The future of Windows phones and Windows Mobile

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Today at TechEd Australia I took the opportunity to chat with Loke Uei Tan – technical program manager on the Windows Mobile team – to talk about the future of Windows phones and the Windows Mobile OS.

As a Windows Mobile user who’s doubted the future of the platform at least once, it’s been very reassuring to hear that not only do the at least one person at Windows Mobile genuinely acknowledge and understand some of the shortcomings of the Windows Mobile experience and platform today but in response to this they are committed to updating the platform more frequently than it has been.

Recognizing the current barriers with the process of upgrading Windows phones today, it can be confirmed that the Windows Mobile team are indeed working towards modifying the system architecture to potentially enable delivery of OS updates without affecting and/or requiring the phone ROM – effectively cutting out the OEMs, telcos that currently and unnecessary slow down the update cycle.

windowsphone-smilesIn the meantime however updates to Windows Mobile will continue to trickle out as new devices are launched into market just as they have with Windows 6.0 and 6.1 devices.

Speaking of which, I was surprised to learn that Microsoft doesn’t actually push new builds of WM out to OEMs, but instead, OEMs pull builds from the Microsoft repository. Of course this would explain the consistent leaks of leaked post-6.5 builds recently which feature various UI experimentation reflective of a current effort to further improve the existing WM6 user experience for touch under the constraint of not breaking compatibility with existing applications.

Heading into future releases of Windows Mobile, Microsoft does intend to fully support the breadth and depth of form factors, screen resolutions, input mechanisms and hardware specifications we’re seeing with Windows phones today. Specifically this includes non-touch phones too which appears to be still quite popular in the marketplace and surprisingly Loke is personally a fan of.

Whilst the diversity of Windows phones will continue to be a hallmark of the platform, there will however be stricter and higher hardware testing standards for future phones to be validated as “Windows phones”. This is aimed to improve the baseline experience for all Windows phones.

At the end of the day, despite all the criticism about Windows Mobile, Windows phones like the powerful yet sleekishly-thin (roughly twice as thin as the iPhone) Toshiba TG01 running Windows Mobile 6.5 pictured above can still leave quite an impression. Hopefully all that Microsoft has planned for the future of WM will come to fruition as soon as possible.

39 insightful thoughts

  1. “modifying the system architecture to enable delivery of OS updates without affecting and requiring the phone”

    Requiring the phone to do what?

  2. I have tried windows 6.5 and I have to say, it is if possible even worse than 6.1. The whole platform is rotten from the ground up, and tweaking simply won’t do it. Options are scattered everywhere on the phone. The interface is completely outdated and a usability disaster. The new home screen feels like it was glued on, and its functionality feels childish, like showing one minimal sized picture from the image gallery at the time or one appointment at a time.
    Actually, reading this story has helped me decide to move away from Windows phone, either to iPhone or Android. I was hoping for a complete overhaul, but obviously the only thing that is going to happen is more tweaking. Look what it brought us the last 4 years: transparent effects in some menus and he world’s most ugly, slow and horrible SMS threaded view ever.
    The only thing I am going to miss is Live Hotmail sync, but I guess Nokia has it in its N-touch series.

  3. Glad to hear that Loke is a fan of the non-touch screen devices.

    Seriously though, there are many devoted Windows Mobile Smartphone (er, Standard) users out there. I’m one of them.

    It seems much more stable and responsive than the Windows Mobile Pocket PC (um, Professional) devices out there with equivalent specs.

    I’m running the HTC Rose (aka S740) with Windows Mobile 6.1 Standard.

  4. Having used a WinMo 6.1 phone in person, I hate to say it in this way but Window Mobile team is probably the most incompetent team Microsoft has. They lack vision and everything they do is just third-grade implementation of basic features. Yes, it may be a great “developer platform” etc etc. but all that is useless if the core phone experience is less than pathetic. These incremental “updates” won’t do much. It needs a good kick in the butt. Look at what Zune team built on top of WinCE and look at what these guys did over last how many years?

