Windows Mobile – Does it meet consumers’ expectations?

So what are all the hot phones out there at the moment? Well there’s the iPhone 3G, the T-Mobile G1, Blackberry Storm/Bold, some of Nokia’s latest, but you don’t hear much interest going on with Windows Mobile phones. Oh sure, there’s always that neat slew from HTC, like the Touch HD/Diamond/Pro, Sony Ericsson Xperia X1, Samsung Omnia, and countless others. But generally, a good vocal amount of people do complain about the OS on the latter phones. It seems that people just don’t like Windows Mobile.

In fact, CNET UK even said the HTC Touch Diamond HD would be almost perfect, if it had just ran Android by default instead.

Forbes doesn’t even mention Windows Mobile once while mentioning the current smartphone market.

So obviously, WinMo sure isn’t a mainstream favorite for everybody. Well, what are Windows Mobile’s strengths? It’s:

  • Enterprise friendly – The have the whole Exchanger server thing, which has proven to be very reliable in communications.
  • Ability to work on many devices – As long as the handset maker pays a license to get a copy on their phones, they’re free to put Windows on a lot of different devices. The choice is overwhelming.
  • Available in many languages
  • Very customizable – You can mix it up any way you want to. .NET is well known and very easy to work with and the Registry allows a lot to dig into

So if you’re a business person, or a person that’s great at hacking and tweaking, WinMo is great. However, the majority of people are just regular consumers. These are the major flaws of WinMo as pointed out by users:

  • The user interface – I’d say WinMo, even 6.1, looks very outdated. Once you past the home screen, you notice how the icons are too simple and dull, you notice it’s not really slick, sleek and swift, and the two-paned menu system is kinda dumb in 2008. It’s pretty darn boring, if the handset maker or carrier didn’t fix it up a notch (or make it worse).
  • Sluggish performance – People usually find Windows Mobile pretty slow and laggy. I think one part has to do with typical slow processors in WinMo phones, and the other part my also be the lack of a GPU in most phones also.
  • Media playing – A WMP 10 that looks somewhat like WMP 11? It’s pretty rudimentary. It plays ok, but the controls are cumbersome, and how it displays on the screen is less than good.
  • Lackluster web browser – There’s no doubt about it, PIE (Pocket Internet Explorer) is absolutely the worse there has to be. It only displays the text of most webpages, and maybe a few graphics. It’s as basic as you’ll ever need it to be.
  • 3rd party applications are weak – Most Windows Mobile applications are pretty crappy and don’t work as well on say other phones. You also see less polish on applications from popular web companies (Facebook, Pandora, Sling, etc.) than say stuff on the iPhone. (Is the framework for WinMo that bad?)

So what could the next Windows Mobile use to become an OS people actually want, instead of an OS to cover and feel bad about? Well:

