Microsoft smartphone to reach US next year

AT&T Wireless Services Inc. said Tuesday that its plans to make available Web-enabled smartphones running software from Microsoft Corp. in the U.S. in the first half of 2003. Similar phones go on sale in Europe this month.

The announcement comes alongside a variety of news from Microsoft and its hardware, software and service provider partners regarding Windows Powered Smartphone 2002 software, which made its official debut at a London event Tuesday.

Orange SA Tuesday announced the availability of service for the Web-enabled phones in Europe. It will be the first operator to offer service for Windows Powered Smartphone 2002 devices.

Also, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. unveiled new handsets it is building that will use Microsoft's phone software. It will be one of four devices that Microsoft is showing at the London event, the company said.

Orange customers will be able to purchase in the next two weeks an Orange-branded device manufactured in Taiwan by original device manufacturer High Tech Computer Corp. (HTC). Sendo PLC and Compal Electronics Inc. also are showing devices based on the operating system.

AT&T Wireless didn't reveal which hardware maker it will partner with for the U.S. rollout. However, the company currently sells Siemens AG-branded Pocket PC Phone Edition devices manufactured by HTC.

Features will vary on phones made by different manufacturers, but each promises about 3 hours of continuous talk time or 90 hours of standby power, Microsoft said. Each will also feature a slot for SD (Secure Digital) memory cards, which can be used, for example, to store digital media files that can be played back on the phones.

Microsoft's Smartphone software was first detailed nearly two years ago under the code name Stinger. The effort took aim at competitors Symbian Ltd. and Palm Inc., both of which have unveiled phones that feature voice and data services.

However, Microsoft has faced a number of development challenges since announcing its plans to enter the space, said Ed Suwanjindar, product manager with Microsoft's Mobile Devices division. For example, designing the software to execute data services without consuming too much power was a challenge, as was designing the user interface and phone buttons to allow for easy navigation, he said.

Fine-tuning those features led to delays. The company had initially pledged that hardware would be released in 2001, but it failed to meet that target.

"The development of Smartphone has been, and still is, one of the most ambitious projects that Microsoft has undertaken," Suwanjindar said.

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