  5. Will: mee too :)

    There is a loooong list of use cases where you can do everything in a few keypresses with one hand on a phone in your pocket, while on touchscreen you have to pull phone out, use both hands or even pull out the stylus, and navigate through tiny buttons in the interface.

    My favourite is changing folder in messaging app:
    Smartphone: right menu, 6, up/down to folder, OK
    Touchscreen: put down anything you have in your other hand, stop walking, pull out stylus, hit that small button that pops out folders menu, try to hit the correct line, put stylus back, take your bag from the ground, walk on…

  6. Keff: Not to mention, typing things without looking at the screen. Try doing that on any touchscreen phone! Haha.

    But to be totally honest, there would need to be some major changes to Windows Mobile Pro before I would consider it as my primary device. I think though WM 6.5 adds a few nice things to the UI for touch friendliness there’s still more to do. WM 7 looks nice though. Perhaps it’s slightly comparable to the UI shifts on the desktop front from 2000 to XP, to Vista and now to Win 7.

    However, I think it should be acknowledged that Windows Mobile “Pocket PC” Edition, was primarily designed to be stylus based navigation. As that’s what everyone did back then. And now due to the iPhone etc, everyone wants to “let their fingers do the walking” (as they say in that bloody ad!).

    My first WM device was the i-mate SP5 that I got as part of the MDC (Mobile Dev Conference) years ago.

  7. “… not only does the people at Windows Mobile genuinely acknowledge and understand some of the shortcomings…”

    That would be “not only do the people at Windows Mobile”, not “does”.

    “In the meantime however updates to Windows Mobile will continue to trick out as new devices are launched into market…”

    I think you mean ‘trickle’ out, not ‘trick’ out…

    “there will however be more strict and higher hardware testing standards going forward for phones…”

    Stricter, not “more strict”… and please, what’s with the ‘going forward” marketing-speak nonsense? As opposed to “going backward”, as in ” we’re going to change the past”..?

    Honestly, mate, love the info but sheesh, try to learn how to write a bit more gooder… 😛

  8. That was depressing reading.
    Maintaining backward compatibility? Why? Do they really think people will only buy their phone because it runs their 2002 Windows Forms based mobile app, written in C?

  9. @Pedant: Thanks for the corrections. I’ve cleaned it up a bit more.

    To be honest I’m feeling very “disconnected” today so I apologize for the rough read.

  10. With touch Apple got the most important aspects of operating a small device right – the lack of a mouse-like device while at the same time eliminating the stylus and increasing the screen size by eliminating the keyboard/buttons. On the PC with the mouse or on a small screen device with a touchscreen, the convenience, speed and ease of use of operation is the best. Apple delivered the first baseline experience with the first incarnation and then quickly built the marketplace by supplying a rich and full-featured SDK. With Windows Mobile, the biggest advantage which the Windows PC has – the ability to run the software OS on any hardware and upgrade to a newer software OS just doesn’t present. Second, with the lack of touch and the attempt to duplicate the PC interface on the screen, the speed of operation is slowed down. True that the OS supports the most wide range of phone hardware however the UI experience needs to be consistent enough for people to “remember” stuff which just isn’t happening right now because of different form factors. MS also needs to do a lot of catching up in terms of features too – especially graphics capabilities. They need to deliver a big bang release like Windows 95 on the PC which will define the baseline experience for years to come and then keep improving the platform. The “race” needs to shift from getting rid of hardware differences to improving the software forever. Just like users today can put their own app on their phone, users need to be able to officially and easily upgrade to the new OS. Apple doesn’t have that issue because there’s just one device.

  11. WM currently has a very good update architecture which allows updates of any of the separate packages individually. This just needs to be implemented by someone server side, and then virtually all WM devices are remote update capable.

  12. “To be honest I’m feeling very “disconnected” today so I apologize for the rough read.”

