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Qualcomm does smartphone deal with MS – and Symbian

Cunningly playing both ends of the field

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The announcement of a Microsoft-Qualcomm joint effort to produce reference designs for mobile devices yesterday may have been big news as Bill Gates' keynote was concerned, but Qualcomm would seem to be playing fast and loose. Because the company made two remarkably similar announcements, both tagged "New Orleans, February 28."

At the same time as forging a deal with Microsoft to produce designs based on Pocket PC and Microsoft Mobile Explorer, Qualcomm has signed with Symbian to promote the interoperability of Symbian devices and CDMA networks. Both alliances cover devices using Qualcomm's iMSM (Internet Mobile Station Modem) chipset and system software, so effectively Qualcomm is promoting both Microsoft and Symbian devices for use in CDMA networks.

Although the Microsoft reference design alliance might initially seem to be another effort to promote 'Son of CE,' Pocket PC, as a standard for the wireless market, it's worth noting that the announcement refers to two classes of device, one of smart phones based on "the Microsoft Mobile Explorer wireless communications platform," and the other of "wireless Pocket PCs."

It's the second category that you could describe as being rather like the ancestral 'CE-based cellular phone' platform, while the first is more like the new-look browser strategy, as outlined via the Ericsson deal earlier this year. Note, too, how a microbrowser is starting to inflate into a whole platform, without Microsoft getting too specific about underlying operating systems.

The fact that Qualcomm's facing two ways also hints at the likelihood of the Microsoft and Symbian strategies getting mixed and matched when the hardware starts to go on sale. Ericsson already intends to run Mobile Explorer on Symbian's EPOC, and Symbian has no problem with this at all - on the contrary.

And from the Symbian release, here's a strong hint that Qualcomm intends to face in more ways, rather than being tagged as Microsoft's tame wireless outfit: Qualcomm "recently announced that the iMSM product family will feature a number of different chips and system software solutions available over a period of time, and will be targeted to different segments of the wireless device market." Watch this space, does that mean? ®

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