First Microsoft smart phone hits U.S. stores

AT&T Wireless on Tuesday began selling Motorola's MPx200, the first smart phone based on Microsoft software to be sold in the U.S.

The MPx200 is also the first Microsoft-based phone to be offered by a major handset maker, which analysts have said may help Microsoft establish its long-sought-after credibility in the mobile phone market.

Microsoft's entry onto the U.S. market comes a year after it introduced the world's first Windows Powered Smartphone in the U.K., manufactured by Taiwan's High Tech Computer (HTC). Since then, Microsoft Windows Mobile phones have been introduced in several European and Asian countries.

"This is the first time that a customer here in North America can buy a phone with Windows on it, I think that is really powerful," Ed Suwanjindar, lead product manager for mobile devices at Microsoft, said Tuesday.

Commercial availability of the Motorola MPx200 is a big deal for Microsoft, said Michael Gartenberg, a research director at Jupiter Research. "This has been an effort that has been several years in coming and it is a very big win for Microsoft because they finally have the name brand handset maker and the name brand carrier on board."

However, the market for smart phones is fairly small, Gartenberg said. "Everybody is waiting for that market to take off. Microsoft is not going to dominate the market, but will be a very strong player among many."

The clamshell-style MPx200 allows users to surf the Web, send instant messages, access e-mail and a calendar and synchronize with a PC. It supports the 1800 and 1900 GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) bands and includes an SD (Secure Digital) and MMC (multimedia card) slot for memory expansion.

Motorola's MPx200 competes with products including Handspring's Treo line. Microsoft believes the Motorola device will appeal more to users because it looks like a mobile phone rather than a PDA (personal digital assistant), the design of the Treo handhelds, Suwanjindar said.

"Future device leadership really means capturing the volume smart phone opportunity with products that look and act like phones and offer smart data connectivity and a rich application experience," he said.

Brett Murray, an analyst with MobileTrax, said Handspring with its Treo 600 announced last week abandoned the PDA-style. "The new Treo is enough like a phone that it really feels like a phone and you don't feel like you're holding some strange device to your head," he said.

Where Motorola and Handspring really differ is the ability to enter a lot of data on the device, according to Murray. "What Motorola and Microsoft are offering is a way of viewing your e-mail, staying in touch through instant messenger, but it is not something that you are going to be responding to long e-mails on," he said. The Treo, on the other hand, has a keyboard and is for the mobile data user, Murray said.

The MPx200 runs Microsoft's Windows Mobile Smartphone 2002 software and costs US$299 when bought with an AT&T Wireless plan. In Europe, the MPx200 will be available soon and sold by a number of operators, Suwanjindar said.

The Handspring Treo 600 is available to Sprint customers at a suggested retail price of $599.99, according to a Handspring statement.

Besides Motorola, the world's number two handset maker, Samsung Electronics, the number three, will also deliver a Microsoft-powered smart phone later this year. Motorola and Samsung join HTC and Mitac International, both of Taiwan, as makers of smart phones running Microsoft software.

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