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What you need to know about WinMo 6.5 and the path to Windows Mobile 7

It pretty much goes without saying that a lot of us are (or already have) plan on dropping several hundred dollars later this summer and fall on the latest Windows phone, be it from Samsung, HTC, whomever.

But before you shell out your hard-earned cash and wait patiently for the release of Windows Mobile 6.5, a word of warning. Big things are afoot with Windows Mobile 7, and the two may not play nicely together.

More on that, after the break.

We've written numerous times that Windows Mobile 6.5 is more of a reskinning of WM6.0 than anything else, and we still expect that to be true. WM6.0, 6.1 and 6.5 are all built on the same version of WinCE.

Things will change with Windows Mobile 7. We've learned that WM7 will be based on WinCE 7, codenamed Chelan. Because of that, don't expect older devices won't be able to run Windows Mobile 7.

We repeat: A phone you buy now likely won't be able to run Windows Mobile 7. We'll be repeating this over and over in the coming weeks, so don't come crying to us next year.

What else have we learned? There is, in fact, an interim build. (And judging by the leaked builds we've seen since WM6.5 went gold, that's fairly obvious.) Windows Mobile 6.51 should be finished before the holiday rush. We've heard it'll be available for the AT&T version of the Touch Pro 2, but no telling if that's exclusive (and the folks at XDA Developers likely will make any exclusivity a moot point anyway).

So what will run Windows Mobile 7? To answer that, we have to look to the future. First off, phones that have the Qualcomm 8xxx series processors — that'd be Snapdragon — are expected to be upgradable to Windows Mobile 7. Current phones using Qualcomm 7200 or 7600 series processors won't. That's also in line with the rumored specs we'd seen earlier.

One phone we're pretty sure will meet those criteria is the HTC Firestone (also known as the Star). Another that we're hearing about is the Superstar, which is said to be the Firestone (seen here at right) with a keyboard. So, basically, we're probably looking at the next generation of the Touch Diamond and Touch Pro family.

So what to take away from all this? First and foremost, this is all totally unofficial stuff, and anything can happen. But the technical material makes sense. Second, we all need to prepare ourselves for not being able to upgrade most Windows Mobile 6.x phones to WM7.

Does that mean you should wait to buy a new phone? Well, that's totally a personal decision. It's probably a safe bet that while we may see Windows Mobile 7 announced early in 2010, it'd probably be this time next year before we get it on any devices. So Windows Mobile 6.5 should have a good bit of shelf life. We plan on making the most of it.

Phil is the father of two beautiful girls and is the Dad behind Modern Dad. Before that he spent seven years at the helm of Android Central. Before that he spent a decade in a newsroom of a two-time Pulitzer Prize-finalist newspaper. Before that — well, we don't talk much about those days. Subscribe to the Modern Dad newsletter!

