MS, Intel, TI and HP pitch PDA-phone combo blueprints

OK Nokia, we're here, so you can surrender now...

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The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Yes, it's war. Today at the GSM World Congress in Cannes Microsoft made its latest pitch for control of the mobile phone market, via alliances with Intel, Texas Instruments, HP and a stack of service providers; a small stack of these, granted, but it includes all the major UK players, and France Telecom in the shape of Orange.

HP rolled out the business end of the bid for glory, a Pocket PC 2002 Phone Edition (phew...) device, the Jornada 928. This is essentially a Jornada-sized box with built-in phone, so it's an all-in-one designed for people who like hitting themselves on the head with small bricks when they use the phone like you'd use the phone. In the interests of balance we should point out that this also applies to Nokia's current efforts in the genre, and that the manufacturers are trying to solve this little conundrum by selling people hands-free kits instead. In the interest of further balance we should also point out that by no means everyone agrees with The Register's advanced luddism as regards one box solutions.

Enough of that for the moment though - on to the big alliances. The HP is the first one over the parapet based on Microsoft's deal with TI. The company is pushing "a complete reference package combining ... Smartphone 2002 software running on high-performance, low-power OMAP processors and GPRS technology from Texas Instruments." The pair are, one might observe, coming a little late to the smartphone reference design circuit, but from the pitch Ben Waldman made to the WSJ's mysteriously early write-up today, the cunning plan is to use the PC and electronics companies who're not major phone players (all of them?) to overthrow the companies who are. This means that Microsoft has effectively written off its chances of persuading Nokia, Ericsson, Sony and Siemens to jump entirely or even partially into bed with it.

Microsoft, quaintly, seems not yet to have released news of its collaboration with Intel in the same vein (aside from to the WSJ, that is), but Intel has. This is also a reference design, based on Microsoft PocketPC etc etc and the Intel Personal Internet Client Architecture, which Intel in its infinite wisdom abbreviates to Intel PCA. It uses StrongARM and the Intel PXA250 applications processor, and it is intended to "promote the rapid development of next-generation wireless applications and services for consumer and enterprise market."

That "consumer" may be significant. The HP pitch today, and indeed the one Waldman made to WSJ and will no doubt make to the rest of us when he actually announces it in a couple of hours, is that this class of device is being aimed at the high end, at mobile professionals who spend more than 25 per cent of their time away from their desks, and who've probably got the notebook, the phone and the PDA already. This means you can charge a good price for them, you don't have to worry too much if you don't get the consumer commodity volumes, and you can leverage them into Microsoft shops by just rolling the network, email et al out to the wireless clients. But they do music and video (actually, we're pretty sure HP's sad little demo claimed MP3 - does Bill know about this?), so apart from price they're consumer-ready.

It's not immediately clear who Intel's partners are going to be, but it's possible the company is a tad behind, compared to MS-TI, so might have some catching up to do. More on this if we find out.

Over to Intel as we sign-off on this one for the moment. Says (or will say soon, we're not sure) Intel: "Today there is no standard design platform in the wireless industry to speed the development and deployment of wireless devices and applications. Each device or application is created in its own environment. The Intel and Microsoft reference designs will allow developers to build from a standardized platform, ensuring that high-quality products are designed and deployed in a timely manner. The development of the reference designs are under way, and the designs will be introduced to the industry later this year."

This will be news to Symbian, which has been punting reference designs since the off. Symbian, however, is unexpectedly thin on the ground at this year's Congress, owing to the sudden 'no Colly Myers' situation. Today's press conference announcing the latest rev of the OS has been postponed, although it's still being released. Allegedly, the Colly replacements couldn't be airdropped into Cannes in time to make the 2pm kick-off. They'll probably do it at CeBIT instead, which gives them enough time to walk there. ®

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