October 23rd, 2002

Neat tech toys: the Orange SPV

No, it's not a new Captain Scarlet toy, it's Orange's new GPRS Smartphone.

Even though I've been working with mobile Internet technologies for the last few years (even designing service architectures for operators in Hong Kong and Portugal), I've remained sceptical about the next generation of handsets. It's not that I don't want a smartphone or similar - I actually think one would be a significantly useful tool that would fill the gap between phone and PDA - it's more that I've felt that hadset manufacturers were concentrating on voice services, and that the original GSM smartphones like Ericsson's R520 were terrible hacks that kluged PDA functionality onto voice devices with little consideration for data. The newer generation of Pocket PC-based phones like the O2 XDA were just as bad, treating voice as a poor cousin to data.

The SPV is somewhat different. ODMed for Orange by HTC and built on top of the Microsoft Smartphone platform, at first glance it looks like a standard mobile phone. Then you see the larger screen, and the two extra buttons. It is a little heavier than most mobile phones, but not so that you wouldn't carry it around. The large display is probably the most important feature, as here you'll find not just the usual phone display features, but information about your next appointments and any messages you've received, as well as shortcuts to commonly used applications and sites. When you get down to the technical details, this is even more exciting, as each line is a separate plug-in which actually consumes XML data. Now add this to a web services architecture, and there's something really interesting to get your teeth into when considering smartphones in an enterprise context...

The display is good quality, not big, but big enough to display most web sites effectively. The browser makes a credible job of reformatting sites, but if these things get popular, then you're going to have to make a content-negotiated version of your site (if it's dynamic) along with a smartphone-formatted version of any static pages. This isn't as big a problem as it seems - I'd expect most people to want to stick with low-bandwidth applications. The bundled GPRS contract is going to see to that - while it's only £6 a month, there is apparently a 10MB traffic cap.

Application-wise, the SPV is loaded for bear. Along with the usual run of Microsoft Pocket Outlook applications, you'll find games, Orange's own suite of tools (including an online back up system), and sample applications, including a tube map and navigator. As a freely available SDK can now be downloaded from Microsoft, we can expect to see a wide range of applications fairly soon. You can also use MIDI and WAV files as rings - so watch for a whole new generation of annoying mobile phone rings. When he introduced this feature one Microsoft spokesman said "We're going to hell for this!", and another demonstrated a ring that spoke "Your phone is ringing. I said, your phone is ringing. YOUR PHONE IS RINGING!"

Still, this is a nice gadget, resonably priced at around £179, and worth adding to any collection of superfluous technology.
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