We spent quite a bit of time during our Video First Look at the T-Mobile Shadow talking about the new “Home Screen” interface - it's called “Neo.” There are two interesting things about Neo. The first is that it was developed by Microsoft themselves for T-Mobile and HTC:

Normally when Windows Mobile creates a release, we release it out to OEMs who then do their own customizations.  With this release, however, Microsoft worked with the OEM to create an experience that catered to what T-Mobile wanted. The OEM, HTC, had their talented industrial design team working on the hardware form-factor and wheel. Microsoft wrote the homescreen and worked out an interface for the myFaves information to bubble up for the user to see.

What's even more interesting, to me anyway, is that it seems to be a sign of things to come for Windows Mobile - not just the “Carousely” interface (and the WM6.1 rumor), but also a new strategy from Microsoft to work more closely with manufacturers and carriers. One of the knocks against Windows Mobile devices is that it's too difficult to differentiate them - hence the “Yet Another Qwerty Keyboard Windows Mobile Smartphone” tag we sometimes use here. I like the idea of being able to differentiate devices based not just on hardware but also on how well these custom interfaces are made and implemented.

My fond hope is that we'll see more experimentation -- but experimentation that follows an overall strategy and has some usability consistency. Different devices may have different “carousels,” but if the concept of using one direction navigating through “broad tasks” and then the other direction for “drilling down” sticks across all of them, we could see a lot of cool innovation without a lot of un-cool user confusion.