The emerging market for Internet access from cell phones is a giant dance floor. Everyone is up dancing, but with whom they're dancing at any moment can be a little unclear. It doesn't help that some of the dancers are forming into groups and others are tapping them on the shoulder to cut in.
Both Microsoft (MSFT)'s Windows CE operating system and the PalmOS had been passed over like wallflowers when the top three cell-phone makers - Nokia (NOK), Motorola (MOT) and Ericsson - teamed up with others in a consortium called Symbian to develop a new operating system for portable phones, called Epoc. Then, last October, Nokia started a side dance with Palm, and now Ericsson has allowed Microsoft to cut in. But both phone makers insist they're still faithfully devoting their attention to the Symbian dance.
The media treated Microsoft's deal with the Swedish phone maker - Microsoft and Ericsson will set up a new company of which Ericsson will own the majority - as a big story, but they couldn't quite agree on the details. Microsoft announced a bundle of services, applications and back-end software that News.com said was called Microsoft Mobile Explorer. Everyone else wrote that Mobile Explorer refers to a component in this bundle, Microsoft's planned scaled-down browser that will run on Windows CE, Epoc and PalmOS. The AP story carried by the Washington Post said that the deal included Ericsson's use of Microsoft's Windows CE operating system. Many others pointed to Ericsson's press announcement, which made it perfectly clear this is not the case: "[The alliance with Microsoft] does not include joint development or licensing of operating systems."
The Wall Street Journal's coverage, written by three reporters with help from a fourth, featured a lovely little diagram that gives a snapshot of the dance floor at this moment. The San Jose Mercury News's Chris O'Brien painted Microsoft and Ericsson as two underdogs in the market banding together for mutual gain. O'Brien noted the plight of Phone.com, whose stock took a hit after the Microsoft-Ericsson deal was announced. Phone.com has taken an early lead in the market for microbrowsers: It's peddling its entry now, unlike Microsoft, whose Mobile Explorer won't be ready for half a year.
Maura Ginty turned in the geekiest coverage for InternetNews; the buzzword-laden copy at least had the advantage of precision. For example, here's how Ginty described Microsoft Mobile Explorer: "The new dual-mode MME microbrowser displays both HTML and WAP 1.1-compliant content and allows secure corporate data access, e-mail, Internet and other services from both feature phones and smart phones." Which just goes to show that, even if the phone companies make it easier for everyone to talk to one another, there's no guarantee you'll understand what's being said. - K.D.
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