Microsoft's Stinger phones to appear first in Europe

English-speaking cell-phone subscribers in Europe will next year be the first to get their hands on Stinger mobile phones, handsets based on software developed by Microsoft and designed to take advantage of the data capabilities offered by 3G (third-generation) mobile networks.

The first Stinger phones will appear in an "English-speaking country in Europe" during the first half of next year, Dave Wright, general manager of product marketing for Asia at Microsoft's Mobility Group, said.

After Europe, Stinger handsets will next appear in North America before being made available in Asia, he said.

Aimed primarily at corporate cell-phone users, the Stinger software, which is formally known as Microsoft Smartphone Software Solution, is based on the Windows CE 3.0 operating system. Stinger is being developed with the goal of integrating the functions of a PDA (personal digital assistant) with a cell phone and is expected to offer longer battery life and require less memory than other versions of Windows CE 3.0.

"We need to improve the battery life of a Stinger smart phone beyond that of a Pocket PC because you expect your phone to last longer," Wright said. "We're talking days, not talking hours."

The phones will also have a revamped user interface that does not require the use of a stylus. Instead, users will likely use other means, such as a toggle button, to navigate through the phone's services and applications, Wright said. "We're looking at a lot of different inputs there. I don't think there is a single answer," he said.

Stinger phones will ship with several applications, including a calendar, address book, e-mail client, and a Web browser with support for WML (Wireless Markup Language) and XML (Extensible Markup Language). Wright could not say whether the phones would also support Java.

As with Windows on the desktop, Stinger is not meant to encompass all of the applications and services accessible to cell-phone subscribers. Rather, third-party developers and service providers will be able to use Stinger as a standardized platform to develop their own offerings using existing software development tools and environments.

To this end, Microsoft is developing a browser-like tool to give users access to software and services over a network. Called Mobile Explorer, it will give users access to applications not stored on their phones.

Announced hardware partners include Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., Mitsubishi Electric Corp., Sendo PLC and High-Tech Computer Corp. Operators that have so far agreed to offer Stinger-based services include VoiceStream Wireless Corp., Vodafone Group PLC, Telefónica S.A., Telstra Corporation Ltd., and T-Mobil International AG.

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Sumner Lemon

Computerworld

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