AN OPEN LETTER:

TO the individuals working in the Microsoft Windows Mobile division, to the hardware vendors for the platform, to the many Windows Mobile communities, to the avid enthusiasts of the technology, to the new-comers, to the onlookers and especially to those frustrated users of old and new alike.

I address this discussion to you all, as diverse and wide ranging audience for we all share a common trend in our lives, which, regardless of the corner we examine, be it: our work environments; our social interactions; or simply our personal lives, we find ourselves using (or looking to use) what perhaps best represents the apex in the convergent technologies trend - the Windows Mobile device.

We are speaking of a device whose form today can take on the properties of a phone, a portable music player, a mobile media centre, a camera, a camcorder, a webcam, a high speed modem, a GPS navigation unit, a portable gaming device, a radio, a mobile CRM, web-browser, email client, information management center and as a mobile office.  I donít doubt more could probably be added to that list, but those are just some of the features these devices are largely capable of and all of this functionality rests right there populating our pockets, belts or briefcases.

Despite this unprecedented functionality in convergence and the leaps ahead these devices have made in quite recent times, the changes have been largely hardware driven and when they have been software driven it has largely been by third parties or by hardware manufactures doing the platform vendors job.   It seems these changes have not gone unnoticed, consciousness in the community, due to years of the same pattern - in contrast with the events of this year - have finally began to demand answers to the whyís and whereís of the Windows Mobile platform.  It is time for a discussion on the issues with this platform and where itís heading [CSM forum discussion].  With that in mind letís ask ourselves some whys:


Why is it 2007 and only now with the consumer rollout of Windows Mobile 6 this year (the later part for most of it) are we only now - after all these years - finally seeing support for VGA resolutions in Windows Mobile? 

Itís not like the technology to support it hasnít existed, 3rd party workarounds are a plenty, but they are often tedious and have results which require the user to make compromises often combined with GUI deficiencies.

Why is it that this is now supported in WM6, yet my HTC advantage with WM6 still requires me to load this 3rd party software?  Is Microsoft not giving you the code to activate the resolution options HTC? Or Microsoft do you not feel it prudent to work with HTC to encourage them to adopt such a simple capacity as letting us use VGA on our VGA devices?


Why has it taken so many years to do something with the X button, despite an array of 3rd party applications demonstrating the productivity and ease of use gains from enabling options with this part of the software?

                Why have manufactuers like HTC had to release their own X button software?

 
Why,
have roll-out and constant updates been such a prevalent facet of Windows for PCs, yet you feel no need to roll-out updates for your WM line, contrary to the capacity of the platform to support it?


Why after all these years of Windows Mobile, are syncing issues still so prevalent? 


Why, despite the obvious adoption of WiFi technology and its virtual inclusion in all WM devices can we still not Sync over WiFi? 

Did HTC not inform Microsoft that they had put WiFi onto virtually all of their Windows Mobile devices these days? I ask because from the hoops you often have to jump through to get wireless networking connection in WM one might wonder.


Why, has it taken HTC and O2 to give limited users a Media Centre application despite the popularity of Media Centre software on PCs and in the home, and despite the capacity of these devices being capable of viewing, pictures, video, music, radio and more recently TV?

Why have hardware vendors had to produce this software?
Call it a crazy division of labour thing, but shouldnít hardware vendors in this case be sticking to well, hardware?
Why has Microsoft not worked with them then to release better versions of the software or encourage them to release such software to the wider community?  Media integration of this kind has been such a Grand strategy across the rest of the Microsoft divisions, did the WM division not get invited to the meetings for this strategy?

Just because these devices are largely aimed at professionals doesnít mean this functionality cannot be built on.  Yes I largely use this device, like most, for its superior information management and touch screen functionalities.  But that doesnít mean I donít want to enjoy or use its other capabilities.


Why after so many years of this platform being around, after so many operators adopting its hardware and after the recent popular release of devices like the Touch or last year the HTC TyTN series, why after all this do so few people still know about the capabilities of Windows Mobile devices? 

Is this a problem limited to Australia?  Apparently, it might be.  Youíre advertising on behalf of the hardware vendors in India, which makes sense having the second largest market, but while your off advertising in India, the IPhone is advertising (if it even has to) across the rest of the Western World!
 It never ceases to amaze me how few people know about these devices, even people in IT, if they do know about them they are largely unaware of there capacities, and secondarily associate them with all the bugs and problems of Windows.

This lack of awareness is largely a marketing and promotions issue, but heres the kicker itís a two party problem.  If the hardware vendors and Microsoft havenít noticed youíre futures are tied together.  Itís in both of your interests to promote these devices.  Microsoft you especially, because there are multiple hardware vendors but only one software vendor in this game, and the devices are by name Windows Mobile devices, which people will aptly associate withÖÖMicrosoft.

People have a million and one choices of mobile devices in the market, and more contemporarily a wider choice of touch based technology devices.  People arenít going to magically seek out the Windows Mobile products, especially with their price tag, if they arenít aware of it, and further arenít educated on its features.


