In October 2002 Microsoft and Orange launched their first smartphone, the SPV, powered by the Microsoft Smartphone 2002 operating system. At the time, Microsoft said Smartphone 2002 would enable mobile devices such as the SPV to handle e-mail and data applications as seamlessly as they handled voice.
This was a key attraction for users and developers looking to create mobile business applications. However, seven months on, a number of users have hit out at the lack of certified applications and difficulties in unlocking phones to run shareware.
Companies have been keen to get business data to workers on the move without them having to carry expensive laptops and dial up to corporate networks - needs that smartphones could address.
However, developers are struggling to build business applications for the SPV. An SPV user in the software industry said, "The thing that most irks me is the brutally limited software package provided [by Orange]."
Another SPV user ran into problems trying to download Windows CE applications onto his SPV. He said, "The handset tells me that my application does not have the necessary permissions to alter system files, and that I should contact my service provider."
A mobile phone software developer said, "Security appears to be the root of all my issues with SPV development. The hurdles Orange has imposed are what led us to re-prioritise the value in SPV development. We have postponed it, with no date set to continue."
He said the big issue he faced was getting hold of an "unlocked" phone, which could be used to test code. "I don't know how Orange and Microsoft expect developers to develop if they cannot install their applications."
A spokesman for Orange said, "Initially we were aware we were not supporting the development community." But he said Orange has now expanded its support with the launch in April of the Orange group developers' website.
Jonas Hasselberg, smartphone product manager worldwide at Microsoft, said developer support was "a delicate trade-off", with Microsoft and Orange needing to maintain the integrity of user data on a 15 million-user network while creating a rich environment for developers.
This is achieved through a technique know as "code signing", where a digital signature is issued to authenticate applications on the mobile network. Hasselberg said, "We did not get it right initially, but Microsoft is in a better position than anyone else to support a developer community."
The company now offers a software development kit with an emulator for testing mobile applications. Phones can be unlocked remotely by Orange, and Microsoft is currently pushing the "Mobile to Market" initiative to encourage software developers.
But Orange and Microsoft have a long way to go. Of the 350 applications in Microsoft's catalogue of mobile software, only 60 are designed for Smartphone 2002. Hasselberg said the next version of Microsoft's .net compact framework for developing mobile applications would improve matters because it offers a way to write applications that are compatible with both Windows CE and Smartphone 2002.
This was first published in May 2003