How Sony Ericsson Made Windows Nicer

When the handset maker created a new user interface for its Windows-based phone, Microsoft first said 'No, no, no'but then relented

With Sony Ericsson's inaugural Windows Mobile device set to be launched in the coming days, the handset maker has revealed that it had to convince Microsoft to embrace plans to make the Windows interface more user-friendly.

Sony Ericsson hopes the Microsoft device, first announced at the Mobile World Congress event in February, will appeal to 'fast living' professional users who want to be able to use their device for work and play.

To take the device beyond Windows' traditional business roots, Sony Ericsson has added a user-friendly front-end to the OS in the form of nine customisable panel icons. The panels enable users to run applications straight off the desktop, rather than digging through the Windows menu structure to find and boot them, and the phone maker has also launched an SDK to encourage developers to create more and more panels.

Keisuke Kakoi, head of product and application planning, convergence unit, said Microsoft's initial response to Sony Ericsson's plan to skin the OS with panels was not a positive one: "I still remember in the very beginning phase we disclosed our panel concept a little bit to Microsoft and [the] first reaction from Microsoft was 'no, no, no! Please stay [with the] Microsoft way, Windows way'. But we showed the panel application, [and] then Microsoft top management suddenly changed to, 'Yes, OK, you should do that'."

"They change their mind quickly. So I think this is one very simple example. We are now very much closely working with Microsoft, [and] they very much...understand our strategy with the panel concept. We are getting lots of help from them as well."

The X1 runs the Opera mobile web browser as default, despite also having Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Sony Ericsson has high hopes for the Xperia -- not just that it will appeal to 'prosumers' but could even tempt enterprises away from the wares of BlackBerry-maker RIM, which has also been adding in a multimedia entertainment edge to its offerings.

Kakoi added: "As you can imagine, with our sister companies like Sony Pictures and Sony BMG, everyone has offices on West Coast [of the US] -- we can work easily [with them] of course. Unfortunately RIM cannot do that."

"But also we are open to working with RIM -- they are approaching us as well because they have the Windows Mobile BlackBerry client so it's vice versa. You can see BlackBerry and its size as direct [competition] but also we can potentially work together. So this is an open platform product really."

Kakoi works at Sony Ericsson's Silicon Valley office, saying the company wanted to have a base in the heart of web development country where there are "so many creative companies," adding it is even working with Apple in "the connectivity area."

Asked why it has chosen to offer a Windows Mobile phone now, company CTO Mats Lindoff said: "The adventure started in 2001 -- those days we had four, five per cent market share, today we have eight, nine, I think we had almost 10 in Q4 and of course when you grow you can also grow the opportunity to develop, you have more resources, you are reaching out to more markets."

"And we also of course want to focus on the US, where Windows Mobile is much stronger than Symbian and that's the only business phone we've done in the past. So for me it's a natural development of the company and I also think that [as for] operating systems we are not religious."

Lindoff added he didn't rule out the possibility of the Xperia being a Symbian Foundation product in the future.

Asked why the Xperia X1 has been in development for such an apparently long period, Magnus J. Andersson, senior product manager X1, said: "We've done this in a record time. I remember we talked about this [internally] 'is this the right time to go out at Mobile World Congress? It's quite early in the development phase, should we wait?'"

"That's what we normally do on development projects, we announce them when they're nearly finished. But we said no, we've kept this very well as a secret and we have something pretty unique, we have something great to tell the audience so let's just do it."

Kakoi added that Sony Ericsson has spent more time than usual developing the X1 as it's a "new platform for us." Since February, he added, the handset maker has been working on performance tuning and also customisation for each market the phone will be sold in.

"It's not that it's taking us very long, we actually announced it very early...We are still delivering and performing on our original schedule that we had that day in Barcelona [at MWC]," Kakoi noted.

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