Wireless Email Heats Up

13 Feb ’06

On several occasions over the past few months, clients and others have mentioned how eager they were to move off the Blackberry onto a more sophisticated handheld platform, without losing the ‘berry’s excellent email capabilities – many of the people I work with have pretty sophisticated appetites for handheld technology. Indeed, just today I was shown the new O2 XDA Atom, courtesy of a client’s recent trip to Asia (verdict: a bit of a brick, but ridiculously full-featured).

Finally, just in time for 3GSM in Barcelona, Microsoft has announced the readiness of its push email offering:

Microsoft said Sunday that its long-awaited push e-mail capability for mobile devices is finally headed into the market.

Although Microsoft is offering push e-mail abilities later than some mobile specialists, such as Research In Motion and Good Technology, the company says the numbers are still on its side. Although there are a billion mobile phones and 400 million Outlook e-mail users worldwide, only about 10 million people are getting their corporate e-mail delivered to their phones.

Microsoft has been promising push e-mail for some time, but it has taken awhile to get all the pieces in place. The technology was made possible by combining devices running Windows Mobile 5 with servers using Exchange 2003 Service Pack 2. The final piece, a messaging and security service pack, was shipped last year, but had yet to show up on devices in the market.

The software maker said that a number of carriers, including Cingular Wireless, Orange, Sprint, T-Mobile and Vodafone, are offering free upgrades for customers that will let them get the “Direct Push” e-mail abilities as well as new security features.

In addition, Microsoft said several new devices will contain the necessary software for push e-mail, including Hewlett-Packard’s iPaq hw6900 Mobile Messenger, the Fujitsu Siemens FS Pocket Loox and the Gigabyte g-Smart, which will be offered by Chungwa Telecom in Taiwan. HTC also said it will have a number of new devices available globally to T-Mobile and other operators beginning in the second quarter of this year.

For years now it’s seemed quite strange to me that no one has been able to seriously challenge RIM’s dominance in what at least outwardly seems an unremarkable technology, but in any event one that stands on the threshold of a significant market opportunity. With wider adoption of wide area wifi and improvements in wireless bandwidth, the market for interesting handhelds is finally about to get very interesting.

Update (2006-02-14): Tim Webb of the Independent looks at what lies ahead for this market in Europe. Given that they are already 12-18 months ahead of us, consider it a look at the future of the future.

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