Microsoft will begin consumer tests of a "smart
phone" this summer, extending a late, but determined thrust into
mobile devices that started with the PocketPC handheld computer.
The software maker planned to show off the latest prototypes of
a cellphone powered by its "Stinger" operating system on Monday
at the 3GSM World Congress, a wireless industry conference in
The Stinger is Microsoft's attempt at squeezing the most popular
features of a handheld organizer especially a bigger screen for
e-mail and datebook functions into a cellphone-sized package.
In addition to announcing market trials with wireless carriers
such as Vodafone, Microsoft also planned to announce that two new
partners, Mitsubishi and Sendo Ltd., will be making phones based on
Stinger. Samsung Electronics was the first to sign on.
It is the Sendo model, which Microsoft worked most closely in
developing along with chipmaker Texas Instruments, that will be
tested in Europe and Asia, said Phil Holden, director of
Microsoft's mobility group. Microsoft is still working to arrange
trials with a U.S. carrier, he said.
Sendo is a British manufacturer whose handsets are sold by
wireless service providers under their own brand name. The phone,
weighing less than 4 ounces and equipped with color screens, is
being made by Samsung Electronics, Mitsubishi and
If the trials go well, the phone could go on sale in time for
this year's holiday shopping, though much more likely in Europe
than in the United States, he said. No retail price has been
disclosed, though Microsoft hopes to keep it below the $400 price
tag that seems to be the upper limit for high-end phones.
Stinger, a much-hyped Microsoft project, is part of a
three-pronged strategy to make sure the company doesn't get left
behind as the focus of technology shifts from desktop computers to
The other two prongs were launched last year with the PocketPC,
a direct assault on the dominant Palm operating system for handheld
computers, and Mobile Explorer, an Internet browser for wireless
phones introduced overseas.
Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft is hoping its products will
appeal to computer users who are already familiar with the workings
of its Windows operating system and other popular Microsoft
programs like Outlook, the e-mail, calendar and contact manager.
All three mobile software platforms are designed for an easy
exchange of information with those desktop systems.
Although current wireless networks can only deliver a trickle of
basic information to mobile devices, carriers are spending billions
of dollars to buy more airwave capacity and upgrade with
next-generation equipment that can transmit Web pages and pictures
in full color.
Meanwhile, leading wireless players such as Nokia, Ericsson and
Motorola have been struggling for several years to strike the right
balance between size and computing power.
Many people find it hard to read and type words on the tiny
screen and number pad of a typical mobile phone, but they're also
unwilling to lug around larger devices such as the PDQ SmartPhone,
the pioneering cellphone-Palm combination developed by Qualcomm and
recently reintroduced by Kyocera.