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4/6/2009
11:55 AM
Ed Hansberry
Ed Hansberry
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Can Windows Mobile 6.5 Recapture Some iPhone Limelight?

Windows Mobile 6.5 has been garnering a lot of attention since it was formally announced at Mobile World Congress in February and more details were shown at CTIA last week. This is not the OS Microsoft was hoping for - that will be Windows Mobile 7 due to be released in 2010, but don't let that detract from what Windows Mobile 6.5 has to offer.

Windows Mobile 6.5 has been garnering a lot of attention since it was formally announced at Mobile World Congress in February and more details were shown at CTIA last week. This is not the OS Microsoft was hoping for - that will be Windows Mobile 7 due to be released in 2010, but don't let that detract from what Windows Mobile 6.5 has to offer.The UI for the Professional version, the one with a touch screen, has undergone a radical transformation compared to WinMo 6.1. Gone are the icons designed to be tapped with a stylus and menus designed to be driven strictly by the soft keys and D-pad. Icons are now larger and in a hexagonal style grid to allow for even the chubbiest of fingers to launch apps. Scroll bars still exist, but it will be much easier to move around just by flicking the screen with your finger. Menus have also gotten large enough to allow finger use. I suspect deep in some of the settings dialogs, or in myriad of apps not yet redesigned to take advantage of the finger friendly UI, you'll still need to grab the stylus, but for the core device, the stylus can remain in its silo. This may be the last version of Windows Mobile that needs a stylus at all. Once Windows Mobile 7 ships, all of the popular apps will have been fixed to be finger friendly. You could see WinMo 7 touch screen devices shipping without a stylus at all.

The new Internet Explorer, based on IE6 technology on the desktop, but also has JavaScript bits from IE8 and a few other goodies, will allow Windows Mobile users to browse the web as their iPhone brethren have been doing since 2007, but with Flash support.

Windows Media Player on Windows Mobile has been rather disappointing for several years. Rumors continue to persist that the Zune UI and marketplace will make it to Windows Mobile, if not in WinMo 6.5, then surely by WinMo 7. The Zune player is a nice device that bests the iPod in a few areas and equals it in others. The UI from the Zune player on a Windows Mobile device would be a welcome addition, including such goodies as WiFi sync to your PC and sharing songs with other WinMo and Zune users.

The marketplace will also put Microsoft on par with the Apple App Store, and surpass it in a few areas. Full refunds within 24 hrs will put many at ease when plunking down their cash for an app. Allowing users to use credit cards or have it billed on their monthly phone bill will also make life easier for users, Because MS is charging developers $99 to put an app in the store (the first $99 gets you 5 apps), it should cut down on the junk apps that are found in Apple's store, allowing users to find quality apps faster. I still think it is a HUGE mistake for Microsoft to limit the marketplace to WinMo 6.5 and late only, leaving existing WinMo 6/6.1 users out in the cold. Hope sprints eternal that that position will be changed by the time the store launches this fall.

Speaking of apps, with widget support in 6.5, there should be a lot of smaller apps available for basic things like stock tickers, location based services, weather and more.

WinMo 6.5 is still in development so there could be other changes. WinMo Standard (non-touchscreen) devices have profiles but not Professional. I've not seen information on whether or not MS has rectified this oversight in 6.5 or not. Apps need to really play well with each other too. I quit listening to music and video on my WinMo phone three years ago after I got a phone call during a song. The ringer blaring through the headphones left my ears ringing themselves for several hours after that. The phone and music player have to play nice with each other, pausing music and drastically lowering the volume before letting that ring through.

Keep in mind that in 2008, more WinMo devices were sold than iPhones, but the iPhone certainly seems to have the limelight right now. WinMo 6.5 may have just enough to begin to reverse that trend.

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