Please read note at the bottom of this post! -Ed.
Microsoft debuted its Windows Mobile 6.5 smartphone operating system at Mobile World Congress this week, and so far, it's been welcomed warmly. After all, with so many critics sounding off about its predecessor, what's not to love?
A lot, apparently. And I'll go out and say it: Microsoft missed, big time.
At first glance, Windows Mobile 6.5 looks new, shiny -- even interesting. The honeycomb format is just one indication of that. But underneath the UI, 6.5 appears to be nothing more than a reheated version of the same platter Microsoft's been serving for years.
In other words: there is a serious lack of apparent innovation with Windows Mobile 6.5.
UNDERNEATH THE HOOD
For one, it's almost identical to Windows Mobile 5 underneath the honeycomb. Sure, there is a little added functionality, but the folks in Redmond didn't reinvent the wheel with this one. In fact, it's more like they threw on some flashy hubcaps.
Sure looks cool, doesn't it? There's a downside to the honeycomb: grids are intuitive, and the honeycomb is less so. There's little to tell you where you are along the honeycomb, and when you do decide where to go, you're still jumping through multiple levels of menus to get there. What's more, swiping and scrolling gestures have been reported as awkward, and it's clear that things haven't been optimized as best they can for fingers.
Worse, the current competition has already outrun Microsoft: SPB Mobile Shell, for example, is faster (particularly on older hardware) and has more service integration. And many of the Windows Mobile 6.5 screens are nearly identical to WM5. Despicable. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," sure, but let's try to wed the UI together thematically, hmm?
This one's easy, friends: Windows Mobile 6.5 supports resistive touchscreens, and NOT beyond that, there have been no announcements for capacitive screens, according to a Microsoft spokesman. What gives? I know people love a stylus, but let's not lean on that crutch in the age of the iPhone.
Moreover, what's been seen of the native on-screen keyboard is tiny, far too tiny for productivity. Until we see some third-party innovation in this area, Windows Mobile 6.5 will be hobbled by this aspect.
Mobile Internet Explorer has gotten a lot of resources dedicated to it, no doubt, but it's still behind favorite Opera Mobile in terms of speed and smooth scrolling. If you want to claim market share as a mobile OS and a mobile browser, particularly when they're bundled together, you must put in the resources to excel at both and make that synergy advantageous. It's not good when users are already looking toward your alternate.
And the media player -- crucial, even if business users are the target -- remains the same as before. I reiterate: in the age of the iPhone? Sigh.
DELIVERY DATE & METHOD
This is by far the most despicable aspect of Windows Mobile 6.5: For all that lack of newness, you can't get your hands on the OS until "later this year" -- which has been reported to be late 2009. If that's not enough, Engadget reports that no device older than what was launched this week at MWC will be eligible for an upgrade to Windows Mobile 6.5. Final nail in the coffin, as far as I'm concerned -- I'm not waiting to be underwhelmed, and with Windows Mobile, I feel I already have.
THE BOTTOM LINE
For a company with such resources as Microsoft -- heck, for a company with far fewer resources than Microsoft -- Windows Mobile 6.5 is wholly unimpressive. If this had come from a smaller vendor, would you have been impressed? I wouldn't have.
Microsoft took a Chevrolet, chromed it out and painted a screaming chicken on the hood and called it a Pontiac. Get what I mean?
Regardless of the reality, Microsoft does not appear to have innovated in any great way in one of the most innovative markets in consumer electronics. The smartphone is the product of convergence: of laptop, of cell phone, of PDA. It should reflect the best attributes of all of them. Unfortunately, it appears that this OS is reflecting the worst -- regardless of what's been changed.
- More on ZDNet: Windows Mobile 6.5
Read more about this subject:
- Engadget: Editorial: Ten reasons why Windows Mobile 6.5 misses the mark
- CNET 3GSM blog: Microsoft previews Windows Mobile 6.5
- Gizmodo: Video: Windows Mobile 6.5 Running on HTC
- MWC 09: Windows Mobile 6.5 disappoints, where’s the beef?
- Windows Mobile; an operating system for adults
- Windows Mobile: it drove me to insanity
UPDATE 4:36PM EST: As information from MWC has poured in from our mobile expert Matthew Miller, I felt the need to cover Microsoft's launch of Windows Mobile 6.5 ever since I saw the first rumblings of it.
I've been contacted by readers asking if this post mirrors that of Engadget editor Josh Topolsky, whose "Ten reasons why Windows Mobile 6.5 misses the mark" post covers many of the same points. I did read his article, but I did not steal his content, nor vice-versa. It's simply coincidence that we'd come to a similar conclusion.
To clear the air, I've taken the liberty of prominently linking to material, including Topolsky's post, that supports my argument: that Windows Mobile 6.5 is a missed opportunity for Microsoft.
Thanks. -Ed. [edited for brevity]