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Microsoft will be launching a feature phone with Verizon Wireless in the US, based on Windows CE but not compatible with the forthcoming Windows Phone 7 Series.

Rumours of a Microsoft feature phone have been knocking around for a while. It was codenamed "pink" and supposedly built to replace the venerable Sidekick using the skills Microsoft acquired when it bought the previous owner, Danger. But now Gizmodo has photographs and technical details of two handsets to be launched in July on Verizon, proving that Microsoft has eyes on much more than the smart phone market.

Even from the scant details available it's clear that neither handset is Windows Phone 7 Series - despite having lots of social networking hooks and the ability to download applications. Those applications will be developed using .NET, but without the feature set of 7 Series, and probably only in partnership with Microsoft.

According to tips received by Gizmodo the two handsets, both of which feature the sliding keyboards so beloved by Americans, are based on Windows CE but with a different graphical layer and fewer features than 7 Series. They are also CDMA devices, which realistically limits them to the US at launch, though a GSM variant is always possible. The handsets clearly don't conform to the physical requirements for a 7 Series phone, and are unlikely to be as highly-specified.

It shouldn't really come as a surprise that Microsoft is paying attention to the "feature phone" end of the market - that's where everyone else is looking these days. Samsung's Bada is aimed squarely at providing downloadable applications to feature phones, and Qualcomm's BREW is being reinvented as the solution to that problem too, not to mention that it's where Symbian is hoping to make its new home now that MeeGo has moved in upstairs.

The problem for Bada is that for the moment it needs the same processing power as a smart phone, while Symbian and BREW are much more suited to that market. Microsoft's ability to do things with limited resources is somewhat patchy. The company has generally preferred to wait for the hardware to get cheap enough for its software, but this time it's Apple that's depending on the trickle-down effect while Microsoft attempts to fit a quart into a pint pot. ®

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