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Carphone Warehouse shoots mobile portal from the hip

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Carphone Warehouse is to propagate its own on-device portal, preinstalled on handsets and offering access to content from HipLogic, as well as the inevitable application store.

There's actually not a lot of content from HipLogic or Carphone Warehouse but the application will gather information from the usual social-networking services, news and sport from Sky, for presentation to the user and to keep customers under the Carphone Warehouse brand.

The technology is based on the HipLogic Live client, which is typical of the kind of on-device portal designed to add branding to handsets - providing a pretty interface for rendering AJAX-style content, normally with a few customised APIs for accessing phone functions.

In the middle of the last decade such portals were expected to grow in popularity as they seemed an obvious way for operators to differentiate themselves. Sure enough, dozens of companies sprang up offering everything from news tickers to complete replacement of the phone's GUI.

But that effort was stymied by the many different and incompatible phone platforms, and the difficultly in getting applications pre-installed onto handsets. These days we're down to a handful of companies who'll sell you a white-label application for displaying network-provided content, with links to allow the user to buy ring tones, graphics and (these days) applications.

The UK's first was probably O2, whose 2003 on-device portal was provided by Action Engine and included route planning from the AA. Since then Orange has deployed several services from Surf Kitchen, which continues to survive and also provided T-Mobile USA's web2go service, though all those deployments are limited to particular handsets. Even Carphone Warehouse has experimented with the concept, pre-installing Handango's portal on the pink Blackberry Pearl a couple of years back.

HipLogic is a smart phone offering, running on Android, Windows mobile and Symbian handsets, and is already available to download* - though this deal specifies that the application will be pre-installed on handsets. Manufacturers are happy to pre-install content, creating vendor-specific "variants" if enough handsets are ordered, but that takes time and puts operators into a race against retailers who can get vanilla versions of new handsets onto the shelves before the variants have been programmed.

Carphone Warehouse has traditionally been the company to race against at such times, so it will be interesting to see how quickly it manages to get HipLogic preinstalled onto handsets, and how many users subsequently use it. ®

* HipLogic has been in touch and asked us to point out that the Android version isn't available for download yet, but is coming in the next month or two.

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