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Smartphone goes rugged with Motorola MC35

Motorola unveiled the MC35, a rugged smartphone, at this week's CTIA conference.

Smartphones have been called everything from slick to functional to necessary. But, until recently, they haven't...

been all that rugged.

At the CTIA conference this week, device maker Motorola hopes to change all that with the addition of the MC35 to its enterprise digital assistant (EDA) lineup.

"I think of it as a ruggedized smartphone," said Jack Gold, president and founder of J.Gold Associates, a mobility-focused research and advisory firm based in Northborough, Mass.

The MC35 comes on the heels of Motorola's acquisition of Symbol Technologies, maker of enterprise-grade handhelds. According to Mark Chellis, director of mobile computing in Motorola's Enterprise Mobility business, the MC35 EDA combines a phone, computer, GPS, camera and barcode reader into one compact device, somewhat similar in size and appearance to Palm's line of Treo smartphones, minus the nub antenna and plus a more spacious keyboard.

Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart said the MC35 is aimed at a new target for Motorola, which offers its sleek Motorola Q smartphone to the executive set while offering the MC70 to the highly mobile worker in need of a ruggedized device. The MC35 finds a middle ground between the two.

"There are dozens of smartphones targeting mobile information workers, and lately the trend has been to push it down to 'prosumers,' " Greengart said. "At the other extreme, vendors -- notably Motorola's Symbol division itself -- have offered enormously expensive ruggedized smartphones for rough environments and specialized niches."

"With the MC35," he continued, "Motorola is targeting an underserved segment of the enterprise market: blue-collar managers and corporate workers who need something more rugged than a Q or BlackBerry but less expensive and bulky than the MC70."

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The MC35 is expected to run between $640 and $750, depending on configuration. Symbol devices that weighty can sometimes cost upwards of $3,000.

"They're big, they're bulky and they're expensive," Gold said. "The MC35 is rugged, but not as expensive."

The 6.5-oz. handheld runs the Windows Mobile 5.0 Phone Edition operating system, Chellis said, and integrates with dozens of enterprise applications to deliver them to workers in the field. It uses cellular technology and has built-in GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, along with PC functionality. The MC35 is based on Intel's XScale PXA270 416 MHz processor. It has a 2.8-in. screen, and users can choose to use either the keyboard or a stylus.

The device features support for high-speed EDGE wireless data networks based on the GSM standard. It can connect to a company's wireless LAN via 802.11b/g, comes with built-in security features, and allows for over-the-air updates.

Chellis said users can essentially talk, email, use the Internet, access data applications and capture data -- including signatures -- on one device.

Right now, a number of applications from Motorola's partners -- including Salesforce.com, Sybase iAnywhere, Corrigo, Tom Tom and Telenav -- can be ported to the device. For mobile email, it works with both Microsoft Exchange and Motorola-owned Good Technology.

The MC35 is also set apart by ruggedness. According to Chellis, it can handle several drops and hundreds of tumbles, and each button can withstand half a million pushes.

"This device at a decent price point will also be attractive to a high-end Treo user," Gold said. "It'll be a step up for Treo users."

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