One of my favorite lines in a movie is:
"Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in."
[points if you know the movie]
Lately it seems that this line perfectly describes how I feel about Windows Mobile. I've had a love / hate relationship with Windows Mobile since its inception. Early on I was treated to a demo of the first ever Windows Mobile / Pocket PC phone then code-named "Stinger". I was in love with how easily you could manage your contacts, calendar, send and receive e-mails, all from something with the form factor of a candybar phone. It was light years ahead of its time.
Fast forward to present day and where is Windows Mobile? I reviewed a number of Windows Mobile phones recently, in hopes of finding some positive things to talk about, with regard to Windows Mobile. In most cases it had been an evolutionary step and not revolutionary for Windows Mobile, with the exception of what HTC was able to bake on top of the Windows Mobile experience, as evidenced by the work it performed with the HD2.
So, where are we now, as we prepare to finally hear all about what Windows Mobile 7 has to offer at Mobile World Congress? The folks over at PPCGeeks claim to have an exclusive on what Windows Mobile 7 will have to offer. Included in that list is a new UI which is rumored to be very similar to the Zune HD interface, no Flash support, no ability to install an app via storage card, no multitask support--apps will pause in the background and offer notifications, no backwards compatibility, full Zune integration, Zune Desktop software as the interface for syncing with PC, no OEM interfaces, XBOX Gaming Integration (gamer tag, achievements, friends, avatars, merchandising), and social networking support. This is just a sampling, apparently, but let's go with what we have so far since this is the most concise list of rumors.
- New UI: Finally! This will be a welcome change, but I'm puzzled at the lack of OEM interface support. OEMs love to customize and as I mentioned above, I think the best thing that could have happened to Windows Mobile was the innovation that came from HTC on the platform. I also don't think that corporations will be too happy with having to deal with a new UI, but I don't even know of many corporations that are still using Windows Mobile devices.
- Full Zune integration: One thing that has always troubled me with Windows Mobile is managing the media on my device. The Zune does that really well, so I think it's a step in the right direction for Windows Mobile to use the Zune interface instead.
- XBOX Gaming Integration: I've been hearing about this one for years. If Microsoft gets it working right, it may get some hardcore XBOX gamers to switch to the new Windows Mobile just so that they can keep their gaming world tied to their mobile world.
- No multitasking: What does this even mean these days? Windows Mobile has always multitasked, and in some iterations it did a terrible job at it. My guess is that multitasking will be present, but probably not the way we're used to today. It sounds more like some smart memory management, but we won't really know until we see how it all works together.
- No backwards compatibility: This was a major negative for the Palm Pre before launch, but then around launch time the company announced a nice emulator that let you run all of your old Palm software. I would bet the same will happen with Windows Mobile, especially since if the company didn't support older apps, it would have even more catchup to do in the App Store game.
One of the last things that kept me hanging on to Windows Mobile was my ability to customize how I worked with my device. If Windows Mobile 7 is limiting what the OEM can do, I hope that the consumer will still be able to enjoy the same level of control present in today's Windows Mobile. If not, it's definitely going to be hard for me to switch back to Windows Mobile as a primary phone. Unfortunately, I fear that my customization days are over, as evidenced by what came in Windows Mobile 6.5 and 6.5.3 and how I could barely customize how my app launch screen behaved.
The big question is whether or not Microsoft is now too late to the game. Is this basically the Zune phone, borrowing from the interface, according to the rumors? If so, is this what consumers want? In my experience, not too many people outside of Seattle even know what the Zune HD is, so I'm not sure that's going to buy Microsoft too much market share.
I think if Windows Mobile 7 had come out almost immediately after the iPhone, Microsoft would have a chance. As it stands now, though, anything that the company puts out there is going to be held up against the iPhone first (since people love to call things iPhone killers), then BlackBerry, Android, Palm, Nokia, etc.
We don't have much longer to wait, with Mobile World Congress coming next week. Chime in with your thoughts below and I'll be sure to report in with mine once we know for sure what Microsoft has planned.