Windows Mobile UI tools less sophisticated

update Windows Mobile offers less sophisticated set of user interface controls, says one developer, who hopes Microsoft will address this in future builds.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

update Windows Mobile developers have a less sophisticated set of UI (user interface) tools, but Microsoft may address this in future platform builds, according to a U.S.-based software engineer.

Evan Halley, who has developed an RSS reader software he calls "Speeed Reader", said in a blog post the controls on Microsoft's .NET Compact Framework 3.5 are lacking, in comparison to those for the iPhone or Android platforms.

In a follow-up response to an e-mail from ZDNet Asia, Halley said: "Windows Mobile controls are somewhat dated." He noted these lack the "modern" appearance and functionality of the competition, such as "finger-friendly elements [like] flick-scrolling".

"[It has] a Windows 3.1 look," he added.

He said, in order to customize the UI for their needs, experienced developers can develop their own controls, or purchase third-party add-ons for a fee. He noted in his blog post, however, that some of these add-ons were prohibitively priced.

He said in his e-mail that he chose to buy a set of UI controls eventually, because he did not have any experience developing controls for what he needed. "With Speeed Reader, I found it very important for the program to have a good usability score. Since the users will be scrolling through lists and browsing through articles, having a control that can do this was very important."

On Speeed Reader's interface, which incorporates iPhone-like flick gestures and scrolls, he said: "It wasn't a conscious decision to make my app have an iPhone look and feel. I just wanted my application to look good and be usable."

He feels the iPhone paved the way for the industry focus on usability, noting that this has benefited other members of the value chain, from manufacturers to software designers, down to users.

Barriers to entry for various platforms

Halley said he decided to develop for Windows Mobile due to time constraints; his background as a Windows developer allowed him to develop for the platform with a more gentle learning curve. He added that he has plans to develop for Android soon, in addition to Windows Mobile. Android was chosen as because of its low barriers to entry for developers--the Android SDK (software development kit) can be downloaded for free. The iPhone platform requires developers pay a fee of US$99 and use Apple hardware to code apps, he said. "I will probably do some iPhone development when I become more comfortable making those purchases."

Windows Mobile's lack of integration
One analyst thinks Windows Mobile's reliance on third party manufacturers is part of the problem.

Marc Einstein, Frost & Sullivan industry manager, said in an e-mail, the Microsoft platform is unlike other devices such as the iPhone, BlackBerry or Nokia's Symbian phones, in that the latter group is manufactured by the same vendor which provides their respective platforms.

Windows Mobile, on the other hand, is manufactured by a string of device makers such as Samsung, LG and HTC.

LG said in an interview earlier this year, it committed 400 engineers to its Windows Mobile team, in an effort to create a more attractive and user-friendly UI for its phones.

Furthermore, Microsoft still has its trump card--Microsoft Office, said Einstein. Its link to the office software suite will lend it weight in the portables market, he said.

Halley said developers might get improved tools with future Windows Mobile builds. "From what I have seen with the latest Windows Mobile 6.5 builds, Microsoft is finally focusing on the design and usability of their mobile UI," he said.

Of late, Microsoft has been focusing on its third-party mobile app marketplace, and has decided to open it to older devices as well.

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