LAS VEGAS, Jan. 6, 2000 — One day late last fall, Microsoft program manager Simon Smith found himself struggling under the weight of an especially daunting
list that included a full slate of critical tasks to accomplish at work, a long list of errands and, last but not least, a trip to the airport to pick up his mother.
After plowing through his work-related tasks, Smith sprinted out to the parking lot and jumped in his car. Depending on traffic, he thought he might have time to complete a couple of errands and still get to the airport before his mother started to wonder whether he had forgotten she was coming. Just before he pulled out of the Microsoft campus, he turned on his cell phone, instantly connected to the Web and selected his mother’s airline and flight number. A quick glance told him his mother’s plane was going to be more than an hour late. Now, instead of an all-out mad scramble, Smith had an extra 90 minutes.
“It was awesome,”
“Suddenly, I had time to take care of all the errands on my list, grab a latte and still meet my mother at the gate without having to park in a tow-away zone once I got to the airport.”
Welcome to MSN Mobile 2.0, the newest version of Microsoft’s wireless information service. Scheduled for general release in the coming months, MSN Mobile 2.0 extends the range of customized wireless information services already available through MSN Mobile version 1.0 by delivering real-time, personalized Internet content through Web-enabled cell phones. Tight integration with MSN will give users access to such services as MSN Hotmail, MSN MoneyCentral, Expedia, MSNBC, and other Web-based content, including door-to-door driving directions and MSN Yellow Pages.
This new version of MSN Mobile represents a significant step forward in Microsoft’s ongoing efforts to transform the Internet into a highly personalized resource for content and services to help people get things done more easily. According to Deanna Sanford, lead product manager for MSN marketing, it’s all about delivering on Microsoft’s vision of the Everyday Web.
“MSN Mobile is a great demonstration of how Microsoft is making the Web more accessible any time, anywhere and from any device,”
“By being the first major portal to provide wireless information services, by extending MSN Mobile to telecommunications partners as a megaservice and by incorporating Web-based technology as part of MSN Mobile 2.0, Microsoft is a pioneer in bringing Internet connectivity and user choice to the world of wireless devices.”
Welcome to the Wireless World
“Imagine surfing the Web from anywhere you wanted — no fuss, no wires, no waiting,”
wrote ZDNet AnchorDesk editorial director Jessie Berst in August.
“Think of checking your smart phone for real-time stock quotes as you land at London’s Heathrow Airport and then making a stock purchase as you walk into the Underground… It’s coming: The Wireless World.”
In an era of breathtaking technological change, the emergence of this wireless world is one of the most talked-about developments of all. It may well turn out to be one of the most important as well. As Internet-enabled cell phones and other handheld devices free users from the confines of desktop access to online information, the way we shop, share information and conduct business will be transformed in ways that once seemed unimaginable.
According to Berst, this transformation is coming at a more rapid pace than he or almost anyone else imagined.
“Last year I said you’d be going wireless in 2003,”
he wrote last summer.
“Things are moving quicker than I thought. Specialists — stock traders, mobile professionals — will make the jump in large numbers next year and in 2001. The first mainstream excitement will come a year later.”
For tens of thousands of MSN users, the excitement over wireless services started as early as last June when Microsoft released the first version of MSN Mobile. With MSN Mobile 1.0, users could receive content on their alphanumeric pagers and cell phones. The service included news, sports, weather, stock quotes, horoscopes, lottery updates and more. Easily customizable, it allowed users to control the information they receive and the time it is delivered. In October, version 1.5 added a number of enhancements, including free service and integration with Microsoft Passport to provide a universal login and wallet service for MSN.
Steve Mathisen is one MSN subscriber who has found MSN Mobile a great way to keep track of important information while he is away from the office. A computer programmer, Mathisen lives in Phoenix but does a great deal of work in Santa Barbara, Calif.
“I started using it about a month ago when I found out that it was free,”
“I’ve been using it every day since to track news, sports and weather in Phoenix, Santa Barbara and Seattle, where I grew up. I have all the services scheduled to come to me at the times I have chosen; when information comes in, I can check right away or wait until a time that is more convenient.”
Mathisen says he is intrigued by the array of new services that will become available with the release of MSN Mobile 2.0.
“Integration with Hotmail and the ability to send and receive email sound great to me,”
“I’m not always somewhere I can access my mail and sometimes I don’t want to get involved in a phone call, so the ability to send off a quick burst of e-mail while I’m on the road will be a big advantage.”
Customizing the Web to Fit in the Palm of Your Hand
For all of its benefits, these early versions of MSN Mobile are limited by the size of current cell phone and pager display screens. MSN Mobile 2.0 is designed for a new generation of cell phones that come equipped with a microbrowser, a text-based Web browser that is optimized to make the most of the small viewing area.
While the browser has been simplified, the restrictions imposed by a 10-digit keypad have led MSN Mobile 2.0 designers to emphasize personalization. Integration with MSN means users can set up MSN Mobile service on their PC to create stock portfolios, set parameters that will trigger alerts when stocks rise or fall below certain levels and even automate sales and purchases. Users can also select the news items they want to have delivered to their cell phone by entering key words, specify weather reports they receive by entering Zip codes, or create a list of sports teams that interest them and automatically download scores and updates.
“Data entry on a cell phone is difficult and time-consuming,”
says Microsoft’s Simon Smith.
“So rather than have you turn on the browser and type in a stock symbol, we have you set it up at the desktop so you can just navigate and click while you’re mobile.”
Access to the MSN Hotmail address book features opens up some great point-and-click benefits as well, says Smith.
“Now you can go to your Hotmail address book, call up someone’s name, point to their address and then link to Expedia and we’ll give you door-to-door directions,”
A great deal of work has gone on behind the scenes to tailor MSN content for microbrowser-equipped cell phones, Smith says. One way to deliver information to wireless devices is to run content from an existing Web site through a special proxy server that selects and reformats the data that will be delivered to the cell phone. Although used widely, this approach has some drawbacks; processing by a proxy server can slow down performance, and there are some limits to the amount of reformatting that can be done.
MSN Mobile has taken a different approach.
“We start from scratch, taking the raw content in a format like XML,”
“Then we build a specific user interface around it. We feel that provides a much better user experience.”
As a group program manager for MSN Mobile, Smith has been an early user of the new service, and he has seen the advantages on a number of occasions, most recently while he was on jury duty.
“Even though I was stuck downtown all day, I was able to access my email and accomplish some of what I was supposed to do that day,”
Smith says he looks forward to the time when his mother also will be able to use it.
“Once MSN Mobile 2.0 is released, she’ll be able to send me email when she is going to be late,”
“That will buy me some extra time at work and let me get some more errands done on the way to the airport.”