Today I had an interesting meeting with a Microsoft person. For now I'll keep the names wrapped, but I have them .
Initially the meeting was just to allow me to check the HTC Tanager mobile phone. But then I was told the mobile was actually running on the not yet released Microsoft Windows Mobile Smartphone 2003.
Apparently there are ten of these in New Zealand. The main reason why they're not in the market yet is because our GSM provider (Vodafone) is still evaluating the market opportunities for this smartphone. Mind you there are a couple of other smartphone devices here, including the Sony Ericsson P800 and the Nokia 3650, both running Symbian OS.
For its characteristics the Windows Mobile Smartphone ("Tanager") is more like the Nokia 3650: a mobile phone with data capabilities, while I think of the Sony Ericsson P800 as a PDA with voice capabilities.
Anyway, the initial conversation strayed to a more broad interpretation of the market. What kind of users are more likely to buy a smartphone, and for that matter a Windows Mobile Smartphone? What kind of network integration is needed to bring this product to the market in New Zealand, where the dominat mobile provider is not closely related to Microsoft anywhere else in the world?
This is not a mobile device for "lifestyle" users. People who want to send SMS or MMS will be happy with a Sharp GX 10. We both agreed that business people are more likely to buy this kind of device. And more specifically the Windows Mobile Smartphone. Why?
I've seen the Windows Mobile Smartphone 2003 in action and it is nice. This new version feels 30% faster than the 2002 version (according to the user). The boot time on this windows Mobile Smartphone and on my Nokia 3650 is almost the same. And the Vodafone logo wasn't there yet - just a round green thing with a text "Operator logo" to indicate where the logo will show up at boot time.
The integration between the device's data capabilities (e-mail, calendar, contacts) with Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 is very well done.
The e-mail system is well implemented, with support for multiple mailboxes, ActiveSync/POP/IMAP in any combination. The OS supports schedules for automatic synchronisation on peak and off-peak hours, and options to only synchronise when new e-mail or appointment arrives on the server. The mobile phone will receive a notification (like the WAP "push") and initiate a sync action to pull the new content. Very smooth and well done, giving an "Always-on" e-mail service. Just beware that for this feature to work your provider or company must be using the Microsoft Exchange 2003 server and Exchange ActiveSync.
By they, it does not support an icon based menu, like the Symbian, but the numbered menu options are easy to access.
On the multimedia side, this new version supports Windows Media 9, with a very good picture quality.
The predictive T9 dialling is very nice, and shows not only the contacts, but also received calls, SMS and e-mails while browsing for a name. Menus acted fast and the response was very good. Finding a contact using the T9 dialling was faster than I could find using the Nokia 3650, which requires multitap.
According to this person, there's only a couple of things to finish before Vodafone New Zealand would approve this device to be sold on their stores. Mainly the requirement to have Vodafone Live! pre-installed on the device. This is tricky, because Java is part of the Vodafone Live! architecture, but it can be done. Apparently this could be a show stopper, but it's proven to work.
Although marketed somewhere else as QTEK 7070, this model will be sold as the i-Mate (as it is already sold in some countries), because this is an "easier" to remember brand.
The release of this mobile phone in New Zealand could be delayed for the same reasons O2 delayed theirs: "Shall we sell now with Windows Mobile Smartphone 2002 and offer an upgrade path, or wait and sell the new version"?
By the way, the phone does not support GPRS and voice calls at the same time, but this is a radio implementation not a software design problem. This is a GPRS Class B device.
I've seen the Windows Mobile 2003, and it now seems to be a worthy mobile phone technology. The easy of syncing with a desktop, like Pocket PCs do, is a plus. And for business users, the integration with Microsoft Exchange is great. I'm currently in the middle of a project to investigate and implement SyncML technologies to integrate all different kind of mobile devices (Palm, Symbian, Microsoft Windows Mobile, pure SyncML mobile phones) and this feature replaces all of them. If we could only make it standard to everyone in the company to have Pocket PCs and MS Smartphones . Time for a break now.