Windows Mobile – 6 months on

Windows Mobile   6 months on I’ve been looking back at an article I posted at the end of last year. I expressed my concerns about the future of Windows Mobile. Things have moved forward somewhat since then – the HTC Touch Diamond has been released and Windows Mobile 6.1 is now on new handsets.

Now, let’s ignore all the geeky “under the hood” changes, because people standing in phones shops simply don’t care about those. WinMo 6.1 has a “Getting Started” application which will help you set the time, transfer your contacts and setup a Bluetooth connection plus other stuff. Let’s admit it though, this is nothing but a bunch of links into the appropriate settings page or small help pages telling you how to do stuff. Someone could’ve put this together in a day, plus it could have been rolled out via “Windows Update” if, in fact, Windows Update ever downloaded anything. Another improvement we’ve seen in the last 6 months is with Internet Explorer. IE now has a zoom function. Woaha. Oh, and there’s threaded SMS texting too.

But what else? What else has the Windows Mobile team brought to the end user so far this year? From what I can see, compared to the improvements made by HTC, it’s not much at all. I’m worried. I’m extremely worried. In fact, I’m more worried than I was 6 months ago. The new iPhone has now appeared and it’s brought with it a fantastic application store where 25% of the apps are free and, of those that aren’t, 90% are less than $9.99. Better still, the iPhone applications all look gorgeous and match the OS style. It’s a fluid and joint-free experience which…just….works. With Windows Mobile I don’t have a single place to get applications. There’s shops everywhere, plus developer websites too. Sure, I’ve got my lovely HTC Touch Diamond but I’ll soon drop out of the sexy HTC TouchFLO 3D interface and into a world where apps which can look as bad or as good as they want. Sure, it might be the best application ever, and it may be perfect for some tech-heads like myself, but the man on the street won’t enjoy grabbing the stylus and using an application which isn’t finger-driven. So what’s the solution ? Should developers only target the HTC TouchFLO 3D interface and make applications and games that “fit” with the GUI and blend in ? Should HTC continue to push the Windows Mobile OS so far into the background that it’s unrecognisable ? Maybe. What I’m worried about is the approach MS seem to be taking and the turn-around time to do “stuff”. Sure, I could sit here and say that Windows Mobile 6.1 is a huge leap forward, but it’s not. A zoom function in IE and threaded SMS messaging is not a leap, it’s a baby step. This is an industry which is moving so fast that one phone alone, with a little hype, clever marketing and solid user experience, can smash expectations wide apart quickly. The mobile market is not the same as the desktop market.

Perhaps we should look at renaming “Windows Mobile” to “Windows Mobile Enterprise” and then do a stripped down version of Windows Mobile for those who want to strip it down. If HTC, for example, want to release a phone that doesn’t have that naff “Pictures and Videos” application (which just doesn’t work properly or remember what folder it was looking at last), which doesn’t have Pocket Internet Explorer, which doesn’t have the “oh my God, which drop down is it” Windows Mobile ringtone / SMS tone changer, which doesn’t have Windows Media Player then.. it should be possible. It should be possible for HTC or ETen to make their own versions (by the way, I LOVE the HTC Gallery application and HTC Music application). Windows Mobile Lite ?

You may think I’m bashing Microsoft here, and indeed I am. I’m worried about how long it’ll be before the “next” big version of Windows Mobile. I’m worried because, this week, my company has switched from Windows Mobile handsets to Blackberry and Blackberry Enterprise Server because “they can be setup in minutes and they just work“. Instant email is now setup and running in minutes – no feature packs, no long instructions to follow.

I’m worried because, in the consumer space, HTC seem to be the only ones keeping Windows Mobile alive. They’ve updated HTC TouchFLO, they’ve listened to what the customer wants and they’ve done it. I was utterly amazed when I spoke to HTC CEO Peter Chou – he sat there and said, “If someone wants to change the ringtone, they shouldn’t have to go into six different menus and fiddle about with drop-down boxes – it should just change with a finger-poke or a nice button. If someone wants to rotate the screen, it should just be a matter of moving the phone round”. This thinking, this insight, is what is needed. Microsoft need to raise the bar so much higher and get the new OS out there, otherwise I’ll just continue to worry.