Windows XP smartphone raises functionality questions

The XPPhone smartphone runs on Windows XP and could start shipping as soon as December

A new smartphone that runs Windows XP and blends in PC features is starting to generate buzz, though some analysts are questioning its purpose and practicality.

Chinese company In Technology Group has designed a pocket-sized device called XPPhone, which the company says is the first device that blends smartphone, PC and mobile Internet device functions.

It runs on Microsoft's Windows XP OS and is powered by an "AMD Super Mobile CPU," according to the company's Web site.

ITG declined to provide details about the processor, but an AMD spokesman said the XPPhone uses a Geode LX chip, which runs at 533MHz and draws less than 1 watt of power. The company is now taking pre-orders for the device, which could start shipping as early as December, a company spokesman said in an e-mail. He declined to provide pricing information.

Calling it an "interesting" device, some analysts said there is an appetite for devices smaller than netbooks that can deliver PC functionality. Smartphones are morphing into devices on which users can surf the Internet and read Word documents, and the XPPhone could be pushing the ante with support for Windows XP.

The device is the latest in a proliferation of new products and form factors that put mobile technologies in one box, said David Daoud, a research manager at IDC. "The netbook is one articulation of this trend, but this particular example illustrates other attempts to stimulate demand with new concepts," he said.

Daoud said that the addition of XP to the XPPhone brand is an attempt by the promoters to identify it closely as a PC rather than compete in the extremely competitive smartphone or mobile device market. "Yet it also uses the word 'phone' in its name to remove any ambiguity over its real function," he said.

The product's success could hinge on the kind of appetite wireless carriers have for the device, Daoud said.

However, some analysts surmised that Windows XP OS is too resource-heavy for such a small device.

Smartphones usually have a targeted and fairly light OS that allows for specific functions without getting in the way of usage, said Jack Gold, principal analyst at J. Gold Associates. Handheld phones mainly run Windows Mobile, a watered-down version of Windows XP designed for mobile phones. Other phones may run Android, a Linux-based OS specifically designed to run applications on mobile devices.

"Why would anyone want a phone that runs XP? That's a little like putting a jet engine inside a compact car," Gold said. "I can't imagine what XP in a device will do to battery life."

The OS itself would make the smartphone vulnerable to the problems traditionally experienced by PCs running XP.

"Does this mean users can expect blue screens of death?" Gold asked. Loading applications like Microsoft Office could also challenge the resources of this device and bring it down to its knees, Gold said.

The XPPhone includes a 4.8-inch LCD touch screen that displays images at a resolution of 800 by 480 pixels. It includes a removable lithium-ion battery, which provides a talk time of about five hours and standby time of about five days, the company said. Under real-life conditions, the device would operate for between seven and 12 hours. The XPPhone can receive calls and text messages, and a thumb keyboard slides down from the bottom.

It weighs 400 grams (0.88 pounds) with the battery and is 2.5 centimeters thick, with support for up to 64GB of solid-state drive storage or 120GB of hard drive storage. It supports multiple 3G wireless options including HSDPA (high-speed downlink packet access), HSUPA (high-speed uplink packet access), CDMA2000 (code division multiple access), EV-DO (Evolution-Data Optimized), TD-SCDMA (Time Division Synchronous Code Division Multiple Access) and TD-HSDPA. It also includes support for Wi-Fi.

Though the device is thin and interesting, it could be about cost, said Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates.

"It could be just an opportunistic 'burst' product, not meant to champion a category, just make a few bucks on some cheap parts," Kay said. AMD stopped developing Geode chips earlier this year, while Microsoft has already released two successors to Windows XP, which was launched in 2001.

Semiconductor analyst Dean McCarron said the XPPhone is perhaps the first device of its kind he has heard of with the Geode chip. However, even today the Geode chip could make for a reasonable competitor against some Arm processors, said McCarron, who is principal analyst at Mercury Research. Arm processors are used in billions of mobile devices, including Apple's iPhone.

However, Geode -- which is based on an architecture introduced in the mid-1990s -- is generations behind the new architectures like Intel's Atom processors or even AMD's most power-efficient Athlon Neo chips, which are designed for ultraportable laptops, McCarron said.

It's good to see when "somebody does something cool" with a Geode chip, said John Taylor, an AMD spokesman. However, he maintained that the company has no interest in the mobile Internet device or smartphone space for now, and instead will focus mobile efforts on developing chips for ultraportable and standard laptops.

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