Smartphone Thoughts: Windows Mobile Out of Place at Microsoft's Party?

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Windows Mobile Out of Place at Microsoft's Party?

Posted by Jon Westfall in "Pocket PC Talk" @ 04:56 AM

It's been a week of technological upgrades for me in the Entertainment realm. Prior to Saturday, the last console system I'd owned was 8-bit Nintendo, my smartphone was my only music player that was updated (as I'd outgrown my 30 GB Zune and my 60 GB iPod's screen was just too small anymore), and my Toshiba laptop with Windows Media Center did very little media wise, save store my music and play it back via Windows Media Player. That changed with recent purchases of an Xbox 360 and a Zune 80. Now I'm looking at the smartphone and wondering why its implementation isn't up to par with these other two Microsoft products. And more importantly, what should be done about that!

As I write this, my Zune is synchronizing wirelessly. My Media Center PC is recording something or another, and my Xbox is cooling off after some GTA IV. The smartphone, a Pantech Duo, is faithfully waiting for email or urgent phone calls. In past years, it may have been able to sync over WiFi to pull the latest copy of my eWallet, although now I'm content to have a copy from a few months back on there. It also used to be loaded up with games, but my PSP can do that way better, so no games for the Duo. Why have I, a lover of convergence, found myself with a myriad of devices over the past year? Simple, my Windows Mobile phone simply can't be a jack-of-all-trades, even though it was designed (and sometimes marketed) as such. The Zune OS, or the Xbox 360 OS, in contrast, seem like they could be built onto endlessly though - and in a timely and cool fashion.

I find it no coincidence that the smoothest Microsoft experiences I've had lately have been from technologies that didn't exist in 2000 - and certainly hadn't matured. The Pocket PC and Smartphone operating system of record, Windows Mobile, in turn based on Windows CE, was around back then - and in many ways, still harkens back to those days design wise. When I use a Windows Mobile device, I almost feel like I'm back in the late 90s, design and implementation wise. For example, the inbox feels very isolated from the rest of the OS. On the desktop I can drag an item from my inbox to the Calendar button in Outlook and boom - a new calendar entry pops up with the email as the notes. No such luck on the smartphone. I can also tell my Zune to sync wirelessly and after its set up, there is no fussing on the device - it simply connects to my computer wirelessly and syncs. No establishing connections in an archaic connection manager. In comparison, Windows Mobile can seem like the elderly man standing in the crowd at a Hannah Montana concert - out of place, out of its element, out of touch - in 2008. It occured to me tonight that perhaps we don't need upgrades to Windows Mobile - we may need a completely new product. Phune or Pbox or whatever you want to call it.

Now this isn't saying that upgrades to Windows Mobile are not going in the right direction. I've seen a very promising direction, one that I can't talk about other than to say I'm happy with what I see so far. But maybe building onto an existing OS is akin to patching holes in a sinking ship. A new ship may be the best alternative. But in this case, a new ship would take way longer to build than upgrades to the existing one - but perhaps it could do it "right".

I'm 99% sure Microsoft won't abandon Windows Mobile and create a new phone operating system tomorrow - but if they asked you, would you tell them to?

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