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Orange Uncovers Its SPV

Orange SA (London/Paris: OGE) and Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) today revealed the first "Windows-powered smartphone" at an event in London that reminded Unstrung more of the Oscars than a press conference (but without, alas, Cher). It's called the SPV, which Unstrung's Dan Jones says is something they can probably get a cream for (see Microsoft Launches Smartphone).

The handset is manufactured by the maker of the Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) iPaq, Taiwanese firm High Tech Corp. (HTC). It is branded with the Orange logo and will be available in the U.K. shops on November 11 priced at £179 (US$277) before sales tax.

Later next month the phone will make its appearance in other Orange territories, namely France (for €300, about $293), Denmark, and Switzerland. Belgium will get it in December, while the Dutch have to wait until January 2003.

But with Orange holding an exclusive deal for this particular Windows-driven handset for one year, the real news today is that other countries will be taking delivery of alternative handsets carrying the Microsoft OS in the coming months.

U.K.-based mobile device maker Sendo Ltd. told us at the launch event that it would be shipping its tri-band Z100 GSM handset to Spanish carrier Telefónica Móviles SA in November this year, as well as to "two of the big Italian mobile operators," says Marleen Van Lookeren Campagne (honest!), Sendo's senior communications manager. Pick two from: Telecom Italia Mobile SpA (Milan: TIM), Wind Telecomunicazioni SpA, and Vodafone Omnitel.

Also getting Sendo the handset this year, according to Marleen Van Lookeren Campagne, are French carrier SFR and Hong Kong CSL Ltd. In 2003, Marleen Van Lookeren Campagne says, the vendor will be delivering to T-Mobile (UK) in the first quarter, and Cingular Wireless, though a clear timetable for U.S. delivery was not available.

Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC) also had its Windows-based handset in view at the London event, but it is not even talking to the European carriers yet, even though it is developing a GSM-based smartphone. The model it does have is a CDMA handset that it is to ship to Verizon Wireless in the first quarter of 2003.

But back to the STD -- sorry, SPV. In short: impressive phone, quite impressive price, reasonably impressive demo, less impressive name, slightly nauseating London love-in for the launch. I swear, Microsoft's VP of the mobile devices marketing group, Juha (pronounced Yeuhaah!) Christensen, was that close to thanking his folks for bringing him into the world, so happy was he to be on stage presenting a mobile phone.

First, the name. SPV. That stands for Sound Pictures Video. Next!

The phone. We got our hands on it and had a quick play. And it's very intuitive, easy to use, and reactive. It was only a short fumble, but as short fumbles go it was quite impressive. That did not include accessing the wonderful world of the Web, though, so the GPRS connection was not tested in anger, nor was the view of online content.

The price -- £179 ($277) -- is slightly below pre-release random guesswork. A quick poll of attendees at the launch had folk predicting prices between $300 and $500. To use the online functionality -- users can visit any URL but those Websites "designed for small screens will obviously look better," says Richard Brennan, executive VP for Orangeworld and Brand -- and send email will cost U.K. users an extra £6 ($9.30) in addition to their voice and SMS plans. They only pay extra for "specific events, such as downloading a ringtone," says Brennan, and picture messaging will also command an additional fee.

Applications available on the GSM tri-band handset include Windows Media Player, Outlook (with synchronization capabilities), and picture messaging using a clip-on camera; and there's a slot for a memory card. The home screen can be customized by the user and can be reached at any point using the useful home button on the phone's keyboard. Handset features can be upgraded over the air -- a feature of particular use for corporates looking to arm their sales forces with these devices, believes Orange. Games figure pretty highly in the "what great things can SPV users do," too. But with a color screen and these types of applications, won't that suck the battery dry? "A heavy user, such as myself, will get a whole day's use from a charged battery," says Brennan.

Orange has ordered 200,000 units from HTC, and Brennan believes this will last them until the end of 2003, though more can be ordered in tens of thousands. He was very vague about subsidies, however, skirting such questions by saying only that the subsidies for this handset were no greater than for other devices.

Barring a serious mishap, this device looks like a hit in the making, one that will no doubt boost Microsoft's standing in the mobile industry and its position in the OS league tables (see Phone, Camera, Action!). If only it didn't sound like something you might catch at an iffy party.

— Ray Le Maistre, European Editor, Unstrung
www.unstrung.com
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