sendos first phone, but it was the first time HTC made one.

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I spoke at some length about this to iMate—a company which resells HTC smart phones and PDA phones—at a time when Sendo was forced to move from Redmond to Finland.

Did Nokia put money into Sendo? Some of my best sources say yes, about eight million dollars. Sendo always denied this. But it started from scratch, and made a Nokia Series 60 smart phone under license—the Sendo X1.

The designers at iMate, like the guys at Sendo, were phone industry veterans, and the story they told was that they were called in by Microsoft to help HTC actually make the SPV work.

Its quite possible that people exaggerate their own part in these stories.

Next Page: Taking credit for SPV.