Motorola is to become the first major handset manufacturer to ship a Microsoft smartphone, with the rollout of the clamshell MPx200 starting in Europe with Orange next month, and AT&T Wireless commencing sales in the US in the 'fourth quarter.' M finally doing something will come as a welcome relief to Microsoft, but nice as the beast looks it's unlikely to overthrow Symbian all on its own.
It is aimed, says Orange (which knows buckets about market positioning), at the "professional consumer." This is not, as you may have presumed, the bloke with the totalled credit cards who's single-handedly responsible for the last consumer-led boom, but the discerning PC owner who is going to want to sync contacts, email et al between a phone and their computer. Kind of like, we'd have said, the old specialist PDA market - a decent enough sized market of techie enthusiasts who're prepared to cough up money for features, but not a mass consumer market you could count in tens of millions.
The price confirms this positioning; Orange will sell it at £239.99 with contract, which is approximately twice what the company wants for the SPV E100. This "professional consumer" person, by the way, should not be confused with a "business professional," at whom the MPx200 is not being aimed. And the SPV, since you ask, is categorised by Orange as being about halfway between the two. But that's enough positioning, thank goodness.
Orange, which is determined to maintain its grip on the user experience of its phones, seems to have had its way with branding and customised software and services on the MPx200, although a spokesman deftly categorised it as a marriage of three strong brands. Which in some senses it is, with Motorola clearly bringing more to the table in terms of image and awareness than HTC could with the SPV.
How much, though, does the MPx200 matter to the three (four, if you count AT&T) partners? It's not widly core for Orange, more a case of putting a useful mark down in the PC-connected area, with a view to earning money out of services as this market develops. Motorola seems to think along similar lines, describing it as "a compelling complement to our existing software and applications ecosystem for network operators, developers and consumers."
In Microsoft's case it's both important and not too important. Getting a brand on board, finally, must be comforting, but there won't be enough unit sales to make Nokia tremble, so it's neither here nor there in the quest to break the power of Nokia and Symbian. That power may well be broken by the network operators allying with the likes of OpenWave and lower-tier handset manufacturers who're less choosy about look and feel ownership and branding, and may even be broken by Motorola via Linux and China, but Nokia having its wings clipped doesn't of itself translate into Microsoft owning the turf instead. Orange, incidentally, will shortly also be launching the Nokia 6600, which it describes as the first Nokia handset "with the Orange experience" - we look forward to finding out how much Nokia has wobbled.
Despite all that, the MPx200 sounds eminently desirable, and might even have a hand in defining the kind of handset category, smaller but perfectly respectable, that Microsoft winds up living in. It uses smartphone 2002, rather than the impending 2003, but is reportedly stable and reliable (perhaps these two things are related), is pretty fast, and has 32Mb memory, compared to the SPV's 16Mb. It has up to 1 gigabyte SD storage, and Mini USB and IrDA for connectivity.
Over on the AT&T side of the pond we meanwhile note one possible curiosity. Earlier this year AT&T was reported to have signed up with HTC, manufacturer of the SPV, which was to build it a Microsoft smartphone for shipping in the second half of this year. Should it still propose to do so, we would advise it to get a move on. ®