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Orange's SPV MS smartphone – developer hostile bugfarm?

So it stands for Service Pack Vehicle, then?

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A bizarre feature of Orange's SPV, the first Microsoft Stinger smartphone to hit the streets, means the contact book won't actually dial the number you've just looked up, according to disenchanted early adopter Simon Perry. This seems so utterly insane and bizarre to us that we really feel Orange should have an opportunity to deny it, but the company's press office, land and mobile, seems to have been just an answerphone for the past several hours.

Simon however explains the procedure. "To make a call, you type the name of the contact at the phones main menu and using T9 technology it attempts to match your keystrokes to a list of matching entries in your Outlook, you then select the required contact and hit dial." Then you get a number unobtainable tone. Support tells him that there is a known problem with dialing numbers from contacts, and as he rightly says, this kind of cuts the feet out from under the PC integration aspect, which surely means syncing your PC contact book with the one on your phone is one of the first things you do.

We have now however heard from several other users who assure us this works on their handsets, so it seems not to be a universal showstopper.

Much of the rest of Simon's review of the phone is confirmed by reports from SPV users in the What Mobile forums. It's in general slow in response time (one user tips that it goes faster if you switch off the keyboard beep), has numerous bugs, and the camera functionality is pants. Do you really have to start an MMS message in order to take a picture? But we particularly like the one where it makes the shutter sound, then several seconds later, when everybody's wandered off for a beer, actually takes the picture. MoDaCo, an SPV-specific site, has an ongoing buglist for the beast.

To be fair, if you read through all of the reaction you'll find fans prepared to put up with the rough bits as well as detractors, but we think we detect a pattern. People who like the SPV like the implementation of the PocketPC functionality and the added gizmos, but frequently accept that the basic phone functionality lets it down. Which does kind of sound like a classic Microsoft product.

One other classic Microsoft feature, developer registration, could even kill the goose before it's laid the golden egg. Microsoft wants $600 for certification of software developed for Smartphone 2002, which is a per-app tab that is clearly not going to stimulate the production of freeware and trialware. No problem? Just don't get it certified?

Erm, this route is not available in this rev. For reasons best known to itself (and possibly whoever devised the Ts & Cs of its Microsoft licence) Orange has crippled the SPV so that it will only run Microsoft certified software. According to developer Paul O'Brien (who also runs MoDaCo), prerelease versions of the phone had the Microsoft Root Digital Certificate, which trusted certificates produced with the Smartphone 2002 SDK, but this was removed from the shipping device. How to win developer hearts and minds - let them get their apps running fine on the prototypes, then break them when the product ships.

Microsoft has subsequently relented, but only slightly. Developers have received a letter (Paul's, plus a discussion, is here) offering them a $300 half price deal on having an app certified by 30th January. Which as far as we can make out doesn't make it any better if you're continuing to develop apps after that, and doesn't make it any better if you didn't anticipate making any money out of your app in the first place.

Actually, although this smells of the kind of grasping control-freakery Microsoft is justly famed for, we at The Reg have difficulty believing that a company that's been so awesomely good at getting developers on board could screw up this badly of its own volition. Our every instinct tells us that this is far more likely to be linked to some benighted Orange money-making plan that will destroy developers' faith in Microsoft as collateral damage if it's not pulled instantly. If however this doesn't happen, and if other MS smartphones exhibit the same attractive feature, then we'll be able to conclude that Redmond really has lost it. Cross fingers, touch wood... ®

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