Today, Motorola kicked off its press conference with remarks from the CEO of another company. In a prerecorded video, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced a new mobile operating system for enterprise-grade phones.
Windows Embedded Handheld will be built on top of Windows Mobile 6.5’s architecture and, ultimately, take its place. Ballmer promised it would ship on devices by the end of the year. Ballmer also revealed that sometime in 2011 Windows Embedded Handheld would be followed by an enterprise-friendly version of Windows Phone 7, Microsoft’s built-from-the-ground-up mobile OS that was announced earlier this year.
For now, we haven’t been privy to any screenshots or overviews of the forthcoming Embedded Handheld OS, however.
It’s only June and Microsoft has already announced two mobile operating systems (three, if you count Kin). It’s clear that Microsoft wants to market Windows Phone 7 toward consumers or, at least, road warriors using their phone for work and pleasure, while reserving Windows Embedded Handheld for enterprises. When pressed, though, executives declined to say why Windows Phone 7 couldn’t be retooled to accomodate enterprises’ security and remote management needs.
At the same event, Motorola announced the ES400, an enterprise-grade smartphone that runs Windows Mobile 6.5.3 and will be sold through Sprint. Its rugged features, including a rubberized body, embedded scanner and fingerprint sensor, remote management capabilities, and three-year warranty distinguish it from smartphones aimed at consumers. It’s clear that while Motorola whips up Android handsets such as the Droid and forthcoming Droid X for consumers, it’s sticking with Microsoft for its business customers.
That interface you can see in the photo above is Motorola’s Enterprise User Interface (MEUI), a skin layered over WinMo 6.5 that places two rows of icons on the home screen (we dare say it reminds us somewhat of BlackBerry’s OS). Although the 3-inch screen is a touchscreen, it only responds to pen input (a stylus stows away on the right side of the phone). In our brief hands-on, we noticed we had to apply a fair amount of pressure with the tip of the stylus before, say, scrolling through a menu of icons.
The 640 x 480 display also boats a brightness of 750 NITS, which Motorola claims is twice the brightness of the typical phone in this class. As you tour the phone, you’ll find a dedicated push-to-talk button on the left side, a scan button on the front face of the phone, and a fingerprint sensor on the back side, sitting just above the 3-MP camera’s lens. The keyboard is available in three layouts, one of which is QWERTY. The entire phone is ruggedized, so even the keys have a soft, comfortable finish. We quickly took to them in our hands-on; they felt large and were easy to press.
To round out the spec list, the phone runs on a 600-MHz ARM processor, supports both GSM and CDMA 3G, has GPS and an 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi radio.
Motorola said Sprint will sell the phone later this year, although it did not name a price or specific availability date.