Last year Microsoft snagged the Sprint mobile search (and search advertising) business and today announced that the partners had developed a geographically targeted search application using automatic cell phone locating:
The ink on last year’s Microsoft Zune press releases was barely dry when speculation started about a Zune Phone egged on by CEO Steve Ballmer. Now the rumors are heating up again after John Letzing at MarketWatch spotted a likely FCC filing. However, reading the fine print reveals a strange duck that is “an orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) device to be used for ‘consumer broadband access and networking.’” The general suspicion is that this means WiMAX which is a high bandwidth wireless technology that is just getting off the ground. To add to the mystery, Google, HP, and Intel are listed as a supporters of the FCC application.
However, Matt Hickey at CrunchGear fans the flames with the speculation that a Zune phone would run on a high speed 4G WiMAX network like the one to be built by Sprint/Nextel. This lash-up could provide a mobile VoIP offering plus the likely ability to use ordinary Wi-Fi hotspots. Even better, CrunchGear’s inside sources say that the Zune phone will be announced in March and shipped in May thus neatly upstaging Apple’s iPhone.
All of this is certainly exciting, but the idea of a Zune Phone brings up the more fundamental question of where it would leave Microsoft’s Windows Mobile partners who are ready to show off their new Windows Mobile 6 handsets next week at 3GSM. Microsoft’s Zune crew apparently has license to run roughshod over other parts of Microsoft and their partnerships as evidenced by the hapless PlaysForSure partners (e.g. Creative Technologies, iRiver, Samsung) who got blindsided by the Zune portable media player itself last year. A Zune Phone in whatever form hits right at the phone vendors who have signed up for Windows Mobile (e.g. Samsung, Palm, HTC, Motorola, LG) just when it was showing signs of success, at least in the USA. Beyond the technical particulars, the real Zune Phone question then is whether Microsoft is willing yet again to shutter one of their own projects and cannibalize their partners’ markets in favor of rolling their own.
Update: Microsoft says FCC filing not Zune-related. Fair enough, but as long as the Zune Phone remains a possibility there will still be an inherent conflict with Windows Mobile.
Microsoft Corp. and Sprint Corp. today announced a strategic alliance through which the companies will develop and deliver a range of innovative new service offerings for Sprint’s business and consumer customers. The first consumer offering in this collaboration enables Sprint customers to use Windows Live™ Search for mobile on their wireless phones to conveniently search location-based content from the Internet, such as nearby stores and restaurants, as well as Sprint’s catalog of ring tones, games, screen savers and related services. The service also provides new opportunities for highly relevant and targeted local advertising, which will benefit businesses and consumers alike.
The service is immediately available at no additional cost to Sprint PCS VisionSM and Sprint Power VisionSM subscribers on all currently available data-capable phones, along with many popular older models.*
Windows Live Search for mobile combines Microsoft® Windows Live Local Search features, such as maps and directions, with capabilities allowing the indexing and discovery of highly relevant mobile content. This approach brings simplicity for users by delivering search results grouped in useful categories and in a format appropriate for a user’s specific mobile device.
The location-based offering available today from Sprint and Microsoft requires users to input their location by entering their ZIP code, address, or city and state. Future versions of the service are planned to enable consumers to give permission to automatically locate them and show the nearest businesses that match their search.
The press release is a little coy about the monetary aspects, but Daisuke Wakabayashi reports for Reuters that:
Sprint and Microsoft will share the revenue from advertisements placed alongside Windows Live search results and the two companies will work together to introduce new mobile phones services in the future.
It’s fundamentally another eyeball auction only instead of a content site like MySpace, a PC manufacturer like Dell, or an Internet service provider like Verizon, it’s a mobile phone service provider. Microsoft presumably has a leg up on the competition in that arena with the providers like Sprint who are already using Windows Mobile to power their phones.