Windows Mobile, like Windows itself, has had a checkered history. Early versions were maligned as being feature-poor and difficult to use. However, in a tale familiar to anyone who has followed Microsoft, the company stuck at it, and the portable operating system started to come into its own. The most recent release, Windows Mobile 6.0, added Vista-like themes to go along with a significant upgrade to the OS internals. Having conquered Palm in the dying PDA market, Windows Mobile was now ready to go toe-to-toe with other phone operating systems and platforms such as BlackBerry, Symbian and various Linux derivatives.
All seemed well in Windows Mobile land, but then Apple released the iPhone running a stripped-down version of OS X and a new multitouch user interface. Despite Steve Ballmer's prediction that the phone had "no chance" of gaining significant market share, a recent survey by Net Applications showed the iPhone actually overtaking Windows Mobile in web browsing share: 0.09 percent for the iPhone versus 0.06 percent for all Windows CE and Mobile devices put together. All of a sudden Windows Mobile phones seemed like they were stuck in the past, and minor UI annoyances stuck out like a sore thumb.
Windows Mobile 6.1. Image courtesy Boy Genius.
Never one to back down from a challenge, Microsoft is busily preparing both a minor UI refresh (Windows Mobile 6.1) and a major new release of the operating system (Windows Mobile 7.0). A gallery of screen shots from the 6.1 refresh compiled by Boy Genius shows an emphasis on simplification: the screens are more task-oriented and have less clutter than their immediate predecessor. A new and clearer font adorns the UI, and new features such as zooming, copy and paste in Internet Explorer, and auto-configuring ActiveSync for e-mails are sure to be welcome additions to the platform. In addition, Microsoft is making it easier (and more Windows-like) to switch tasks by adding a standardized task manager to the platform.
As far as Windows Mobile 7.0 goes, there are no leaked screen shots as of yet, but big changes are afoot. Microsoft plans to completely redo applications such as Internet Explorer, bringing the mobile browser up to par with Apple's Mobile Safari. The e-mail and SMS applications are also scheduled for complete rewrites. Microsoft plans to make the user interface even more consumer-friendly.
Beyond 7.0, Microsoft is even hinting at a completely redesigned Windows Mobile 8.0, which will again redo the internals of the operating system to keep up with newer and more powerful mobile hardware. Details for this release are scarce, although Microsoft promises features such as being able to go from a person's address in their contact info directly to a map view with directions to where they live. It all sounds like the iPhone really lit a fire under the posteriors of the Windows Mobile team, and that can only be good news for smartphone users.
Further readingGizmodo has an in-depth interview with a couple of members of the Windows Mobile dev team, discussing what they believe is wrong with Windows Mobile 6 and how they plan to fix it Microsoft may have iPhone on the brain as it works on future versions of Windows Mobile, but CEO Steve Ballmer isn't too concerned about Google's Android platform.Windows Mobile 6 was released last February. Reread our impressions of it as you look ahead to Windows Mobile 6.1 and 7.0