Windows Mobile 6.5 – First Take

It’s been a long time coming but Microsoft finally unveiled the long awaited update to Windows Mobile, called Windows Mobile 6.5. It’s a nice update of the core UI and it makes the overall Windows Mobile experience something that not only can compete from a technical perspective but from a UI perspective as well.

 

Lock Screen 2Lock Screen PinHoneycomb Start Screen 1New Internet Explorer Mobile

 

Windows Mobile started life in 1996 as Windows CE, with the first clamshell device coming from Casio. Over time, it’s evolved into a stable platform, with both enterprise and consumer appeal with devices from multiple vendors available for carriers around the world. Despite selling 20 million devices last year, there’s a still a lot of negative buzz about the platform. Bloggers, analysts and journalists have all called the platform’s future into question (while still believing in a mythical Microsoft branded phone) and in some cases, raised the question of platform viability. I think 6.5 addresses many of those issues along with strong support from OEMs who are still committed to the platform.

Let’s be clear, while Windows Mobile’s UI is not as flashy or fluid as the iPhone, it certainly stacks up well against offerings from Palm, RIM and Google. This week’s UI enhancements along with innovation from licensees HTC, Sony Ericssonand LG have also helped put a little chrome on the UI as well. The key is that the core of the product works rather well in my experience and for synchronization with Exchange, there’s simply no better solution (or more cost effective solution, as pointed out in TCO study after TCO study).

It’s nice to see a richer browsing experience and Microsoft’s made it clear that’s part of 6.5 but let’s not get too caught up on that. Most website are simply not designed to be read on the small screen and miniature renditions of sites like the NY times make for great demo but lousy usability. Email, the other main mobile activity for smartphone users works just fine as is and in fact no only supports Exchange but multiple email accounts supporting IMAP and POP.

Media and entertainment are also relatively strong on the device and a Zune software client would help add to the richness of the platform (interestingly, Zune subscription content already plays just fine on Windows Mobile). No word on that this week as part of 6.5 I expect that it’s coming soon enough.

Bottom Line? Reports of Windows Mobile’s death have been greatly exaggerated. While there’s room for improvement and Microsoft must update Windows Mobile and bring it in line in terms of users experience and features with other platforms, Windows Mobile is a strategic initiative for Microsoft that’s not going to be abandoned any time soon.

As always, making the right choice of platform and device is a decision that has many factors for both business and consumer users, Windows Mobile should be on any of those decision short lists.

Microsoft also introduced two new services this week as well. One for synchronization and one for selling mobile apps. From the press release.

My Phone Service Connects the Phone to the Web

The free My Phone service will enable people to access, manage and back up their personal information on their device to a password-protected Web-based service, making it easier to upgrade phones without the worry of losing important information. With automatic syncing and backup, users can count on their contacts, appointments, text messages and other information being kept up to date and easily restored should they lose or upgrade their phone. Consumers also will be able to wirelessly update photos and video from their Windows phone directly to the My Phone service, making it simple to share content that, in the past, would have lived and died on the phone. The My Phone service is currently available in a limited invitation-only beta.

Rich and Integrated Marketplace Service Will Offer Easy Access to Mobile Applications

The new operating system features Windows Marketplace for Mobile, a rich and integrated marketplace for searching, browsing and purchasing mobile applications from Windows phones or from a PC by simply using a Windows Live ID. The new marketplace will ship inside all Windows phones based on Windows Mobile 6.5, which will allow consumers to easily find, install and experience those applications that fit their needs and make the phone truly personal.

Developers, who have already built more than 20,000 applications for Windows phones, will be able to offer applications to customers through the marketplace via a simple security and compatibility check from Microsoft.

Not too much to add here. I’ve been testing My Phone and it works pretty well as a sync and backup solution but it’s no competitor for services like SugarSync. The app store is a long time coming and given the news this week from other players, it’s now simply table stakes to have store integration as part of the OS experience.

Bottom line? a pretty good week for Microsoft. They did what they needed to do in introducing the new OS to the market and starting to make some noise about services and applications. The work’s not done here and given a lot of reaction to the news, there’s still a lot that needs to happen in terms of marketing and messaging going forward. It is clear that mobile is a core strategic initiative for Microsoft, the key will be messaging and execution with partners over the next 18 months.

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