America Online Inc. of Dulles said yesterday that it has signed a deal to offer instant messaging through Motorola Inc.'s newest phones and pagers, another step in the online service's "AOL Anywhere" plan to offer Internet access through devices other than personal computers.
Earlier this year, AOL and Palm Computing Inc. agreed to a plan that would allow AOL subscribers to get access to their e-mail on Palm electronic organizers. This week, AOL said it struck a deal with Universal Studios to set up kiosks at theme parks where people could stop and get access to AOL. And next year, AOL plans to launch AOLTV.
"We're trying to provide companion products across a variety of devices," said Barry Schuler, president of AOL's interactive services. "You will continue to hear about deals."
"It's part of their plan to make AOL a ubiquitous part of your life," said William Whyman, an analyst with Legg Mason's Precursor Group. While AOL would not confirm it, Whyman said the company is believed to be in talks with National Semiconductor Corp. as well, to jointly develop a hand-held Web access device.
The AOL-enabled Motorola phone will be available in 2000, according to AOL. The instant messaging service will be part of Motorola's new generation of phones that use wireless application protocol, or WAP. Terms of the deal, announced at an international telecommunications conference in Geneva this week, were not disclosed.
This deal is only one of many as manufacturers, access providers and content purveyors frantically partner to offer the killer hand-held device that will let people surf the Web, trade stocks and communicate with their friends, untethered from the desktop computer.
Nokia Corp. and Palm Computing also announced a deal yesterday, in which they will jointly develop smart phones that will offer wireless voice and data along with the hand-held organizer features such as address books and calendars that Palm offers.
AOL has about 45 million users of its Instant Messenger service, which lets people exchange notes online in real time. It has 18 million subscribers to its online service.
The AOL-Motorola deal is especially significant after the battle between AOL and Microsoft over instant messaging. Earlier this year, when Microsoft announced it would launch a messaging service compatible with AOL's IM service, AOL kept jamming Microsoft's efforts to link the two.
The fight was put on hold when AOL agreed to work with the Internet Engineering Task Force toward developing a common standard. The IETF is expected to come out with suggestions on how to proceed by the end of the year.
If it decides to open the standards, that could be bad news for AOL, because it would let Microsoft users benefit from deals such as the one with Motorola.
In the meantime, AOL and Microsoft have been signing up allies. AOL is working with Lycos Inc. and EarthLink Network Inc. on instant messaging, while Microsoft has enlisted companies including Prodigy Communications Corp. and AT&T Corp. to support its position.
Whyman said yesterday's deal with Motorola shows the continuing importance of the messaging technology. But AOL, he said, "may lose the standards battle."