    What’s wrong Long? :)

    “Yes, it may be a great “developer platform” etc etc. but all that is useless if the core phone experience is less than pathetic. These incremental “updates” won’t do much.”

    …is it really a great developer platform? certainly doesn’t show with the iPhone around anymore.. you second point should get through to them… they need to sort things out.

    “Having used a WinMo 6.1 phone in person, I hate to say it in this way but Window Mobile team is probably the most incompetent team Microsoft has.”

    I wouldn’t be so sure.. looking at teh vis7a developments I’d say there are quite a few incompetent departments at MS land.. naming just one would…ah fuck it.. the noob shell team!!! Absolute morrons, responsible for such shitty efforts like rubbish vis7a Explorer changes and a total lack of real improvements, just crap functionality, poor customization or the shit search and all the rest of the brain dead work done on Windows 7, not forgetting the startmenu, taskbar aswel etc. http://www.osnews.com/thread?367938 (not even close to the real amount of issues of shitness listed in the comments… far far far more could be said)

    “My favourite is changing folder in messaging app:
    Smartphone: right menu, 6, up/down to folder, OK
    Touchscreen: put down anything you have in your other hand, stop walking, pull out stylus, hit that small button that pops out folders menu, try to hit the correct line, put stylus back, take your bag from the ground, walk on…”

    its good to see sensible people who aren’t totally bought in by gimmicks that don’t actually provide an entirely better workflow experiences in the design….. *cough* like 7’s junk oversized icon superBar and all the rest of lameness.

    “I have tried windows 6.5 and I have to say, it is if possible even worse than 6.1. The whole platform is rotten from the ground up, and tweaking simply won’t do it. Options are scattered everywhere on the phone. The interface is completely outdated and a usability disaster. The new home screen feels like it was glued on, and its functionality feels childish….”

    …for a second I thought you went into talking about something else…

  13. A free business recommendation to Microsoft: Beyond the kernel center the Windows Mobile on .net (think WPF) and its performance. A good and quick bootstrap of .net give more power to the platform (yes developers developers developers) than Apple, Android and Nokia. And don’t forget a Webkit based Browser!

  14. it would be nice if they sever oem/service provider ties but features like wifi calling(still hard to come by) are usually set by the service provider that is only if the phone has correct protocals to handle the native winmo voip app

  15. Unfortunately, I think this is way too little and much too late. My Windows 6.1 HTC Touch Pro has a menu item to check for OS updates but it can never connect to a server because Microsoft never even allocated a server to answer requests. That means I will never get fixes for any of the many critical issues I experience. Microsoft is hoping I will spend $600 for a new phone when the Pro2 comes out because there will be no updates for my current phone, not even bug fixes. For a third that, I can have an iPhone and for even less, an Android. As it is, my phone locks up several times a week, mysteriously loses the ability to send and receive data between 7 and 8 PM every day, and randomly stops popping up messages.

    How many uodates has Apple and Google had? How many has Microsoft? The answer for Microsoft is ZERO. They created an architecture but for whatever reason decided that customers would be better off living with bugs and just buying a new handset every year or so. Not me! This is my second and last WM device.

  16. @wreiad I am not talking about unsupported user group hacks, I am talking about the support Microsoft has promised many times. As of now, they have not even spent $200 on a PC that can return “no updates available”. Windows Mobile will never be successful if you have to get updates from other users.

    Also, I have looked for fixes for my problems and for most, the only responses I see are of the form “yes it does that, we have learned to live with it”.

  17. I’m with Jim, although I love my Palm Treo Pro but it will be my last WinMo and last Palm for the same reasons stated, and while XDA are very useful, some of us have better things to do with our time than buggerizing around here and there trying to get things working that should be from the outset.

  18. i have been looking @ the x1a since ss jack isnt worth the price it should be worth 250(like what a moto q9h new unlocked) & x1a is probably going to get 6.5 since x2 aint coming out in NA

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