Video: Windows Mobile (the phone OS) takes evolutionary step in Version 6

Video: Windows Mobile (the phone OS) takes evolutionary step in Version 6

Summary: Go ahead and Google my name and Motorola Q and you'll see that, despite the fact that I still use the device as my smartphone, I've got a lot to say about it; most of it not very good. There's the one about how it eats batteries alive.

TOPICS: Mobility

Go ahead and Google my name and Motorola Q and you'll see that, despite the fact that I still use the device as my smartphone, I've got a lot to say about it; most of it not very good. There's the one about how it eats batteries alive. Then there's the one about how, reminiscent of PCs, it required reboots a little too often (reboot a smartphone? eek!). And then, it's not until you live with a smartphone for a while that you begin to discover how much the details count.

Unlike with the stylus-enabled Treo, the Q doesn't have a touchscreen. Going back to my experiences with a variety of BlackBerry's, that's probably a step forward. It's inevitable that stylus-enabled smarthphones will go the way of the dinosaur. But when the Q eschewed the stylus and its corresponding touch screen, it also ditched the "soft keypad"; the software version of the phone's numeric keypad that users could see on its display. The soft keypad came in handy if you had to spell out a phone number like 1-800-ROADSIDE since the "hard keys" on the Q (and the Treo and most other smartphones) are too small to show you what letters go with what numeric keys. The Q offered no software substitute so now some third parties do.

  See our interviews of Microsoft's Windows Mobile group product Manager John Starkweather on video: We have a two part video for you. The first shows the new Windows Mobile 6 operating system in action. The second shows all the new smartphones that Windows Mobile 6 is launching on (globally).   Image Gallery of the Windows Mobile 6 operating system: In addition to our two part video (see left), ZDNet's Mobile Gadgeteer Matthew Miller has prepared a gallery of 42 Windows Mobile 6 screen shots that show many of the operating systems new features as well as its new Vista-like look and feel.  

Smartphones are complicated devices to get right. Not only do designers face the simple laws of physics when it comes to displays, processing power, memory, buttons, battery-life, and radio-strength (not to mention the number of radios; 3G, WiFi, Bluetooth, etc.) just to name a few, some offerings like those based on Microsoft's Windows Mobile operating system must balance the sometimes competing interests of the four major parties associated with every device: the phone manufacturer (eg: Motorola), the operating system company (eg: Microsoft), the wireless carrier (eg: Verizon Wireless) and, finally, the end-user.

For example, end-users may want to use their own music as a ringtone. But even though the song sounds pretty good on a smartphone like the Q with its built-in stereo speakers and even though the Windows Mobile OS makes using a song as a ringtone possible, the carrier may prefer that end-users buy ringtones at $2.99 a pop rather than have the flexibility to load their own. The next thing you know, a part of the OS or the phone ends up being disabled. In most smartphone cases, the interests of the wireless carrier wins because it's the one that sells them to customers and the phone must work on its network.

Even though smartphones represent so many competing interests, it has still been relatively easy to pick out the faulty party when it comes to certain problems. For example, in my opinion, there's no one to blame for the inability of the smartphone edition of the Windows Mobile OS to work with Microsoft Office documents but Microsoft. Or, the fact that the phone's built-in Web browser didn't support Javascript. Especially today when so many Web sites  use Javascript (eg: the flight status checkers on airline Web sites -- exactly the sort of Web page one might access with their smartphone). Although there's undoubtedly still plenty of room for improvement, Microsoft has addressed those and other problems in the newest version of the Windows Mobile OS -- Windows Mobile 6 -- which is being launched today in a substantial number of new smartphones, some of which are available here in the US and others of which are only available in other parts of the world.

According to Microsoft's Windows Mobile group product manager John Starkweather whom I interviewed prior to the launch (the video is available below in two parts -- one that focuses on the OS, the other on the devices), Windows Mobile 6 represnets approximately 10,000 individual improvements over Windows Mobile 5. Among them, inclusion of the Windows Mobile versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint is now standard. As you'll see in the video, the applications are far more like their PC counterparts than they ever have been. For example, Excel Mobile makes it possible to do things you couldn't do before like resize columns.

In fact, based on what Starkweather told me in the interview, Microsoft clearly had two major goals in mind. The first of these was closing the gap even further between smartphone functionality and PC functionality. The second of these was besting other solutions in the marketplace like RIM's BlackBerries. Starkweather keeps a big chart with him that shows closeup screenshots of how other solutions handle certain tasks (eg: working with MS Office documents), and how Windows Mobile 6 handles the same tasks. Windows Mobile's user interface was also redesigned to be more consistent with the newest version of the PC version of Windows -- Windows Vista. 

