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Old 11-06-2003, 06:06 PM
Jason Dunn
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Default Mobius Redmond 2003: Day 0 and Day 1 (Half of it)

Being invited by Microsoft to Mobius is always a treat, and I’ve been fortunate enough to attend several times. We always get to see some new technology, ask questions to the people that have the answers, and engage in some great discussions with my fellow mobile device enthusiasts. I can safely say that none of the people running mobile device Web sites are getting filthy rich because of it, so if it wasn’t for Microsoft bringing us together, I wouldn’t have ever met the people who run the top mobile sites out there. That’s a very cool thing, and regardless of what the people attending might think of Microsoft’s technology, most people seem grateful to be invited. What follows is my summary of Mobius Redmond 2003. This article was originally published on Pocket PC Thoughts a few weeks ago, and I neglected to publish it here simultaneously. ops: Enjoy!

Day Zero: The W Hotel
I arrived in Seattle after a very bumpy flight, and settled into my hotel room at the W Hotel in downtown Seattle. I enjoy staying at the W – it’s very soothing and relaxing. It’s not for everyone though, because I heard a few people commenting later that the hotel was “strange”. They turn the lights in the hallway down low, and it has a late-evening feeling all the time, which is just fine by me! The smile on my face was enormous when I was told at the registration desk that in addition to covering my hotel costs, Microsoft was going to pick up the costs for high-speed Internet access. That shows you how much they understand the people they invited – Internet access is critical to what we do, and the T-3 connection at the W made for a snappy Web experience.

Cabled Internet access, for me at least, is mostly a dead technology (although I’ll always use it for fixed computing stations) – I wonder when we’ll see WiFi access in our hotel rooms? I noticed that they had some sort of Intel Centrino demo station and WiFi access in the lobby (for a fee). It might be a bit of security nightmare though, because I’ve been at conferences before that offered WiFi, and people don’t remember to remove the shares on folders, so they end up exposing half the data on their laptops to other users. It would be a great feature in Windows XP to recognize when a user is connected to a new WiFi network, and temporarily disable the shares while attached to that network, but re-enable them when attached to the normal business/home network. Even the simple step of changing the default network name from MSHOME would be a small help.

The evening event was a meet n’ greet type mixer where various delicious appetizers were served while the Mobius attendees mingled. Several Microsoft people showed up as well, including Derek Brown, so we had fun reminiscing about the various projects we’d worked on together over the years. I had a chance to meet some of the new faces, including Lisa Gade from PDABuyersGuide, which is always enjoyable. All too quickly, it was nearing midnight and the room was shutting down, so I headed up to my room to spend some time doing email. We were being picked up by a bus at 7:30 AM to brave the infamous Seattle traffic, so it would be an early morning.

Day One: Microsoft Campus
Bright and early we were on a bus traveling down to the Microsoft campus. For those that haven’t seen it, it’s difficult to imagine one of the world’s largest software companies existing in a collage campus like sprawl, but it works well for them. Redmond is a beautiful place, always green and lush, and I enjoy spending time there.

User submitted image
Figure 1: Mobius attendees

After a brief introduction by Jason Gordon, the event organizer, the first presentation of the day was by Jonas Hasselberg, Lead Smartphone Product Manager. Jonas is the person who helps to define what features goes into the product. He started off his presentation by talking about the Motorola MPx200 Smartphone, and specifically about the weight that Motorola brings to this market. Motorola isn’t just making one phone – they’re a big builder, and they build product portfolios. Reading between the lines here, it seems Motorola will be releasing multiple phones based on the Smartphone platform. Motorola is initially targeting the prosumer market – the people who buy their products in retail stores, and are generally willing to pay more for new technology.

User submitted image
Figure 2: Jonas presenting

Jonas noted that even though Smartphones have large colour screens, more memory, and more processing power than traditional phones, the incremental cost of building a Smartphone over building a feature phone is quite small. This means that the Smartphone will be able to follow the pattern of traditional mobile phones: upon release, they’ll be more expensive than the giveaway phones carriers use to get signed contracts, but over time the cost will come down to the point there the phone is low-cost or even free with activation. The Orange SPV was (I believe) 199₤ in the UK at launch, within two weeks it was 99₤ from the Car Phone Warehouse. I believe by 2004 we’ll see free Smartphones with activation.

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Figure 3: The SPV-E200 from the front. Looks like the SPV and SPVx, doesn't it?

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Figure 4: The SPV-E200 from the back, now featuring a camera.

Jonas also revealed some SPV E200 details – it’s the first English-language Windows Mobile 2003 Smartphone to come out on the market. The SPV E200 offers integrated Bluetooth, a camera, MMS client, and is based on the same body design as the SPV and SPVx. Orange will be releasing the Orange SPV E200 in Q4 2003 in the UK, France, Holland, Switzerland, and Denmark markets. The continued evolution of the Smartphone platform is important to Orange, because like all carriers, one of the most important measurements of success is the ARPU – Average Revenue Per Unit (customer). Carriers are glad to have you as a customer, but what they really want is for you to spend a few extra dollars every billing cycle – a ring tone here, a few dozen SMS messages there – this is how they make serious money, because there’s little to no network impact for delivery of these items. Based on a survey, on average, Orange customers would browse Web pages only once a month on traditional phones, but five times a day on the SPV Smartphone – which means GRPS usage and higher ARPU.

