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Microsoft 'year away' from single-core phone OS

Costly catch-up

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3GSM With Nokia and Sony Ericsson about to launch single-core, single-chip phones using a real-time OS, Microsoft embarked on its catch-up strategy today.

It's a pressing issue for manufacturers, as a single core smartphone platform allows the OEM to cut the cost of materials considerably, or cram more features on for the same BoM cost, or both. But a single core smartphone only works with a Real-Time Operating System (RTOS) that's capable of running the CDMA or GSM signalling stacks, and that's something Microsoft doesn't have. Microsoft's phones need a baseband processor running the GSM stack, and a separate application processor core running Windows Mobile OS.

So riding to the rescue is that old favorite of vapourware announcements, the "reference platform".

Pieter Knook, senior Veep of Microsoft Mobile and Embedded, said Microsoft was teaming up with Texas Instruments to create a 'reference design' for single chip, single core phones. Three OEMs, including HTC and Sagem would bring these devices to market.

Knook said Sagem claimed a single chip phone would result in "double digit" reduction in BoM costs.

The announcement of a 'reference platform' is a sure sign that real product isn't exactly immiment - so we asked Knook when he expected Microsoft to have a RTOS-hardened version of Windows Mobile capable of running those signalling stacks.

Knook told us it might be about 12 months away.

Which, even with the wind in a favourable direction, means product might be 12 to 18 months away.

Remember, Symbian began to tout its real-time version of the Symbian OS more than two years ago - with the announcement exactly two years ago at 3GSM in Cannes in 2004. It's only now that Nokia's N series, E series and Sony Ericsson's P990 are set to ship. So 12 months certainly sounds optimistic.

As we've noted before, Windows Mobile kit is now available in abundance, but it isn't exactly cheap. And the price differential set against more technically advanced rivals looks set to punish Microsoft OEMs for some time. ®

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