My family has been passing the flu bug around to each other so I have been mostly offline and playing nurse Mom as well as patient the last several days. Making sure I am not totally out of the loop, my phone lit up like crazy yesterday as I started getting SMS messages and direct Twitters from friends making sure I knew about the deal with Microsoft and Danger Inc. This one plays a little close to my heart as I not only have a Sidekick3 (we actually have several in our house) but I have a developers SDK for the Danger OS.
Danger, Inc. is the company behind the T-Mobile Sidekick smartphone platform. While they don’t make the hardware (the SK3, ID, and previous models were produced by Sharp and the current Sidekick Slide is being manufactured by Motorola) they are the company behind the OS that runs the devices and manage the closed software/ringtone catalog for the smartphones sold only through T-Mobile. Although the Sidekick is in the smartphone category it is more a consumer driven device than a business class phone. Prominent features of the Sidekick devices are instant messaging (MSN, AIM, and Yahoo IM), email (t-mobile branded email addresses as well as the ability to add external accounts with POP), a web browser, a camera, and the ability to purchase themes and customize the phone. It has been marketed to the younger (hipper?) crowd whereas smartphones such as the Blackberry have been prominently used by professional business people.
As a Sidekick 3 owner, one of my favorite features of the Danger OS has been the fact that it is constantly synchronized with the (T-Mobile/Danger) server. As long as there is a data connection available my Sidekick keeps my address book, my calendar, my notepad items, my email, my SMS messages (and my pictures if I am storing them locally rather than on a SD card supported by the device) syncronized. Should my phone be broken, replaced, lost, or whatever the circumstance, I can sign on to My T-Mobile and view my device through a web browser and if I get a replacement SK all my data is retrieved once I insert my SIMM card. I never lose my data. The major downside to the Danger OS is that is an extremely restrictive platform and is not friendly to developers. I had to jump through a lot of hoops to get the SDK and the only way I can get my apps in the download catalog is if they are completely my own, there is no open source build ups allowed. I have purchased a few apps for my SK3 including the Terminal app that lets me SSH in to servers and manage my systems remotely from my phone (although not the fastest method going across the EDGE network). Most apps are more consumer driven including a lot of games, audio mixers, theme modifiers, and diet apps. Besides selling third-party software, Danger’s primary source of income is the recurring Sidekick subscription plan on the T-Mobile network.
According to GigaOM Microsoft shelled out a whopping $500 million for Danger, Inc. My guess is that they want to use Danger’s OS mobile service platform to integrate and deliver Microsoft branded services perhaps in competition with the Google Android platform. While I am sure there are a lot of financial reasons Microsoft purchased Danger, Inc. I am really not surprised that they did from a platform perspective. Microsoft is closed source (even if they have been trying to jump on the open source bandwagon) and Danger is as well. Due to that, I don’t see them as any threat to Android even though we have yet to see the fruits of Google’s labor. Taking two companies that have always done business on a closed platform it takes reworking not only on the business side but also on the software side to open the platform up. I don’t see that happening any time soon but I think if they hope to really compete they would be wise to open it up.
Another aspect to the purchase shows that Microsoft is making a move towards the consumer smartphone marketplace. While they have the Windows Mobile platform it has been primarily in the business smartphone class. With the recent Zune changes, the Zune marketplace, and the continued success of the XBox platform, I would not be surprised to see a continued move towards the consumer market with modifications in the smartphone platform area. Hopefully they don’t try to make the Sidekick into a Zune phone any time soon but no matter, with all the smartphones integrating full keyboards like the SK3 has and even the Blackberry now including a camera, I am moving out of my SK3 within six months or so anyway. Microsoft can have it.