Whereas Windows Mobile 5 was particularly weak in the area of HTML support for e-mail, that has been corrected in Windows Mobile 6 which supports HTML across most server types including Microsoft's Exchange as well as standard POP3 accounts like those found on popular email services like Yahoo, AOL, and Google. Setting up e-mail on Windows Mobile has been a daunting task. I can personally attest to this because of how I'm dreading the idea of re-establishing connectivity between my Q and one of my e-mail services after I last reloaded the Q with a new version of Windows Mobile 5 (a process that completely wiped out all of my e-mail settings). 

In Windows Mobile 6, Microsoft has also pre-programmed "Outlook Mobile" (Microsoft has ditched names like "Pocket Outlook" and "Pocket Word") with what could best be described as e-mail configuration wizards for most of the popular e-mail services. The result (although I haven't tested it yet) is supposed to be a greatly simplified, easy-to-use user interface when it comes to connecting Outlook Mobile with one of those services.

Other improvements that users are certain to notice are the ability to do what once took lots of extra clicks (eg: deleting an email) with one click, the ability to set up user defined "single-click" shortcuts, an e-mail searching feature where the server will do all the heavy lifting of searching through your folders for your (unfortunately requires Microsoft's Exchange Server and it doesn't work in an off-line serial fashion), automatic encryption of data that's saved on storage cards (see screen shot, above left), much deeper desktop-like integration between e-mail and calendaring and a much improved instant messenging client that support emoticons, multi-party chart and the easy inclusion of voice objects.

Obviously, with any gadgets like smartphones, it's easy to get swept off your feet by demonstrations. But it's in their long term and intimate usage where you really get to know a new smartphone's advantages and limitations. Now that the devices are out, I'll be looking to upgrade soon and you can check back here on TestBed to see what my findings are on an ongoing basis. Here are the videos:

Topic: Mobility

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  • ZDNet Living in the past?

    Fortunately, today there are a slew of Windows pwoer smartphones available on the market. The Motorola Q is not the only one, and by and far, definately not the best. Cingular has been pumping out phones by HTC the last two months that give the Motorola Q a look of age. It's unfortunate this story was based on the Motorola Q, as that also makes the story very aged. ZDNet once again falls short of the mark in technology.
    • No, ZDNet is living out of range of....

      ...first, my coverage isn't the only coverage of WM6 you will find on ZDNet. Second, from one phone to the next, WM5 is not a whole lot different. That's in some ways the point. My complaints have generally not had much to do with industrial design... although the Q proves that WM5 is not really as advanced in terms of thumbwheel use as prehistoric blackberries are. WM6? Maybe.

      But the reason I stay with the Q is because Verizon Wireless has the only signal where I live and some of the other devices that I might otherwise try just to experience some different industrial designs are not available through VZW.

      I guess I could get one of those other devices, but then you'd be ROTFLYAO because I was dumb enough to try to use a smartphone that couldn't connect to a network.

  • What is evolutionary?

    Best I can tell this is a point upgrade. They appear to be trying todo the same thing they did with Vista, only with less work. No matter what lipstick you put on it, it's still a pig.

    Tell me when they start passing out the upgrades to the OS with out having me buy a new phone and owning my taint for two more years and then I'll call it evolutionary.
  • Apple's iPhone is evolutionary... this is just a sidestep.

    I really think the title says it all. there really is nothing
    evolutionary, or revolutionary really, this is just another
    phone running a gutted version of windows...

    I'm not amused.
    Matt Ridge
    • if 'evolutionary' means 'wont sync email wirelessly'...

      Not sure how much business users will want the 'evolutionary' new iPhone in the current rev, with only EDGE (not even 3G) wireless services and no way to wirelessly sync your email. I'll stick with my bloated Window$ ware, or even a blackberry before converting to an iPhone. Of course, I like the iTV product and my iPod, so I'm not an anti-Mac guy. Just sounds like you're posting from an Anti-Micro$oft perspective rather than an informed position.
      • Actually...

        Apple's iPhone has WiFi, as well as Bluetooth capabilities... you can go into any
        Starbucks as long as you have access to their network, you will be able to access your

        Also, the iPhone isn't even out yet, things are going to change anyway before the
        final release, I'd probably bet the way it communicates is going to be one of those
        Matt Ridge
        • Utterly Amazing!

          People shock me with their utterings on ZDNET. You are not amused?! Who cares. You seem so sold on the iPhone as if you have seen it in operations. You don't know what it will ultimately do. Steve Jobs could have thrown out iDodo and you would say 'ahhhhh" what a visionary. Stop the madness. Amusing you is not something MS cares about. They have billions in cash, and you have...oh yeah... a W-2 and an opinion.

