Mobile 6 to jack up smart phones; Windows software expands capabilities

Eric Benderoff
Chicago Tribune

Just as the hype surrounding the launch of Vista has started to abate, another key software platform from Microsoft Corp. is on the way.

Windows Mobile 6, the successor to the Mobile 5 product widely used on smart phones across the globe, will ship in the second quarter on a host of new devices, including one intriguing design from a computer-maker not known for gadgets that double as phones.

While the Windows Mobile 6 upgrade is not likely to generate buzz like the iPhone coming from Apple Computer Inc. in June, it is far more significant.

By the end of 2006, nearly 20 smart phones in the United States shipped with Windows Mobile, and that figure could approach 30 by the end of 2007. Worldwide, more than 140 phones ship with Windows Mobile, dwarfing the number of devices that use the Palm OS or Research in Motion's BlackBerry software.

RIM, of course, won't let Microsoft steal too many of its coveted business customers and continues to introduce compelling products. On Monday, Cingular Wireless is expected to announce that it will sell the thinnest BlackBerry to date, the 8800, starting on Feb. 21.

Priced at $299, the 8800 will include the trackball navigation first used on the BlackBerry Pearl, a built-in GPS that will provide spoken driving directions and, in a first from RIM, a push-to-talk feature.

Yet if Windows Mobile 6 delivers what Microsoft says, it should encourage more people - road warriors and multitasking Moms alike - to purchase phones such as the Motorola Q, Samsung BlackJack and T-Mobile Dash. When Mobile 6 launches, expect a host of new phones from Samsung, Motorola, HTC, LG and others, including the first U.S. smart phone from Toshiba.

Cingular, for instance, sells 12 smart phones, six of them with Windows Mobile. Each major U.S. wireless carrier has at least three models using the Microsoft software.

These phones are selling well for a simple reason: They do a lot for a little in an attractive package. The BlackJack sells for $199, while the Motorola Q sells for $149 at Verizon.

Hence, the market for putting office tools in your hand, or the tools used to manage tasks such as getting the kids to ballet class on time, continues to grow.

As does innovation.

One device using Mobile 6 will come from Hewlett-Packard Co., the iPaq 510 Voice Messenger. It won't look like other smart phones, save the Pearl, because it is a candy-bar phone, not the square shape of the BlackJack or Q.

The other key difference? It won't have a Qwerty keypad like most smart phones.

"It is a phone first," said Niraj Gandhi, HP's product marketing manager. "But it is also a device used to stay on top of what's going on in your inbox."

Yet anyone who has typed an e-mail or text message using a standard phone pad can attest that is not ideal. So what's a road warrior to do if she needs to reply to a message or send a new one? Speak up.

The iPaq 510 has "voice reply" for message dictation. But the message isn't converted to text; rather it's sent as a WAV audio file. The recipient simply clicks on the WAV attachment to hear the message.

Another neat trick: The phone reads e-mails and calendar appointments aloud to users if they're in a car.

The iPaq 510 will be available in April or May, Gandhi said. A carrier agreement hasn't been announced, but since the phone is a GSM device, either Cingular or T-Mobile, the dominant GSM carriers in the United States, will sell it. With a carrier contract, the device will likely be priced at $199, Gandhi said.

Innovations from other carriers will be made shortly to generate buzz for Mobile 6.

(If you use Mobile 5, upgrading to 6 is not like going to the store to buy a box with new software. You will need help from your carrier and more likely a new phone. However, T-Mobile is expected to announce upgrade support for Dash buyers. Other carriers may follow.)

Scott Horn, Microsoft's general manager of mobile and embedded devices, said there are many key factors in this upgrade.

First, e-mail will be read as if it were on a desktop. Most e-mail sent today include embedded links, photos or special text that don't translate well to mobile devices.

"We will be the first to bring that rich e-mail content to the mobile platform," Horn said. The e-mail experience "is like the difference between watching HDTV compared to a black-and-white" screen.

Second, combined with the Vista OS on a PC, Mobile 6 users can easily swap pictures, music, movies and contacts into a smart phone and vice versa.

"Plug the phone in and it will tell you that you have 10 new photos on your phone, and ask if you want to move them onto your PC," he said.

Third, there are new security features. External storage devices, such as an SD card holding confidential documents, can be secured with an encrypted password. Also, a company's IT department will be able to remotely wipe clean information stored on a smart phone if a device is lost or stolen.

Other enhancements include:

Integrating the Windows Live service more closely with phones.

A calendar "ribbon" to help businessmen and overscheduled parents quickly glance at a daily or weekly calendar to see if there are openings for more appointments.

The e-mail program will have more one-click options, such as send, delete or reply to all.

More details and new devices will emerge as spring nears. But combined with the excitement over Apple's iPhone, 2007 is shaping up to be a banner year for those hooked on staying in touch wherever they go.

One device to use Windows Mobile 6 is Hewlett-Packard Co.'s iPaq 510 Voice Messenger, available in April or May.

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