Following T-Mobile Deutschland's lead, Orange announced it will start selling a handheld device based on the Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system. Orange is touting the SPV M5000 as a device that can offer users an alternative to carrying a laptop.
The M5000 includes a QWERTY keyboard that is slightly larger than such keyboards on many PDAs (personal digital assistants). It operates on Orange's 3G (third generation) wireless network and also includes Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, a still camera and a video camera.
A few devices based on Windows Mobile 5.0 have been introduced in the U.S. and T-Mobile Deutschland started selling the MDA Pro, a Windows Mobile 5.0 PDA, in September. The M5000 will become available in France, Switzerland and the U.K. in October and will be sold in other Orange regions by the end of the year.
Windows Mobile 5.0 offers a couple of new features over previous versions that may be attractive to customers. For example, the file formats for Microsoft applications are the same on Windows Mobile 5.0 as they are on a computer. Previous versions of Windows Mobile programs included a cut-down version that some users said didn't always translate well between computers and handheld devices.
In addition, with an upgrade to Windows Mobile 5.0 that should become available early next year, users will be able to make changes to documents stored on a corporate server. The device will automatically sync with the back-end server to reflect the changes.
The capabilities mean the M5000 has a leg up over the BlackBerry, the popular mobile email device from Research in Motion BlackBerry users can view some Microsoft documents but they can't create or change them or sync Microsoft documents with corporate servers.
These are reasons that the IT manager of accounting company BDO Stoy Hayward LLP is excited about the M5000. The device may be ideal for senior executives there who need to review documents and do some editing while on the road, said Graham Knight, head of technology at the company. "It could encourage some of them to have an office PC and carry this device in conjunction," he said.
Still, Knight said he needs to examine the back-end manageability of the M5000 before deciding to offer it to workers. "I'll have to review the manageability of it and see if it matches the manageability of the BlackBerry," he said. The BlackBerry administrator's server offers robust security and enables over-the-air remote management, a key functionality for Knight.
Observers agree that enterprises will need to be assured that supporting the M5000 will be similar to supporting the BlackBerry, a widely used remote email device. "The challenge for Microsoft now is to convince IT decision makers that the solution is as secure as it says it is and as the BlackBerry by comparison," said Geoff Blaber, a research analyst covering European mobile devices for IDC.
The Blackberry is also attractive to some IT managers because users can't add applications, Blaber noted. "A Windows Mobile user can download and add applications to one's heart's content," he said. "From an IT perspective, that makes it more problematic in terms of device management."
The initial version of the M5000 won't include some recent messaging and security upgrades already announced by Microsoft but not yet available. The upgrades will be available for customers to download from the Orange Web site early next year, said Francois Mahieu, head of business devices marketing for Orange.
The M5000 is the first device aimed at business users to be introduced to Orange's Signature range. The operator decided to introduce this special line of products when it realized that there will never be a single ideal device that will appeal to all users. "Our approach to the business market is that eventually we will have a range of products that address different users," said Mahieu.
In addition to the M5000, Orange also announced on Wednesday that it is offering a common home screen for all business devices. "When you turn on the device, it looks the same regardless of if you're using a mid-range Nokia or a Sony Ericsson PDA," Mahieu said. The feature is meant to appeal to IT managers who are faced with the challenge of training users with each new product. With a common home screen, users will see the same interface as they upgrade to new products, thus requiring less training.