Microsoft opens My Phone beta, plans new features

Microsoft on Tuesday will open the beta for its My Phone Windows Mobile backup service to anyone who wants to try it out. The company has also disclosed some forthcoming features for the service, including ways to wipe data remotely and find lost phones using GPS.

My Phone, introduced as a limited beta in February, lets Windows Mobile users back up information such as text messages, contacts, photos and calendar items to an online storage service. Microsoft pitches it as a backup service, designed to save important data that could disappear if a user loses their phone. The service, which is free, may also be useful to people who upgrade their phone, because it should make it easier to transfer data such as contacts to a new device.

Starting Tuesday, anyone using a Windows Mobile 6.0 or higher phone can start using the service, which comes with 200MB of storage. As of Tuesday it will also be available in all 25 languages that Windows Mobile supports. The limited beta was offered in only a handful of languages.

My Phone is still considered to be in beta, however, and will stay that way until the next version of the phone operating system, Windows Mobile 6.5, comes out in the second half.

"The general release will be much more than backup and restore," said Michael Chang, a senior product manager at Microsoft. "Now we're just getting the synch right."

One of the features that will come with the full release will let users find a lost phone, plotting its location on a map. The service will use GPS if the phone has it. If not, it will use cellular tower triangulation, or the phone's IP address if it is connected to Wi-Fi, to find the general location of the device.

My Phone will also include a remote wipe capability that allows users to erase data on the phone if it is stolen. The remote wipe and location features are sometimes offered by companies to employees but are uncommon for the mass market.

With My Phone on Windows Mobile 6.5, users will also be able to remotely make the phone ring, even if it's in silent mode. That should help people find a lost phone hiding in the couch cushions, said Chang.

Some of the new features might come with a fee each time people use them, he said. "The basic backup and restore will be free," he said. But Microsoft incurs costs when remotely waking up the phone to do things like wipe it, and it will likely pass on that cost to users.

The current My Phone service has been criticized for being too basic, but Chang said that's by design. Services from Microsoft competitors, such as Apple's MobileMe, include wireless backup features among other capabilities. "You can't really unpair the backup," he said. While Microsoft plans the additional services like the remote wipe, it wanted backup to be a given. "Every mobile user should have that enabled and it should be drop dead simple for them," he said.

The number of people using My Phone in the limited beta phase has been in the high tens of thousands, he said.

Buena Guzman is one of them. A producer at Cappy Productions and an independent computer tech support professional, she values the text message backup service the most. Logging onto her My Phone page from a computer, Guzman can search through her text messages to look for specific bits of information. That's not possible from the phone.

The 200MB storage limit is enough for her, but Chang said others have asked about the limit. While the average customer is using under 30MB and fewer than 5 percent are using up the full 200 MBs, Microsoft plans to raise the cap, although it won't be unlimited, he said.

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