The mobile phone space continues to grow as a nice clip, and the predicted growth curve of data-rich devices remains strong. IDC is predicting that by 2007, 81 million converged phones and phone-enabled PDAs will be sold per year. I personally feel that in order for this to happen, data package costs need to come down. In many markets, flat-rate GPRS plans are upwards of $50 USD per month – that might not be a big cost for large companies to swallow, but to the average SOHO end user, that’s a lot. I think the sweet spot is $10 per month above the basic mobile packages. We’ll see what the market will bear out as we slowly crawl towards 3G – network carriers have a huge investment to pay back with 3G, so it may take longer than we hope to see those prices come down.

Smartphone 2003
This was the first official discussion of Smartphone 2003 that I’d heard from Microsoft, so it was quite interesting to the Smartphone Thoughts part of my brain. There were four key goals for Smartphone 2003: deliver a great phone experience, enable rich messaging, deliver the best platform for innovation, and meet operator requirements.

Jonas talked about the huge number of people who are accustomed to the traditional Nokia interface, and how Microsoft didn’t realize how much of a hurdle it would be to give those users a new UI – even if it’s a familiar Windows-type UI. Jonas speculated that Symbian Series 60 devices will have some of the same challenges – I know that when I picked up the N-Gage, I had no clue how to use it, even though I’ve used Nokia phones for years. Any platform with a rich UI will start from the same place in this regard.

Jonas presented his “Smartphone 2003 Top 10” list, which are some of the most important features:

1. MMS Client: A third-party client was integrated into Pocket Inbox to enable new devices like the Orange E200 with a camera to send MMS

2. .NET Compact Framework in ROM: Enables developers to leverage portable code across multiple platforms. The advantages of this are somewhat nullified of course by the updates to the .NET CF, because it becomes a problem knowing what version of .NET CF the device has.

3. New Pocket Internet Explorer: WAP 2.0, xHTML, HTML 4.0, CSS, speed enhancements

4. The Smartphone supports 24 languages in total, and 14 new languages were added for 2003: Eastern Europe, Japanese, Chinese, Nordic, others.

5. Enhanced Cellular Support: Always on, ALS VM Indicator, SIM management, Line 2 PIN, USSD 2, AoC. I have no clue what most of these mean, but they’re obviously carrier requirements

6. Bluetooth support: DUN, serial, and object push profiles are native. Most licensees will be adding headset and hands-free profiles. The core Bluetooth support comes from updating the core OS to Windows CE .NET 4.2.

7. More customization extensions (I’m not sure what this means)

8. Always up-to-date Outlook: Exchange 2003 includes the necessary bits to synchronize Exchange/Outlook data, and the biggest deal is the email push.

9. Windows Media Player 9: pluggable codecs, WMA ring tones. I was initially excited about the codec support, but it quickly faded when I learned that the codec still needed to exist inside a WMV wrapper, so the hope of MPEG or Divx support faded quickly

10. NAND support: NAND gives faster read/write memory access, and memory is cheaper for ODM

Jonas also stressed the importance of the abstracted radio layer. As a developer, if you’re writing an application to send an MMS message, you don’t need to talking to the radio – you rely on the OS to do that. Equally as important, if you’re an OEM/ODM and you want to release a Smartphone based on a specific type of radio (let’s say UMTS or something cutting-edge), you only need to design the radio stack – the OS will simply plug into it. That’s a powerful advantage because it reduces time to market. Of course, it also begs the question as to why we haven’t seen any 3G Smartphones yet.

Motorola MPx200: The Dream Smartphone?
The demonstration of the Motorola MPx200 was very cool – this appears to be the phone that the SPV should have been, and the phone that introduced the Microsoft Smartphone to the world. The MPx200 is small, fast, has a great screen, and is made by a major handset manufacturer. Yes, it lacks Bluetooth and a camera, but I’d still take this phone in a heartbeat to replace my SPV. Microsoft’s goal all along has been to get major handset makers on board, but one Microsoft person I talked to said they didn’t fully grasp how important it was to get someone like Motorola on board until they finally were. The Motorola is really a phone, not a small PDA masquerading as a phone. The difference is subtle, but critical.

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Figure 5: The Motorola Smartphone compared to Howard Chui's new Motorola phone

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Figure 6: Another comparison of the two Motorolas

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Figure 7: I'm in love...what a Smartphone!

I’ve always felt that the OS on the Smartphone was held back by the hardware in the SPV, and the Motorola MPx200 was proof of that – it was the same OS that I had on my SPV, but the experience of using the phone was radically different.

...to be continued
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