Why Why, did you allow the iPhone to gain such a hype and pre-eminent status?  Hardware vendors and Microsoft, your devices have been largely capable of everything the iPhone can do, sans multi-touch, and much much more as we have discussed.  They have had this capacity for years, why did you allow the IPhone to capture the mass market like this?

The answer most likely lies in the marketing as we have already discussed, but surely by now youíre picking up on my pattern here.  That being, both the hardware and software vendors need to work with each other to promote these devices, enhance its functionality and use of the convergent technology.

Itís a two way street too hardware vendors you need to encourage Microsoft, you both should be listening to users; hardware vendors chances are your hearing the gripes with WM more than Microsoft, are you communicating it back to them and encouraging these changes?


Why after so many years of Windows Mobile do I still have to install or buy 3rd party software to get half-descent time-management functionality out of these devices?  Why are the tasks and calendar options barely more customisable or expanded then they were in Windows 2002 or earlier?


Why after so many years of Windows Mobile do I still virtually have the same basic interface?  Why despite all this hardware power and the fact that we are using touch-screens do I have an interface that has remained virtually unchanged for all these years? 

I know these are aimed at enterprise users (hi) but do we not deserve a nicer interface?  The interface isnít even all about aesthetics; itís also about productivity, look at how much more the devices can be enhanced through 3rd party software like Wisbar desktop etc. 

Are there plans to change this?  Or will I have to buy a ďZune phoneĒ to get some nicer interfaces? 

Why did it magically take for the iPhone to come out before we finally got some hardware (and software from the hardware vendor no less) that actually takes advantage of the fact that we are using touch-screen devices Ė referring to the HTC Touch of course.


Why isnít there more collaboration between Microsoft and even 3rd party software vendors?

One of the greatest benefits this platform has over the iPhone and over symbion is the range of software.  Why isnít this more widely, promoted and encouraged?  This isnít perhaps so much a serious question that needs answering, since there are many community based sites that review and promote WM software but itís a key and crucial benefit of the Windows Mobile platform and one that needs to be more readily promoted, advertised and enhanced.

 
I, like most fellow Windows Mobile users, have either enjoyed using my Windows Mobile device or had to use it because there was no alternative Ė most likely a mix.  And the Whyís I have asked today are not likely to dissuade me or anyone else from buying a Windows Mobile device and I have no illusions that there are many more whys people would like answered. 

The point has been to briefly illustrate the mediocrity and failings both Microsoft and its hardware vendors have settled for with this platform combined with a reiteration of the many benefits and possibilities of the platform as one of the pinnacles of convergent technology.

Furthermore as should be apparent now, encourage a closer and more importantly, public, strategic collaboration between the hardware vendors and Microsoft.  Both of your futures are tied to this platform, itís a robust hardware device with many software features and a tonne of uses, but these must be enhanced, visually and functionally.

Secondly the platform must be promoted.  You have a technologically advanced and highly convergent device rivalled by no other platform.  The devices despite being geared for enterprise have many features consumer users could gain from them, particularly since the cost of many of the devices has become comparably affordable (aka HTC Touch).  Its time consumers were made aware from joint marketing between the hardware and software vendor.

The IPhone has done a good job (as was expected from the hype and the eye candy interface) of capturing the consumer market.  Now despite a consensus that the IPhone isnít ready for business use, donít be naÔve enough to think this will always be the case.  I donít want to give Apple any ideas, but it strikes me if they were to buy up Pocket Breeze or Agenda Fusion etc and adapt it to the IPhone platform, maybe add some functional word, excel and pdf viewing capabilities, and correct some limited (and quite fixable issues) with the interface, you would surely have a sleek stylish well known business rival to the Windows Mobile platform. 

Apple has the easy job here, itís the only face behind the iPhone, its not HTC producing a device and then powered by Windows, its just apple and its iPhone; it doesnít have to worry about collaborating with a partner, only telecommunication carriers that are dying to supply the device to consumers.

It stands to reason that if Windows Mobile can do this and more, and without the restrictions of the iphone, it should be the HTC Touch et al, that carriers are dying to sell to consumers, yet its not is it?

 More dangerously, as mentioned, the transformation to a business capable device is a lot easier than the task of making a business device (despite its many consumer features) appeal to the mass market, especially after Apple has stolen the thunder to appear like the pre-eminent technological device.

I hope this generates some discussion amidst the Windows Mobile users and perhaps even between the hardware vendors and Microsoft, who should together be hatching out a strategic direction for these devices and who perhaps would see fit to work more closely with the communities who use their devices, so that some of the basic issues mentioned at the start, arenít taking years to respond to.

Regards,
Osiris.

 

As a note I do not work for any Windows Mobile hardware vendor, nor Microsoft.  If I have mentioned HTC above other vendors, its simply because of their market dominance and presence.