HANNOVER -- I'VE traveled to this German city to cover developments of interest to Windows users at CeBit, indisputably the world's largest computer trade show. More than three-quarters of a million souls wander its 27 convention halls each year. Regrettably, only 1 percent of CeBit's visitors are Americans. That's a shame because hot technology often bursts forth in the European market first, taking a year or two to be adapted for the States.
I wrote on Jan. 7 that devices based on a lean, clean operating system named Symbian had suddenly started outselling both Palms and Pocket PCs in Europe during the third quarter of 2001 (see "The next Windows"). This growth spurt was largely driven by the introduction of the Nokia 9210 Communicator, a cell phone that unfolds to reveal a QWERTY keyboard, a bright color screen, and a wireless browser.
Now the Sony Ericsson P800, another Symbian cell phone that sports PDA features, has just been announced. Flipping down this device's 10-digit keypad gives you access to a colorful, touch-sensitive organizer screen. The "world phone" integrates a tiny camera and supports MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service). That means you can e-mail personal images and sound as well as text.
I wrote in the Jan. 7 column that we'll someday enjoy laptop power in our watches. Any full-size screen and keyboard we sit down at will (with the owner's permission) work wirelessly as a front end to the CPU on our wrist. We won't have to lug around laptops, transformers, and cables anymore.
Until a Sony Vaio can squeeze into a Rolex, however, our killer gizmos will be "smart phones" -- cells that compute. This is a shift Microsoft is missing.
"For the next 12 months, the OS of choice is probably Symbian," says Marco Boerries, CEO of VerdiSoft, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based company that networks cell phones, routers, and everything in between. "They did a good job of integrating J2ME [Java 2 Micro Edition]" developer environment.
Nokia's U.S. version, the 9290, goes on sale this spring. The Sony Ericsson ships globally, including in the United States, in the summer. A few other 800-pound gorillas that have committed to Symbian are Fujitsu, Motorola, Panasonic, Sanyo, and Siemens.
"Only 25 million PDAs shipped in 15 years," notes Symbian spokesman Paul Cockerton. "But last year alone, 400 million cell phones were sold."
Microsoft wants into this huge market and is pushing Windows Smart Phone code into Pocket PCs. For instance, Hewlett-Packard has a new, voice-enabled Jornada 928, which will ship in Europe (not the United States) in July. But cell-phone makers aren't going along. Only Sendo, a small U.K. startup, was showing a Windows-based cell phone at CeBit.
If I were a betting man, I'd say the gorillas are about to show Microsoft how to sell a billion potent computers disguised as handsets.
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