Is Microsoft (slowly) picking up the pace with Windows Mobile?

As Apple, Google and just about every other mobile-operating-system provider continues to leapfrog Microsoft in the mobile market, there's a glimmer of hope among the dwindling Windows Mobile faithful that Microsoft is picking up the mobile operating-system delivery pace.

As Apple, Google and just about every other mobile-operating-system provider continues to leapfrog Microsoft in the mobile market, there's a glimmer of hope among the dwindling Windows Mobile faithful that Microsoft is picking up the mobile operating-system delivery pace.

A few blogs noted this week that Microsoft has created developer documentation for Windows Mobile 6.5.3 -- a minor release of the WinMo platform that adds support for "touchable tiles" instead of soft keys. (According to an entry on Wikipedia, the 6.5.3 update also might add more gesture support, a revamped address book and new start menu placement.)

There have been sightings of Windows Mobile 6.5.1 and 6.5.3 builds since Microsoft and its phone partners began rolling out the first WinMo 6.5 phones in October, but the Softies have been unwilling to comment officially on these builds. There also has been talk that Microsoft is planning to deliver a version of Windows Mobile prior to 7.0 that would add full support for capacitive screen phones, but, again, no company officials have confirmed this publicly. (The Neowin.net site has said this release might be called 6.7, based on their sources, but I'm now wondering if this release is 6.5.3.)

Microsoft's plodding Windows Mobile release schedule has left the company open to criticism that it has fallen behind other mobile operating system providers. Here's a recap of what the Redmondians recently have rolled out and have coming in the phone space:

  • Windows Mobile 5.0 RTM (release to manufacturing): May 2005
  • Windows Mobile 5.0 Second Edition RTM: May 2006
  • Windows Mobile 6.0 RTM: February 2007
  • Windows Mobile 6.1 RTM April 2008
  • Windows Mobile 6.5 RTM: May 2009
  • Windows Mobile 6.5.3 (and/or 6.7): RTM Q1 2010 (?)
  • Windows Mobile 7.0 RTM: Q2 2010 (?)

What has further hampered Microsoft in the mobile market is the six-or-so-month lag time between the RTM of a new Windows Mobile release and the time it takes for phone makers to test, customize and load it on new phones. Microsoft officials have said they're committed to reducing this gap and enabling Window Mobile to be pushed to phone customers over the air (OTA), but it sounds like that capability won't debut until Windows Mobile 7.0, at the earliest.

Microsoft officials have said they'll be showing off Windows Mobile 7.0 to developers at its Mix conference in mid-March. (They allegedly showed off the platform at the invitation-only Mobius conference -- under non-disclosure -- in November.)

Will Microsoft provide some sneak, or even public, peeks of 7 to others at the Consumer Electronics Show in January? No word so far. But it might not be a bad idea, given more and more company watchers are equating Windows Mobile 7.0 to the infamous Windows "Cairo" release, which was much touted over many years but never actually materialized (except in piece parts)....

A related aside: A couple of readers have sent me notes about the fact that the Visual Studio 2010 beta currently doesn't support Windows Mobile development, wondering what this means about MIcrosoft's commitment to the mobile platform. Earlier this year, Microsoft officials provided the following statement about this:

"Microsoft is committed to making Visual Studio a great development tool for the mobile device developer, and will deliver mobile device tools for Visual Studio 2010, but cannot share details now. For existing Visual Studio 2008 mobile developers, Microsoft released the Windows Mobile 6.5 Developer Tool Kit that works with the Windows Mobile 6 SDK."

I asked recently if it's time yet to share the details about these "mobile device tools" coming for Visual Studio 2010 and was told officials had nothing more to say at this time.

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