          Remember this pal - Perception will run (ruin) your life in the absence of facts. You have not a single solid fact on the iPhone. Until then, rest your neck.
    • I think evolutionary is not equal to revolutionary

      An evolutionary step implies some change in the direction of continued survival and, upon first blush, WM6 seems to have taken several steps. But I reserved official judgement on the quality of those steps until I get my hands on one.

      • True... but...

        Evolution for Evolution sake is stupid... look at the dinosaurs, they evolved to such an
        extreme that when they died off they were already on their way out because they
        specialized too much...

        The first problem I have is that MS introduced a new OS technically in the phone, it
        still doesn't make it a better phone... a nice GUI isn't going to make it a better
        Matt Ridge
        • And what phone does MS sell????

          hmmmmm. NONE. so they have no control over the phone. Just the OS. Apple has so little PC marketshare that they can spin their wheels on a phone. If MS made a phone (which I hear they are) I am sure the zealots will cry foul again. Get your facts dude and stop all this pontificating. Do you work in Washington (DC that is! :-) )
  • This is Definately a Step Forward

    Anyone that uses Mobile Devices to WORK with can see the advantages to the new MS Mobile OS. But it seems like the Gamers don't like when you have to think too hard. I suppose for games and music the iPhone is a wonderful thing. I'm more Business and Profit minded, so WinMob is my thing. And now I can work even easier. (Stand by for MAC backlash from this statement)
  • windows mobile give us a break

    Windows in all it's forms is designed and built by geeky post grads with a penchant for colour and graphics over function and even form.

    My laptop (note windows is definetly hostile to laptops) requires me to "don't send error" report 2 to 3 times a day.

    All Microsoft software is built around bigger and bigger disk and bigger and bigger processors and higher and higher bandwidth. There is no real understanding of the hostile and poor latency and lack of consistent connectivity of a radio network.

    That simple statement is easy to understand but it does not mean that Microsoft or for that matter Apple will ever get it.

    If you don't understand how to build simple applications that can deal with the hostile mobile environment then you will never succeed and it is my contention that the psychie the very heart of Microsoft and Apple will never truly succeed in the mobile market.

    These companies are characterised by the desire to create ever more fantastic functionality, that nobody uses, to sell their products. The problem is that this attitude and architectural bent invetibally leads them to build poor mobile applications.

    You cannnot port word or excel or powerpoint from an ever more powerful pc environment to a mobile device.

    It's a nonsense strategy and more sadly a more nonsense philosophy for the spend by them on multi million dollar development budgets.

    By the way and very entertaining, Nokia now seem to be starting to be drawn in to this farcical approach as well.
    • Not sure you had a point! Come again!

      Was this a comment on the article, our just some randon (I am not smart enough to run Windows with out an Error rant).
  • It's definitely a good news for Windows smart phone user

    If you are a user of Windows Smartphone, you definitely will be very excited about this new version. The whole office suite ported to mobile os is very important for me. Current I have to use third party software to view my office document in smart phone. And the office suite is the most used function in my mobile phone. I used so many handphones (Sony, Nokia, Moto, don't want to mention about ipod kind of product, they are just fashion), but nothing can compared with Microsoft smartphone.
  • Broken Links

    The video links don't seem to be workin . . . I get a "page not found" error when I click on them.
  • Requirements/Upgrades?

    Most typical WM5 devices are still shipping with 64MB of RAM and 128MB of ROM. How much extra memory do these enhancements require? Will most WM5 devices be upgradeable to WM6, or is the current hardware insufficient? I know the manufacturer determines whether or not to offer an upgrade, but it'd be nice to know if the current hardware can handle it. Also, as a game developer for these devices, I hope they're not making any radical changes that will require most of the current games to be re-compiled again, like they had to be for WM5. If everything compatible with WM5 works on WM6, then they're doing a great job. This is one area that the iPhone doesn't even come close to Windows Mobile. iPhone has a closed OS, so you can't expect much from third party developers.
  • Problems with Windows Mobile Period.

    I am really having a problem with Windows Mobile period. You can't download WM6 and thus you are reliant on your phone maker to decide if they want to put in the effort to make it available for you. I thought I had been keeping up, but even if it's there for all the hype, Windows only shows three devices having WM6.
    Most of the story seem to jive with my experience, but I have to say I used my Win 2003 device with Pocket Outlook to check exchange, text and even multiple POP3 accounts with no significant hassles with set up or execution.