- The Washington Times - Monday, September 15, 2003

The news that Microsoft Corp. and Motorola are teaming up on a “smart phone” that will synchronize with a personal computer is interesting, much in the way that having Britney Spears do an album of Verdi arias is interesting: It’s something to contemplate, but perhaps not too seriously.

I have been wrong before, however.

This will be a “clamshell” type of mobile phone with a color screen and a price tag, in Britain at least, of around $385. That’s higher than similar devices, such as Handspring’s Treo 300, which retails for around $350 before rebates that can lower the cost to as little as $99.

Of course, such deals probably require service-contract commitments of a year or two, and I expect rebates will be available as well.

The goal of smart phones is to allow users to handle all of their diverse bits of information. But this goal is rarely achieved, in my opinion.

Think of the “Simon” device cooked up by IBM and BellSouth 10 years ago. It was about the size of a half-brick, had a VGA screen and Windows-like interface, and sold a very small number of units, despite its relatively advanced features.

Its cumbersome size and 18-ounce weight doomed Simon, along with a starting price of $999. Today, I can get much of the functionality of Simon — and then some — in a Sony Ericsson T68i phone for one-tenth Simon’s price. Oh, and the screen is color. I can attach a camera, and it’ll function as a wireless modem for a Bluetooth-enabled computer or PDA.

If I must have the whole thing in one package, Palm’s Tungsten W strikes me as the optimal solution: a PDA with a GSM phone that’ll work anywhere GSM cellular service does. I’ve used mine in Finland, Latvia and Lithuania, along with Washington and Las Vegas. It also handles short messages and e-mail.

What’s more, both the T68i and the Palm Tungsten W will communicate with PCs and Macintosh computers. A friend actually uses his T68i as a remote control for his Mac notebook. On the other hand, anything that comes from Microsoft will likely either “speak” only with Windows PCs or will do so far, far better than any other platform. Getting a Microsoft-based Pocket PC device to “sync” with a Mac can be a major undertaking.

Can Microsoft make it work? Perhaps. But in an industry up to its eyeballs in products, a rather spectacular product would have to emerge in order for this to be more than another flash in the pan.

A tiny size would be an advantage in such a device, for sure. Another plus would be an easy way to connect to “enterprise” computing systems, so a sales force or traveling executives can easily log in and get address-book updates or new schedule information.

But these features are available right now on “Windows Mobile” devices (Pocket PC is the old name) that cost about half of what the Microsoft/Motorola phone would cost. In my opinion, those Pocket PCs are a bit more elegant when pulled out during a business lunch or executive conference. The phone can still be a “side” accessory.

It will be interesting to see what Microsoft and Motorola come up with in this regard. Perhaps it will be even more interesting to see what Handspring (now part of Palm) or Sanyo or Kyocera or Sony Ericsson come up with in response.

• E-mail MarkKel@aol.com or visit www.kellner.us

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