No IE Mobile 6 for you; what can Microsoft do about Windows Mobile?

There has been a few rants posted over the last week or so about the statement that was made on a Microsoft Windows Mobile blog pertaining to the apparent lack of support for existing devices to support the upcoming Internet Explorer Mobile 6 web browser. What can Microsoft do with Windows Mobile moving forward to compete with the new devices hitting the market?

No IE Mobile 6 for you; what can Microsoft do about WM?
There has been a few rants posted over the last week or so about the statement that was made on a Microsoft Windows Mobile blog pertaining to the apparent lack of support for existing devices to support the upcoming Internet Explorer Mobile 6 web browser. James is one person not happy about it and echoes many of the comments made on the MSDN blog post. Brett is not happy either and made it a point to show how there are third party browsers that exceed anything Microsoft currently has with Internet Explorer Mobile and what it looks like Internet Explorer Mobile 6 may also support.

Microsoft revealed Windows Mobile 6.1 and Internet Explorer Mobile 6 at CTIA in April and most of us thought we would see this latest version of the browser in WM 6.1 devices. That hasn't happened and now it appears it will be in the recently revealed WM 6.5 update or available as a stand-alone download (highly doubtful IMHO). I had no doubt that IE Mobile 6 would run on these latest WM 6.1 devices and frankly I am quite surprised by the statement in the MSDN blog that existing hardware will not run the browser and people will have to buy new devices to use the browser. For people that pay US$200 to US$800 for their latest and greatest Windows Mobile devices and sign long term wireless carrier contracts that is just unacceptable to me and many others. I imagine if it is possible then the good folks over at XDA Developers will get it running on existing hardware. Then again, maybe it really isn't possible, which is hard to believe with devices running 500 to 600 MHz processors and 250+MB of RAM and 500+MB of ROM.

Now let's take a look from Microsoft's side in regards to providing updates on Windows Mobile devices. It is fairly easy for Apple, Nokia, RIM, and Google to provide updates to customers across the board because all of these companies have their own devices. We do see issues though with RIM and Nokia because they have such a large variation in devices and carriers across the world so it isn't that simple and many of their devices go through phased updates or are not updated either. Updates to Windows Mobile are virtually impossible to carry out consistently by Microsoft because there are currently over 50 handset makers, over 150 different Windows Mobile phones, 160 mobile operators, and over 20 million Windows Mobile smartphone licenses. Most phones are optimized and customized for specific hardware features (QWERTY keyboard, unique hardware button configuration, and more), customized for carriers, or customized by manufacturers (TouchFLO 3D for example). You cannot roll out an update with this much variation and choice in the Windows Mobile market.

Microsoft has a utility on many Windows Mobile phones called Windows Mobile Update and this was originally designed for possible security updates only and not for firmware/OS updates. This update utility just confuses the issue and needs to be removed from all devices to avoid an implied upgradeability function on the device.

I know we all want the latest and greatest software on our mobile phones, but if you choose Windows Mobile then you are going to have to trade-off having a huge selection of devices that meet the needs of people across the spectrum and prices across the board versus having a more limited standardized selection of devices. With devices like that already in the market (iPhone and BlackBerry), I personally think Microsoft and Windows Mobile should stick with the current setup. Michael Gartenberg just posted that Microsoft will not make their own mobile phone and why they shouldn't and I agree with him.

So giving up the hope that Microsoft will brand and control their own device, what can they do regarding the user experience and upgrade/update process? While carrier partnerships are important, I think Microsoft and/or the manufacturers need to start pushing back against carriers when they want to load up the devices with bloatware and kill the end user experience. I recently purchased the AT&T Fuze (see my first impressions) and cannot believe how much crapware AT&T was allowed to load up on the device. I understand carriers want to promote their monthly fee services and I can understand having some of those utilities/shortcuts on the device. However, including 10 game demos that have nothing to do with the carrier and also not allowing the user to remove content they do not want to subscribe to just kills the experience and in the end leaves the buyer with a bad impression of Windows Mobile. Luckily, there are custom ROMs that give the device back to the buyer. These are not for the masses though and the carriers need to be reigned in a bit if Microsoft wants people to be impressed by Windows Mobile devices.

As far as upgrading or updating Windows Mobile devices, I think Microsoft needs to see if they can roll out a consistent base part of the operating system that can be upgraded over the air (OTA) without affecting carrier and manufacturer customizations. Nokia now has these kind of incremental updates on some Nseries devices (I tried this and it worked well on the Nokia N78). I think this will be a bit easier as Microsoft melds the touch and non-touch operating systems into one. Other than that, given the scale of Windows Mobile I don't know if there is much else that can be done while still having such a broad choice for the end consumer.

The MyTodayScreen article I linked to above discussed the available web browser alternatives for Windows Mobile so IMHO there really is little need to upgrade your existing device to a new device just to get the latest Microsoft web browser. The third party clients offer just about everything you could want and I have even been able to watch Hulu videos on my Palm Treo Pro with Skyfire.

All of this said, I still prefer to use my Windows Mobile device most of the time for the excellent Exchange support out of the box and the incredible third party application availability and support that lets you completely personalize and optimize each device for your maximum usage and enjoyment. Windows Mobile devices today are stable, they have removable batteries, they have a high level of security, they can be found for cheap prices, and they are very powerful.

I am heading to the Mobius event in a couple of weeks and will get a chance to talk directly with representatives from the Windows Mobile team at Microsoft. I plan to ask specifically about the Internet Explorer Mobile 6 issue and will share what I can with you in my blog posts. If you have any other specific questions/concerns/issue you would like me to raise, please post them in the comments here and I'll try to get you some answers.

[poll id=3]