So I found a wonderfully interesting article a few days ago on Information Week that had me thinking about the future of Windows Mobile 6.5. As we know, Windows Mobile 6.5 was announced at CES, and there have since then been other announcements including the wonderfully catchy, rolls off the tip of your tongue Windows Marketplace for Mobile app store. As far as we know, the latest incarnation of Windows Mobile is scheduled to be available on handsets around Q3 of this year, with Windows Mobile 7 anticipated less than a year later. So should Microsoft just get the OS out now?
So this brings up a couple of interesting issues in my mind. Windows Mobile 6.5 has “always” been a bridge between 6.1 and 7, but my sense is that the relative importance of 6.5 is changing in many ways, both for the better and the worse. This creates unique opportunities and challenges for Microsoft.
Let’s get the no brainer one out of the way. Why ship devices with 6.5 when its shelf life will be so (relatively) short? Why, from an enterprise perspective, deploy 6.5 solutions which are going to inevitably (no upgrade is perfect) have transition/migration issues from 6.1 when you are definitely going to want to upgrade to Windows Mobile 7 (if you believe all the hype of a MUCH improved UI and performance set). Very simply, because the user experience on Windows Mobile 6.5 is THAT much better than 6.1. I like the Windows Mobile platform, but the user experience on 6.1 leaves much to be desired as compared to the likes of the iPhone, Android, webOS, etc.
OK, but let’s also touch upon one of the main points of the Information Week article. What if Microsoft released 6.5 basically incomplete, requiring updates to get it all put together? At first, my thought was that this would be a TERRIBLE idea. No, level heads have prevailed. I think it would be a great idea. Here’s why: 1) Microsoft can’t get Windows Mobile 6.5 out fast enough. It’s losing mind share and market share, which will only get exacerbated once the Pre comes out. 2) This is actually as important as the whole momentum issue, but from a completely different perspective. If you have played with Windows Mobile 6.1, you probably will have seen there’s a software update tool, much like what you will find on your XP or Vista. Has it ever done anything? Not really. Here’s where it gets interesting.
Basically, while the functionality is there for Microsoft to push out an update if it wants to, it can’t because of the kookie deals it has with the handset manufacturers and the carriers. So, in all the years I have had Windows Mobile devices, going back to v5, I have never gotten any updates from our friends in Redmond. However, how many times has Apple updated its OS? I lost count after about 3 kajillion. Palm has also announced it will be pushing out updates to the Pre and we have seen Android do that on T-Mobile. Even the BlackBerry gets the occasional update. Yet, I have never heard of Microsoft being able to push out something. Microsoft can change that dilemna, or at least get the ball rolling for complete control with v7, by getting some control back with 6.5.
So let’s walk through this one a bit. Microsoft would need to have the today screen all set, make sure Internet Explorer works well on it and the honeycomb interface working well enough. They could then push out optimizations to the three pieces, as well as push out other features – heck, this is a lot like mobile device management when you think about it! What this does also is then get people – both consumers and professionals more used to Microsoft’s ability and willingness to stay “on top” of the mobile space. There are a lot of cool devices out there running Windows Mobile, but who is actually “excited” about them? Updates – heck, call them Service Packs – would provide Microsoft the ability to have a rolling product schedule. Provide new tools, new features and continuously optimize the user experience – both from a consumer and enterprise perspective.
This is just one part of how Microsoft could actually take back control of its destiny in the world of mobility.