What Microsoft needs to fix for Windows Mobile 7

The consensus is in on Windows Mobile 6.5: According to the likes of Engadget and Gizmodo, it’s a stop-gap solution by Microsoft meant to bring some slight user interface polish and touch-screen friendliness to their aging Windows Mobile platform. It doesn’t bring Windows Mobile anywhere near the level of accomplishment that we’re seeing with the iPhone, Palm Web OS, and Android phones today – for that we’ll have to wait for the release of version 7 sometime in late 2010. Simply put, 6.5 is the Windows Me to WinMo 7’s Windows XP.

There’s really no reason they should be in this position either. Microsoft should have foreseen the growth of development in this mobile space since the release of the first generation iPhone – not to mention Google’s Android announcement a few years later. Come late 2010, they’ll have to contend with a fourth generation iPhone, an even more mature Android platform across several phones and providers, and Palm fighting for dear life with second-generation Web OS phones.

This puts a lot of pressure on Windows Mobile 7, and while news has been floating around about it potentially fixing most of WinMo 6.5’s issues, it remains to be seen if Microsoft can think ahead enough to compete with the phones of late 2010, and not just today’s. Many phone manufacturers have already been thinking ahead of Microsoft and offering their own software improvements for Windows Mobile (e.g., HTC’s TouchFlo 3D), but I’m hoping that come WinMo 7 they will be less necessary.

What follows are a few suggestions on where Microsoft should take Windows Mobile 7 if they want to remain relevant in the mobile space.

The obvious: True multitouch, better web browsing, and Zune integration

We already know that WinMo 7 is finally going to bring multi-touch support to the platform, but I’m hoping Microsoft is going all the way and including iPhone-like gestures similar to Palm’s Web OS – and not chickening out like Google did with Android. A better web browser is also essential; they can’t keep letting Opera Mobile be the best browser on the platform.

And while this seems obvious to me, Microsoft better follow through with all of their half-promises about bringing the Zune platform to Windows Mobile. Not only will it offer them a synergy similar to what Apple has with the iPhone, it’ll also be an easy way to integrate media on your phone to the Xbox 360 and other devices. And with Zune services coming to the 360 eventually, you could potentially throw media from the console directly to the phone. I’m also hoping that the unabashed sexiness of the Zune HD UI will carry over to Windows Mobile 7 somehow.

We’re likely to see everything in this category in some form on Windows Mobile 7. The true crystal ball prognostication starts with the following suggestions.

Drop the stylus already

Windows Mobile 6.5 added some finger-friendly icons and user interface changes, but in many cases you still need to pull out the dreaded stylus. Microsoft is no longer competing with the original Palm Pilot OS – it’s time they banned stylus use from Windows Mobile entirely. They’re unnecessary for devices with capacitive touch screens (which hopefully will be a minimum requirement for WinMo 7 devices as well), and they bring to mind generations before modern smart phones. They could develop a way to zoom into older applications to make them more touch-screen friendly.

Perfect and market multitasking

The iPhone’s biggest weakness is its inability to run third-party applications in the background. Palm has latched onto this and touts Web OS’s multitasking capabilities endlessly. Windows Mobile has actually supported multitasking for some time, but it was never very fast and the operating system often had trouble properly closing down apps, leaving them to eat up system resources. Microsoft should take this opportunity to pull a Windows 7, and make WinMo 7 a more efficient OS that can juggle multiple tasks without a sweat. And while they’re at it, they should take a close look at Web OS’s alert notifications which allow you to easily keep working when receiving texts and IMs.

Apple’s certainly going to come up with a solution for their multitasking deficiencies soon, so Microsoft might as well try to get ahead in this arena while they can.

Make nVidia’s Tegra CPU a hardware requirement

With the Zune HD, Microsoft was the first company to release a product featuring nVidia’s hot new Tegra mobile processor. It’s quite literally the heart of the Zune HD. We can thank Tegra for its visually rich UI, along with its ability to pump out HD video (via the dock) and play 3D games. Microsoft should build upon their experience with the Zune HD and ensure that Tegra remains a part of the Windows Mobile experience as well.

Nvidia has already shown off a port of Android running on Tegra, and I’m sure Apple is eying its capabilities as well. By making the Tegra a key component of Windows Mobile 7 devices they’ll ensure a similar user experience across multiple devices, and position future Windows Mobile devices as worthy media competitors to the iPhone.

This does raise concern for anyone who wants to put WinMo 7 on their current phone, but it’s not as if Microsoft is new to creating less feature-rich versions of their operating systems. On older devices, it could be an experience similar to running Windows 7 or Vista without Aero. This may seem like a raw deal for current WinMo customers, but I think it’s worth it in the long run. Microsoft has always had an issue with older hardware holding back their innovation. A requirement like this will allow Windows Mobile 7 to be a clean break for new hardware.

Treat Windows Mobile 7 as if the entire company depends on it

This last tip isn’t so much a feature suggestion as it is a philosophical one. Microsoft should consider what Palm accomplished with the Pre and Web OS after seemingly digging themselves into a pit of irrelevancy. Both were a breath of fresh air for Palm, and most importantly, they made people excited. MS had similar success with the release of the Zune HD – probably because they realized it was their last chance to truly make an impact in the mobile media market.

While their entire company doesn’t hinge on the Windows Mobile platform being successful, it would certainly make things much easier for Microsoft if they finally had a solid modern mobile presence. It’s their only chance to make a dent against the increasing popularity of the iPhone (by next year, it may even be on multiple providers), Android, and Palm’s Web OS. They need to milk this opportunity for all it’s worth.

About the author:
Devindra Hardawar is a tech/film blogger and podcast host. You can find him writing at the Far Side of Tech and Slashfilm.

3 comments

  1. I completely agree, Microsoft should had dropped the stylus a long time ago. When you use the stylus you need both hands, that makes it incredible ackward to use a phone. A phone should always be able to be used with 1 hand only and without the need to push extra buttons. Windows Mobile is terrible with his small icons, and missing features. But there is hope, gladly as with any Windows OS you can install anything on top. Spb Shell basically is what Win7 should had being. So for Winmo users, install SPB Shell and you got even something better then a iphone. Its worth every penny:
    http://www.spbsoftware.com/products/mobileshell/

  2. The phone features should be one-handed, but please do not drop the stylus. I use my Pocket PC to input information, and the FITALY softkeyboard and stylus is the best way to input text… don’t take my stylus away, I need it for Contacts, Notes, Word, etc. In general, if every program is designed for a thumb, then you won’t be able to fit as much on the screen either, which means a lot more scrolling. I want to fit as much information on each screen as possible and make entering data as fast as possible, don’t sell me out for a little flash in the pan.

  3. I agree with you, Octaxgeek. You can change the interface so it doesn’t require the stylus when operating the phone as a phone, but in many cases when it comes to applications, the stylus is handier and speedier than the fingers. The iPhone in comparison feels primitive and clumsy in its UI when typing a note.

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