Windows Mobile 6.5 - Is It Enough To Become "iPhone Cool"?

Windows Mobile 6.5 was has been unleashed in Barcelona Spain sporting a new touch screen user interface ala something akin to the iPhone. Actually the interface looks more similar to LG touch phones than it does to the iPhone, but still 6.5 is still a new, sportier, sexier user experience. See the video embedded below. Included is a new web browser that displays web pages like a web browser should, HTML enabled emails, scrolling screens that have the iPhone "bounce", gestures for screen swipes and scrolling, and new services like Windows Mobile Marketplace and My Phone to boot. On the demos I've seen the screens aren't quite as responsive and snappy as the iPhones but that's likely very dependent on the graphics processor present (or not) on each specific phone. WM 6.5 is more than point release, it really is a significant upgrade in user experience to WM6's "Windows laptop on a cell phone" experience.

Windows Mobile 6 was looking very long in the tooth. In its day, Windows Mobile's touch and stylus interface where a powerful addition to SmartPhones. But as with Windows, Windows Mobile brought with it a complex user interface, something more like using a laptop on a very small screen than an OS optimized for SmartPhones. I used a Samsung SGH-i760 Windows Mobile Pro (version 5 & 6) for quite a while. It was definitely packed full of stuff that makes email sync and accessing computers at the office pretty easy. But it was clunky, very hard to use in the car, and not the best user experience. Microsoft also stumbled with a less than easy-to-use version of Windows Mobile SmartPhone Edition. Though many phones with WM Smartphone on them were sold (like the Motorola Q), it wasn't the kind of experience resulting in users demanding their next phone be a WM SmartPhone Edition.

Windows Mobile 6.5 has elements of the Windows 7 philosophy: less is more, simple is better. For example, the lock screen on WM 6.5 is designed to answer 3 (and only 3) questions: What time is it?, What are my upcoming appointments? And, why did my phone ring, alarm, notify or vibrate? As you drill down there are improvements as well as some of the old Windows Mobile screens and UI elements. The touch interface, including gestures, are present most everywhere. Icon buttons on the main screen are octagon shaped, which makes sense since your finger is more of a round shape. One big difference between WM 6.5 and the iPhone is that Flash is supported. This shouldn't be that big of a deal but Apple has drug its feet about getting Flash on the iPhone.

Bottom line is Windows Mobile 6.5 isn't a "stop the presses" kind of mobile phone OS release. Most of its features are just playing catch up to Apple's iPhone. It certainly falls far short of what Microsoft described (and I blogged about) that might be part of Windows Mobile 7. I've even blogged previously that Microsoft's new My Phone backup service offering is very likely a placeholder until better sync technologies like Live Mesh and Live Framework mature. The near term benefits I see, besides the touch interface, are Microsoft's strong integration between Windows Mobile and other Microsoft technologies such as Exchange. I would imagine many IT professionals will love WM 6.5. This release also creates some increased beachhead to try and at least slow Apple's rapid market share gains, though it certainly won't put a stop to the iPhone juggernaut.

I believe there's still another shoe to drop with Windows Mobile 6.5. Integrating WM 6.5 with Windows Live Essentials applications, Live Mesh and potentially online services like online Office apps would make WM 6.5 much more compelling a player in the Microsoft ecosystem of products. Maybe those capabilities will be add-ons to WM 6.5 or maybe that something WM 7 will bring. In the meantime WM 6.5 will keep many Microsoft Windows Mobile users happy enough.

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