  • New, robust interface – I want this interface to be sleek, swift, and slick. Kill the awkward 2-paned menu system, and make and give a crossbar interface (like that of the Zune or WMC) with a back button to go back up the levels. Get a new easy to read font like Calibri, make the “X” button actually CLOSE programs, give the icons a major refresh, make the transition from screen to screen and button to button more smooth, allow ways to tweak the looks (like image backgrounds, fonts, themes, colors, etc.), and a lot of stuff to bring WinMo up to current interfaces without copying a well-known phone. Microsoft has been great with interface before (ex: Office 2007 Ribbon, WMC, Zune, NXE, etc.)
  • Greater performance – It’s still something people complain about, even on phones whose hardware seems quite fine. Make it more smart to use the system’s resources wisely and less intensive. Might help if GPUs were mandatory.
  • Zune-like media player – Instead of making the so-called Zunephone, how about porting Zune-like interface to Windows Mobile for media playing (if they haven’t taken my crossbar idea already)? It works well and could really work. There won’t be FM radio of course, unless the handset maker is willing to drop it in.
  • Mobile Browser based on Webkit or IE8 – I want a browser where using the internet on a smartphone would be as fully functional as possible. Meaning I could see site rendered as they would on a normal computer, easy smooth zoomability, tabbed browsing, Accelerator-like highlight functionality (makes sense on a phone), and of course favorites and RSS feeds synced from my desktop. Maybe it would do good to integrate the address box and the search box together (type the domain at the end or www. at the beginning for a website, and just any text for a web search). The current PIE is unacceptable, and being based on IE6 is not much better.
  • Touch friendly – This is a big issue with Windows Mobile. WinMo needs to support capacitive touch and multi-touch for finger-friendly use. That’s the thing that’s stopping the handset makers. There’s nothing wrong with resistive touchscreens, where you can use the stylus, but input via your hand is more popular in the US and elsewhere and capacitive is the way to go. I don’t know if haptic-feedback is a software thing, but support haptic-feedback too. That would also mean making everything on the OS more fit for finger like bigger icons, buttons, etc. REQUIRE all touch-screen phones to have VGA+ resolutions, with 3 inches or more, and accelerators for additional use. Like I said, the crossbar interface is great for finger scrolling.
  • Better developer framework – There may be a bazillion applications for Windows Mobile, but how many WinMo applications are as clean, polished, fun and easy to use as the iPhone’s or Android’s? I can’t think of many. Hopefully with a crossbar interface, or any better interface, developers can create more powerful applications that don’t have to deal with the limitations of Windows Mobile’s interface. Also, better hardware requirements could help make consistent applications on all Windows Mobile phones, not just a select few.
  • Strengthen the hardware requirements – Stuff like the latest Bluetooth, WiFi, GPS, 5MP+ camera, etc. should be MANDATORY on Windows Mobile phones. Touchscreen phones need to go a bit further by having VGA+ resolutions, being 3 inches or greater, and accelerometers. The more included, the better the quality. Does Microsoft want to sacrifice quality? Again, it would really help developers. You may pay a bit more, but the price can be subsidized by the carrier.
  • Central application store – There’s a store called Handango, but it’s more of a hassle as the prices are ridiculous expensive, and developers don’t get paid a good percentage. Microsoft has a weak, little known thing called Windows Mobile Catalog, but you can’t download direct (you’re referred to other online stores) and there’s aren’t helpful reviews or anything like that. It’s pretty cruddy. Windows Mobile really could use a central application store where it’s simple to find all types of applications that developers can submit and users can check out screenshots, videos, and submit reviews & ratings on applications. Developers should get 75%+ of the profits on each application they make that gets purchased, and no stupid approval process – let the users decide if they want the applications or not. If there’s a problem with an application, users can report it to Microsoft where they’ll deal with the developer and all. You can find ringtones, screensavers, and other stuff here too.
  • Handy tools built-in – Like I really would like a screenshot capture tool, Live Maps GPS, stopwatch, Windows Live Translator, etc.
  • Updates DIRECT from Microsoft – I don’t want the carrier to give me my updates; there’s a good chance they’ll charge me for the update, or make me wait to buy a new phone to get it. It’s ridiculous. Some people say it works this way, because some phones aren’t capable of receiving updates. But if Microsoft would just stick to pushing handset makers to do better hardware, then this problem could be avoided.
  • Easy PC syncing – I just want to easily drag and drop content into my phone, vice versa from phone to computer. I don’t want to go through some specialized software for this. I just want my phone to show up in Windows Explorer, and I can drag and drop content to it, or view my phones content. That’s all I really need, and then the ability to check for updates.
  • Tell the carriers to lay off a bit – Windows Mobile is a smartphone, not a flip phone, so there’s enough stuff in the OS to make a user happy, without the ridiculous carrier stuff. I don’t need the carrier to etch a huge logo on my phone, and turn the interface and contents upside-down to milk more money out of me. The carrier just really needs to be a carrier. They can make some WinMo apps, as long as it’s able to be deleted or won’t interfere with the experience.
  • Image recognition – Imagine if you could take a snapshot of something, and there could be an application smart enough to recognize what’s in the photo and retrieve a web page or bring up information related to it. There’s this awesome application on the T-mobile G1 that will do just that, when you scan a barcode. It brings up web prices or places around you that carry it. Very useful. Would be neat if WinMo had such an application that recognized barcodes or fonts and such and do just that. That would mean a real good camera of course…
  • MSN Direct trial included – At least a 3 month trial, like you include on GPS devices. MSN Direct is useful for finding up-to-the-minute traffic, cheap gas stations, movie theaters with what to watch, time and price, plot your course on Live Search Maps and use the Send to GPS function to send to an MSN Direct device, local events, etc. It’s very useful. A WinMo phone could certainly use such feature for a person that’s always on the go, with a car.
  • Home Automation – Just another wishful thinking, but it’d be awesome if you could control your home via your WinMo phone. Microsoft has already a pretty good ecosystem to control your house (via your Windows computer, Windows Media Center in your living room, and maybe even your WinMo phone…) that Lifeware does a great job with. There’s already this neat thing called Nokia Home Control Center that’s accessible via your phone, and you can very easily change the lights in the room, the indoor temperature, check on the status of your locks, and it’s pretty neat. It’s all controlled by this server connected with supporting devices.
  • Start Screen Dashboard – Just like most phone, I want the default start screen to be my dashboard. There should be a top bar where users can have quick access to the 4 ways of communication – phone, text message, e-mail, and IM with a little number shown next to each one indicating how many they have received since they last checked. There could be a few notifications shown from Outlook or Windows Live Calendar about upcoming things that have been scheduled. Then the rest of the screen is just my favorite applications I pinned to the Dashboard.

Those are some things I’m looking towards in future Windows Mobile releases.

I just think that Microsoft shouldn’t create their own phone, or Zunephone, at all. It would be competing with handset makers they’ve pretty much partnered with before, and the handset makers could easily drop Android, Symbian or some other open source OS, and given their experience with making phones, it’ll take off much faster than a first iteration Microsoft phone. It’s just too risky. Also, by letting everyone use Windows Mobile, it’s sharing the wealth and providing jobs for everybody. This system works well, if Microsoft just guides the hardware makers to make it work right.

In conclusion, I don’t think Windows Mobile itself is worthy of consumer appeal, and it will take a lot of stuff in Windows Mobile 7, to bring it up to consumer standards. I can only hope Microsoft has learned what happens when they leave projects stalling for a long time…

Disagree or want to add something? Just comment.


3 thoughts on “Windows Mobile – Does it meet consumers’ expectations?

  1. My friend has a T-Mobile Shadow and it\’s pretty nice. But yeah, I guess if they didn\’t create a better look for it, my friend wouldn\’t have bought it at all. Windows Mobile is too businessy for my friends. I don\’t even have a cell phone 😦 But I might on my birthday.Nice ideas though.

  2. Sadly, it\’s typical Microsoft. They should have never let themselves get behind on this front. No reason for it. I am on my third PDA phone (HTC Fuze) and have liked them all. But, I\’m a tinkerer. I look at the settings, play around with things and have bought apps to enhance my phone/PDA. For people who don\’t do that, WinMo isn\’t a great phone OS. The Iphone has succeeded because it made things simple. Big buttons for people to press on and get to apps and settings. I personally can\’t stand the interface and think the mobile Safari sucks. One problem though is that even if the OS is redesigned for finger friendly, many apps are not. You will still need to pull out the stylus for things. I\’ve noticed a few apps becoming finger friendly, but those are few and far between.Your suggestions are good and I sure hope that 6.5 is a step in the right direction.

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