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DoCoMo shows Microsoft wireless gizmo

Too little, too late, with i-Phone now banking on Java?

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Almost a year to the day after Microsoft struck a deal with Japanese wireless giant NTT DoCoMo, the first fruits of the deal were displayed at World PC Expo in Tokyo yesterday. But it may well go unnoticed as the Japanese market swings to using Java-based gadgets.

On show this week is a prototype Microsoft Pocket PC device, that's basically a mutated Casio E-700 CE device. It's capable of taking DoCoMo's Handyphone Type II CF card, and that's how it talks to a phone. The device was also demonstrated with a separate full-sized keyboard.

Given its lofty, kingmaker role in the Japan wireless market - DoCoMo pretty much is the Japanese wireless market, being the main network operator with fingers in intellectual property ties in wideband-CDMA too - and it's struck deals promiscuously for a wide range of deals for devices. The usual suspects - Symbian, Palm and even Handspring have walked away with partnerships of some kind - but ominously for Microsoft, some time ago DoCoMo decided to base its next generation of i-Mode phones on Java. And these are just about ready to hit the market in December.

Is that important? We'll see, because the big, and let's face it, the really big question is how capable phones will prove to be as hand-held terminals. Will manufacturers have to plan for a $250 device, or a $600 device? In truth, no one really knows just yet. Today's phones do messaging and novelty games pretty well right now, and they'll stream and save audio within a few months. Beyond that is unchartered water. So Japan is the hothouse for such experiments, and each and every one of the licensees is watching to see which of these device/service models will stick.

Equally, what exactly is 'the platform' for these devices? On that front, the picture is clearer, and with Java as a standard the handset users can download novelty games and applications irrespective of network or phone. Sun appears to have won the platform war in Japan: if you've an idea, you code it in Java, and send it over the ether, without a second thought for reaching for the Win32 or Symbian programming manual. ®

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