Using mobile devices running Windows Mobile operating system may become a little easier with the upcoming release of Windows 6.1 and a few changes to Internet Explorer Mobile (IEM) that Microsoft plans to make. The software maker unveiled new versions of its mobile OS and Web browser this week at the CTIA Wireless 2008 mobile show.
The updated software lessens the complexity that sometimes slows down mobile devices. The new updates also adds support for several new features.
“It’s a good announcement, one we kind of expected, but a good one. They are taking steps in a more positive direction,” Ryan Reith, an analyst at IDC, told TechNewsWorld
Mobile devices featuring Windows Mobile 6.1 will be available during the second quarter of 2008, while the new IEM will start appearing on smartphones by the end of the year.
One of the issues with Windows Mobile has been that the user interface (UI) and navigation of the OS has been very convoluted, Reith explained.
“They tried to make it very much like the desktop. But the only thing they accomplished that was like the desktop was a start icon in the lower left-hand corner. It’s been a tough road for them in terms of usability,” he said.
Although Microsoft has been trying to correct this problem with incremental changes over the past few versions of the OS, the release of the iPhone last June and competition from Research In Motion put increasing pressure on the Redmond, Wash.-based company.
Windows Mobile 6.1, according to Microsoft, will be easier for users to set up initially with the new “Getting Started Center.” Setting up e-mail, a Bluetooth headset or WiFi is simpler and more intuitive, the company said.
Once the device is up and running, checking for new messages and notifications has also been simplified. Upcoming appointments, missed calls and new messages will be displayed on the smartphone’s home screen. Other home screen functionality will allow for music playback and photo sharing.
Users will also be able to easily flag, delete or move groups of messages and track conversations through threaded text messaging.
The latest version will include a zoom-in feature, reminiscent of the iPhone, that allows users to get up close and personal on text or a picture and even view an entire Web page at once, Microsoft said.
“Usability in terms of ease of use has been very difficult, and they have started to listen to customer responses. And it seems like they’re taking steps in the right direction,” Reith stated.
Meanwhile, Microsoft has added support for both Adobe Flash and its own Silverlight to Internet Explorer Mobile.
“It allows for embedded video playback on these handsets, something that is newer to the industry,” Reith noted.
With Windows Mobile 6.1, Microsoft has also added support for its System Center Mobile Device Manager 2008, introduced last October. This gives IT administrators the ability to manage phones just as they would a Windows-based PC and offers users the ability to access company data that may be stored behind a firewall, the company said.
Support for Exchange Server 2007 SP1 with advanced mobile policies should also help businesses manage and administer security for phones even as it enables users to find, share and use information while on the go, according to Microsoft.
“Anything you can do to make policies and securities easier for IT to manage will help with enterprise uptake. [Microsoft] has added several changes, and being able to access data from behind the firewall is something RIM has not yet accomplished,” he explained.
From an enterprise standpoint, while Blackberry is perhaps the most well known brand, companies might want to look at the cost savings they will receive by using Windows Mobile devices, according to Reith.
“The uptake on a Windows Mobile device [versus a Blackberry] from an IT perspective makes more sense because any company that’s running Microsoft Exchange with Outlook for mail, basically if they have 2007 Server or above, they can have their whole sales force or whoever using a Windows Mobile device with seamless connectivity without having to purchase licensing. RIM offers a much different solution.”
They also recently launched a video demonstrating some of the new features. As a Mac user, I’m instinctively skeptical, but looked cool.