Microsoft backs Pocket PC with developer tools

TORONTO — Microsoft‘s mobile developer community met Thursday to learn about the company’s new mobile tools and technologies and hear about the opportunities that wireless trends are promised to offer. However, according to two

Canadian analysts, along with opportunity comes competition.

Mike Wehrs, director of technology and standards in the mobile devices division at Microsoft Corp. in Redmond, Wash., said that while voice is still the killer application for handheld devices, it’s a new computing era and that expectations are evolving as new devices come online.

“”This leads to new business opportunities,”” Wehrs said in his keynote address.

With its launch of Windows Mobile 2003 developer software for Pocket PCs earlier this week, Wehrs said that Microsoft is focusing on enabling developers to create innovative applications for handheld devices, improving the wireless experience for users, extending the media experience to the Pocket PC and smart phone platforms, and furthering messaging. Warren Chaisatien, a senior analyst in the area of telecommunications at IDC Canada in Toronto, said that Microsoft has an edge when it comes to meeting these goals.

“”When it comes to mobilizing its applications, Microsoft has very good brand recognition. I’m not saying it’s superior, but it’s definitely got brand awareness. Clearly, the company’s leveraging the common look and feel that people are accustomed to in their Windows-based apps, and that adds to their strength,”” he said.

He also noted that while Microsoft has been a latecomer to the PDA and smart phone fields, they have a lot of momentum behind them in the enterprise market from which the majority of wireless data users will emerge.

“”There is tough competition in both the PDA market and in the smart phone market, but I think their plan to attack both markets is comprehensive. They have created product that encapsulates both market segments and rolls up under one brand name,”” he said.

Phil Calvin, the Vancouver-based CEO of Motivus Software Ltd., said that he expects the new release to be an improvement over the last because “”every version of the Pocket PC is better than the last. Microsoft always continues to improve its products, and I don’t see them going backwards in what they’re doing. That said, Palm and Handspring won’t either.””

Michelle Warren, a market analyst with Evans Research Corp. in Toronto, agreed that the competition is tough, particularly in Canada, where Palm dominates handheld sales.

“”Because (Palm) was the first to market they do have that competitive advantage over other vendors, however Pocket PCs are really gaining in popularity,”” she said.

According to Warren, 417,800 handheld units –including both Palm and Pocket PC — were shipped in Canada in 2002, but this number is expected to grow to 458,900 in 2003.

“”With this new Microsoft announcement, there are a slew of vendors entering into this arena, which could push units up for the tail end of this year, but that depends on go-to-market strategies and the retail presence they have,”” she said.

New features in the 2003 release include the ability to sniff out wireless signals around the user’s device without the user having to prompt the system.

“”That will really make the wireless connectivity experience easier,”” Chaisatien said.

According to Wehrs, Microsoft has made the decision to invest heavily in mobility, placing it alongside its Office and Windows groups, and is committed for the long term.

“”This shows that the company is serious about getting into the mobility space and shows that the IT industry sees that wireless is the future,”” Chaisatien said.

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