Orange launched the world's first mobile phone running Microsoft Windows-powered Smartphone 2002 software yesterday evening at a truly global event at London's Old Billingsgate Fish Market.
Journalists and analysts from around the world gathered to see the unveiling of the Orange SPV, which stands for sound, pictures, video.
The phone looks to be one of the first true convergence devices, twinning wireless access to the internet with email and instant messaging capabilities, video and audio playback via Pocket Windows Media Player and synchronisation with desktop applications such as Outlook.
It features a colour screen, to make using these extra applications more appealing. Microsoft has also attempted to address the practicalities of using a phone keyboard to handle applications like email and messaging, allowing users to input and save standard messages as well as reply to emails using voice recordings.
The aim is to overcome the barriers that stood between WAP (wireless application protocol) and mass market acceptance by making the new features on this phone as simple to use as possible.
"We believe that only by making the wire-free experience truly intuitive will customers use such services. That’s why we have focused our efforts on a number of areas that are key to driving our data services, and made them easier for the customer to access and use," explains Richard Brennen, executive vice president for OrangeWorld and Brand.
The importance of pushing such extra data services for operators like Orange should not be underestimated. Brennan says that by 2005 the company expects data revenue to make up 25 percent of its total revenue. Indeed a recent report from Analysys claimed that the only way mobile operators can buck the stagnating market is to maximise the revenue it squeezes from existing customers.
Orange has priced the SPV competitively, and when it launches in the UK in two weeks time it will sport a price tag of just £179, with contract, plus a flat-rate fee of £6 for browsing and a small cost for downloading files.
This pricing structure has been hit upon to attract the widest range of users possible: "We want to attract consumers, and we think we'll get some of the youth market because of the price," says Brennan. The cost of browsing has also been kept low to encourage users to try it out. No doubt Orange is hoping that this latest raft of data products will prove as popular with the youth market as text messages.
But it's not just consumers that Microsoft is hoping to attract with the Smartphone, as it also says it offers benefits to business customers. For example, a network administrator can download software to thousands of phones from a central control point, making it easier for companies to update and manage their mobile phone resource, said Juha Christensen, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Mobility Group.
"Phones are anarchy for a company. People buy their own and charge it to the company, then set them up to access email; it's very dangerous for a company. This gives the company control," Christensen said.
The Orange SPV is a triband model, so it will work in the States as well as Asia and Europe, and was manufactured in Taiwan by HTC (High Tech Computer). Orange has customised the Smartphone software to give it its own look and feel, but expect to see other devices sporting the OS soon.
"The carrier can customise the OS to what they want to sell. Phones to date have been very simple — you provide a voice service, SMS, and there was little the carrier could do to differentiate themselves. Now [carriers] can choose exactly what they want to offer their customers," Christensen said.
A whole raft of software and hardware add-ons to the Smartphone platform were also launched yesterday, including multiplayer JiveGames from Pixel, which allow you to play games such as backgammon and chess with others on the phone and VeriSign security to protect wireless connections on the phone, among many others.