Microsoft Corp. is introducing an interactive
version of its online service for cell phones and handheld
computers that lets users not only receive information, but send
messages or make an Internet purchase.
It's yet another step in the company's strategy to extend its
Web presence through its online network, MSN, to consumers wherever
they might be. Like others that operate Internet portals, including
America Online and Yahoo!, Microsoft wants to expand its reach well
beyond the personal computer.
"The wireless Web is now turning into a highway," said Brad
Chase, senior vice president of MSN. "It is no longer a side
Company chairman Bill Gates was expected today to launch the
latest version of MSN Mobile, an offshoot of the MSN online
service, at the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association
Gates is among a number of high-profile speakers attending the
event, many of whom don't come from traditional cellular phone
companies but are part of the burgeoning drive to offer wireless
Microsoft also planned to announce agreements with Nextel and
AirTouch Communications Inc. to offer the interactive MSN Mobile
service. Company officials say they are building relationships with
others as well.
MSN Mobile was introduced last year, allowing users to receive
wireless information like stock quotes, weather reports and lottery
information in text message form on interactive pagers and cell
phones. As part of its announcement, the company said WebLink
Wireless Inc. and Totally Free Paging Inc. have agreed to offer an
enhanced form of these one-way notifications on their products.
The new version of MSN Mobile, to be available in April, will
make it possible to send and receive information on a wireless
device when using MSN services such as Hotmail for exchanging
e-mail, Expedia.com for making travel plans and MSN MoneyCentral
for managing personal financial matters.
That means consumers can check and respond to their Hotmail
messages or find an itinerary and then a book a ticket on Expedia
using a cell phone or handheld computer with Web capabilities.
But company executives stress that as they and others forge
ahead in providing wireless content, consumers increasingly will
need ways to manage the information coming at them.
"When you're using a phone to browse the Web you don't have a
PC keyboard in front of you," Chase said. "You don't have the
features that make it a lot easier."
Microsoft says that giving consumers an easy way to tailor the
information they get is key to its mobile Web strategy.
"Our vision for mobility is that people are going to be born
with a cell phone attached to their hip," said Paul Gross, senior
vice president of the server applications and mobility group. But
without giving consumers a way to control their communications,
that phone could easily become a hindrance, he said.
The latest version of MSN Mobile gives users more ways to
customize the information they want to receive. They can go to the
MSN Web site, set their preferences and download it to their phone.
That would enable users, for example, to select that they be
notified immediately when certain people send messages or to only
receive stock updates at specific times of the day.
"Our PC integration allows the user to be in control and
prevents wireless overload," Chase said.