Click to viewWe just got the scoop from Microsoft on Windows Mobile 7 and Windows Mobile 8, the two upcoming platforms that will fix what is undeniably broken about the Windows Mobile platform to date.
This was originally going to be a piece about how Microsoft had no idea what the consumer wanted, where I would explain what I thought Microsoft needed to do to fix it. Oh, I still discuss the flaws, but while talking to the Windows Mobile team, I learned about the next two versions of the mobile OS. Turns out, Microsoft knows exactly what's wrong with the WM platform, and it knows what to do to fix it. Trust me: there's hope on the horizon.
Before I get to the big Windows Mobile fix, it's important to see where it is now. Take a look above at the Windows Mobile Professional (the touchscreen version) and Windows Mobile Standard (the non-touchscreen, usually slimmer version). Got a good look?
The number one biggest problem with Windows Mobile is its UI.
I have no problems with Windows itself, and I work on a Vista PC (along with a Leopard Mac) every single day. WM's problem is that it isn't Windows. Here are a few of the unnecessarily complicated attributes that Windows Mobile doesn't share with desktop Windows:
• It's very hard to multitask. Multitasking is there, and you can run multiple programs at the same time, but everything is "full screen" and there's no easy way to switch between apps. There's no task bar to see what apps are open, and there's no indicator to the user that anything else is open. You actually have to dig into the Start menu, then Settings, then the System tab, then Memory, then the Running Programs tab just to see what's going on! Microsoft fixed this by inserting a dropdown task manager in more recent builds of Windows Mobile 6, but you still can't jump from app to app with ease. Which leads us to...
• Closing a program doesn't really close it. You'd think that pressing the "X" button on an app closes it, but all it does is minimize it. You have to dive into the menus to terminate a program or, on a newer build, go back to the Home/Today screen and close via the top-right icon. Not exactly what we call convenient.
• Different builds work differently. We can see why there are two major versions of Windows Mobile for phones—Professional and Smartphone—since different form factors require different UI philosophies for input. But when you compare the Tablet PC version of Windows with the standard desktop version, there isn't that huge of a difference. If you know how to use one, you should know how to use the other. Not quite so when you switch from the stylus input of Windows Mobile Pro to the D-Pad of Windows Mobile Smartphone. This isn't noticed by the masses, since most people only use one Windows Mobile device, but it is a telling concern. Plus, getting around with that D-Pad sucks.
Beyond OS structural design, the day-to-day usage of Windows Mobile isn't what you'd call "friendly," either. In fact, it'd probably punch you in the face if you even made eye contact. Take dialing, for instance. How can the main purpose of a phone—calling someone—be so hard to do?
If you're using a Windows Mobile Professional device, you have a few options, none of which are good:
• You can pull out the stylus to tap in the digits. This requires two hands.
• You can try and use your fingertip to call, which doesn't normally work, so you'll use your fingernail, which does work but, as it results in many misdialed numbers, takes forever.
• You can slide out the keyboard and find the dialpad buried among the QWERTY keys and dial, which requires two hands and intense concentration.
• You can try and bring up the contact list, which takes a long-ass time to scroll through, or you can slide out the keyboard again and search by name. Again, two hands.
• Voice Command has been an option for years, but then again, it kinda works, but it doesn't work well.
• Probably the best way to go is to program your most important numbers into speed dial, as you'll be able to actually talk to the correct person within, say, three button presses.
Compare that to the iPhone, which has just a touchscreen, but gets you to the keypad, your favorites, recent calls or your contact list, all within two key presses of the home screen. Dialing shouldn't be this hard, and the fact that it is just illustrates how bad the rest of the UI is.
These additional visuals should illustrate the fact that Windows Mobile isn't a platform designed for the general public. Even for technically knowledgeable users, there's a gigantic learning curve when picking one up for the first time. Imagine giving one to your parents. Then imagine all the calls you'll get—from their home phone, no less, because they couldn't figure out how to use their new Windows Mobile.
WM's core suite of apps include IE, the SMS client, the email client and Windows Media player; all are sub-par compared other smartphones. There's a reason why the iPhone's browser marketshare is already 0.09% when the entire Windows CE family (which includes Windows Mobile, among other things) is only at 0.06%. Why? It's because nobody wants to go online with that version of IE. They'd rather wait until they get a real computer rather than trudge through WAP decks, insufficiently optimized versions of web pages and hard to use interfaces.