Windows Mobile – 2008 needs to be a big year

Windows Mobile   2008 needs to be a big year Personally I’ve seen a lot of change this year, but alas it’s not been with Windows Mobile. Sure, we saw the launch of Windows Mobile 6, but the improvements weren’t perhaps seen or appreciated by the end user. HTML email? Uh-huh. Calendar ribbon? Uh-huh. Windows Live Messenger? That got removed by the carriers anyway.

Yes, it looked a bit glossier, but somehow it seemed to run slower, and that “Pictures and Videos” application was still forgetting which folder it was in last time you used it, then taking ages to draw the preview thumbnails of your pictures.

For the business world the benefits of Windows Mobile are endless. Always-on email, Exchange sync’ing and remote device management are just some reasons why it does well. For normal consumers though, it’s a totally different story….
Put a Samsung i600 handset running Windows Mobile 5 next to one running Windows Mobile 6 and I doubt the guy on the street would know which is which. Sorry Microsoft, but the new OS didn’t bring any interface improvements or real speed increases for ordinary customers to see. Manufacturers have become very aware of this and they’ve all tried in some way to show what Windows Mobile can really do. All have achieved something, and all have done it in a relatively short time-frame. HTC delivered the TouchFLO system which was a huge leap forward, but a lot of the time it took you back into Microsoft applications that have looked the same since Windows Mobile 2003.

Meanwhile, Apple showed the world how it should be done with the iPhone. Apple have a unique phone and a unique position in the marketplace – complete control over the hardware, software, applications, updates and networks. The user interface is a dream, people fall in love with it instantly and it’s an almost perfect touch-screen experience.

Apple, though, produce just one phone. Windows Mobile sits at the heart of many handsets, and most of the time it works fantastically well. There’s phones that slide and tilt, phones that have QWERTY keyboards, numeric keypads and GPS too. Nobody can deny how well Windows Mobile performs even when there’s different shapes, specs and accessories thrown at it.

What if it goes wrong though? Recently we found a bug with the HTC Touch Dual on Orange. For the consumer this shouldn’t be a problem, because it’s a Windows Mobile device and the fix should arrive as an update. In reality though, the fix may not arrive for existing owners. If it does you may find that a fairly sizeable ROM image will need to be downloaded and installed, and finding it is half the battle. We all know the reasons. Microsoft has to work with the networks and the networks decide what upgrade and fix should be sent out. Most of the time you’ll need to buy a new phone to get a new version of the operating system because, simply, networks want to get you into another contract term.

This causes problems in itself. The HTC Touch Dual MMS bug – who will deliver the fix? It’s a HTC branded device, and the bug only seems to appear when using the HTC Gallery, so perhaps they will send an update. Oh, but wait – Orange need to roll that update out. How will it be rolled out ? Orange used to have an “Orange Update” feature on their SPV phones, perhaps that will re-appear? Perhaps it will appear in the support section of the Orange website and we’ll find it weeks after when someone emails the link? Perhaps Microsoft will fix it? Perhaps it will appear in “Windows Update” ? Perhaps nothing will arrive and people will end up heading over to …. again.

It shouldn’t be this way. A fix should arrive. Consumers do not care how it is provided. Consumers do not care who provides it. It should just arrive. iPhone users have it. Windows Mobile users should have it.

Consumers want a better interface too. At present the manufacturers of handsets (HTC, Samsung, Palm etc) are going out of their way to make the interface better. Some are replacing the Microsoft applications with better ones – HTC replaced the Gallery and Audio applications. How long before another manufacturer decides to remove all the Microsoft applications ? How long before a manufacturer puts their own messaging application, browser, gallery, calculator, audio and video applications onto a phone ? Where does that leave Microsoft ? I guess ActiveSync will still be there, as – unfortunately – will Bubble Breaker and Solitaire.

The Windows Mobile team aren’t sitting around though, there’s news of future plans and an overhauled user interface and browsing experience. Internet Explorer will be better, faster and will allow plug-ins too. The user interface will be changed and enhanced, and for the consumer it can’t come fast enough. Speed of delivery is key here, because in a matter of months the iPhone has overtaken Windows Mobile in the US and made years of work look almost trivial.

Don’t get me wrong here, Windows Mobile is a very strong OS, but for the end-user, the guy in the street, the bloke on the bus, the teenager outside the supermarket, Windows Mobile needs to improve way more than Windows Mobile 6 did on Windows Mobile 5. We need to see the back of that spinning circle thing. Speed, easy-of-use, functionality and a bit of glamour need to be added in equal measures urgently, otherwise Microsoft Windows Mobile will forever be a business OS for business users.

Your thoughts and opinions are welcomed – what would you like to see?