Microsoft Powers Peabody Smartphone

Microsoft and Flextronics announced today that the Windows Mobile operating system will power a new GSM/GPRS smartphone the companies have dubbed “Peabody.”

Microsoft is looking to capitalize on its connection to the corporate back office, where users are already familiar with Microsoft applications, which can be taken on the road with smartphones.

Seamless Experience

The different mobile operating systems — including Microsoft’s, Symbian, Palm, RIM and various Linux platforms — each have their own strengths, but analysts say the differences don’t matter much to the average user.

“The operating system is largely irrelevant from an end user standpoint,” Yankee Group mobile device analyst John Jackson told TechNewsWorld. “Nobody runs out to buy a Symbian phone, but everybody wants e-mail and wants to share media from their PCs. We all want a seamless, multimedia experience, and for corporate users, they want that back-office functionality.”

The operating system, he said, is much less important than which software makers — who need to partner with manufacturers, providers and others — get to market “first and best.”

Mobile Money Matters

Unveiling the Peabody at the 3GSM World Congress mobile tech convention in Cannes, France, Microsoft hopes to provide “smarter, advanced mobile solutions and create business models that help mobile operators generate new revenue streams,” according to a statement from Pieter Knook, senior vice president of Microsoft’s mobile and embedded devices division.

He added, “Microsoft’s innovative and familiar software solutions, such as the Windows Mobile platform, enable operators to offer products and services that encourage a broader range of customers to use higher-revenue-generating smart devices, enhance the user experience and build subscriber loyalty.”

Tom Deitrich, Flextronics’ vice president of original design and manufacturer (ODM) products, called Peabody an example of “a cost-effective way to quickly expand product lines and respond to market demands.”

The companies also claimed the Windows Mobile platform for Peabody allowed manufacturers to access more than 18,000 applications for product-line commercialization.

Race Is On

Yankee Group’s Jackson said the Peabody was a manifestation of two trends: the changing business models of mobile manufacturers, operating system makers and others; and the opening of the elusive GSM/GPRS smartphone market. Jackson said the next step — more of a giant leap — is to take the operating system, device and service to the mass-market.

“This is a race to get these operating systems ported to mass market price points of below $150,” Jackson said.

While he noted some advantages for different mobile operating systems, Jackson stressed the key to success will be “getting down market” and delivering the functionality users are accustomed to via their desktop and notebook PCs.

Strong Business Case

Ken Dulaney, Gartner vice president of mobile computing, said although certain mobile operating systems have a hold on certain markets, a more important consideration is the partnerships among different software and hardware makers and mobile service providers.

“It all depends on what deals they get,” Dulaney told TechNewsWorld. “You need compelling design, yes, but you also need partnerships with providers.”

Dulaney said that while the licensing of Blackberry’s RIM operating system shows promise, and while the Symbian OS has found success in a wide range of devices, Microsoft may have the upper hand with enterprise users.

“The biggest attraction for Windows Mobile is the links for business people and that connectivity to the back end,” Dulaney said. “Where Microsoft is strong, Symbian is weak.”

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