31 Comments
  • Well written and presented. No arguements and it all really makes sense. I'll stick w/ my Xperia.
  • Well that's just tragic that the Touch Pro 2 won't be able to go to WM7. On the other hand, WM6.5 should keep us happy for a while. The real downside is if Zune like functionality appears in WM7, but not WM65, then that's going to sting those of us that upgrade(d) this year, and drive more iPhone sales.
  • Hey, they gotta break compatibility eventually to compete with the big boys. Same problem that RIM is facing right now...stick with what works or move to a more modern platform? Palm did it.
  • how the hell would zune integration in wm7 phones drive 6.5 users to the iphone? i'm sorry...but that is one of the most baseless and non sequitur things i've heard in quite some time. people that are generally buying 6.5 devices are winmo fans in general, otherwise they'd be getting the iphones/blackberrys etc. people that are fans of a platform will jump to the next improved iteration of it, not FLEE it. think iphone-->iphone 3g--->iphone 3gs (there are literally some people that have bought each version of this phone)
  • Right now WM is fighting for market share from from the iPhone devices and Blackberries. Microsoft has pulled the 'cut off all the current users' thing in the past, and that went splendid for Zune sales. Remember when the Playsforsure got axed, and all the WMA devices out there lost the ability to get DRM'd music from the resellers? Most people I know that had Sansa players and the like went over to iPod because "it just works". You WILL lose a segment of the WM fans if you leave them out to dry, and WM isn't exactly in the position of exploding market growth anymore. Zune in WM7 may catch some new fans, but you'll alienate a bunch of the current ones if you announce WM65, ship phones and then pull the, oh we're phasing out 6.x crap 6 months later.
  • This is one of the things that is really hurting WM sales. People aren't going to continue to drop money on devices that can't be updated. How many devices will be able to be upgraded to 6.5? Not many.
  • Well yea, WM7 probably won't work on current Qualcomm chipsets out of the box BUT I would HIGHLY doubt (even bet money on this) that programmers out there will port WM7 backwards to current chipsets. I feel confident that the Diamond2, Touch Pro2, Leo any more in this current gen will get WM7 in some form. Yes the similar porting of Android is taking a while but since we're only moving CE platforms, I think it wouldn't be THAT hard. For proof I'll point to the Blue Angel that started out as WM2003 and was the first to run WM6.5...
  • I feel the same way or atleast I have a believe in private developers.
  • I've been extremely patient with my upgrades (still holding onto an original Touch on Sprint.) However, should the Diamond 2 (or in my fantasy world, the Omnia II . . . not gonna happen, I know) show up on Sprint I'm probably going to pull the trigger for it at some point. Throw in the compounding factor that (like a decent amount of WMexperts readers) I'm on SERO and that I don't anticipate WM7 devices to be SERO-compatible and there's really no point in waiting. $30/mo > any phone. I still say MS is going to take a two-phased approach with WM7 too. One OEM-friendly version and one dedicated hardware device that takes becomes the mobile compliment to the Xbox.
  • My current contract is up in January and I'm already weighing options on my next device. I have a feeling I might be skipping the 6.5 generation of WinMo. I agree that there is a need to break from the old architecture and redesign from the bottom up, but the timing of the transition and the fact that most 6.5x devices will not be upgradable to 7 don't help my case of staying on Windows Mobile. I may be tempted by the Pre or Hero when the time comes.
  • Good info! :D
  • My next device will be Sprint's Diamond2/Whitestone. I don't like to buy the first gen of anything. The next phones from HTC, the Star and Superstar, will have alot of firsts - First phones on the new chipsets(Snapdragon and Tegra), first phones running WM7, and the first phones with the capacitve screen. I can wait 2years for a WM7.0 phone if I have a good WM6.5 phone.
  • That is why I will not buy TouchPro2, because hardware is almost the same as in my TouchPro. That means there will be no multitouch, no WM7. I hope WM7 will completely redesign the interface.
  • I'm eligible for an upgrade next week and am now torn between going with a Touch Pro 2, Omnia 2, Whitestone or sticking with my old XV-6800 until 7 is released. Truth be told, I'd keep the 6800 until next year if Verizon would just unlock the Gps funtionality like they did with the others (not likely though).
  • I'm in the same boat as you. I am subscribing to vz navigator to unlock the gps. It's actually really nice and has great navigation features as well as search. I still want the tp2, but the urgency is far less with a usable gps. You can use bing/google/yahoo maps if the vz navigator app is open as well. Once you start using the others though vz navigator usually dies.
  • The only real problem I have with Vzn is that it's another charge that I don't need. I did have the internal gps working thanks to a file on xda-developers but Verizon made a small change and the gps wouldn't lock on. It was nice using I-guidance 4.0, Live Search and Google maps.
  • Why is this considered news? You would consider yourself lucky if your phone manufacturer offered an upgrade from WM 6.1 to 6.5 which have no real difference in hardware requirements why would you expect to get an upgrade to WM7 which appears to have stricter and higher hardware requirements?
  • I'm of the mind set on the upgrades -- base your decision on what's available now. Do you *really* want to get that X.0 release device with (if) WM7 hits in mid 2010? I'm perfectly fine using a TP2 until the WM7 devices stabilize a bit in 2011, or even 2012. The Touch Pro 2 is a WM6.1 (probably going to be a WM6.5 device) and being a later generation device it's pretty bulletproof to work with. Let's go back and remember how the devices were when 6.1 *first* came out.
  • I'm willing to bet WM7 will be available (or at least port-able) for many current devices (such as the tp2). The spec you refer to is likely for one type of chassis, not THE chassis. Simply put, not everyone wants/needs a 3.5" screen, and that's an incontrovertible truth.
  • True, not everyone needs/wants a 3.5" screen... Then again, some of us are damn glad that they are finally starting to get the bigger screened devices. I wondered for years how people could be happy on a 2.8" QVGA screen while I had 3.8 and 4" VGA screens on my PDAs. So in my mind, we finally are going the right direction. Less hardware buttons on the front, more space devoted to screen. Plus, well, a hardware keyboard!
  • lots of really good comments already... a few thoughts: 1) what % of winP buyers do you think actually upgrade the os on their phone? i would guess less that 20%, but maybe someone has that ionformation and can share it. if it's a small number like i suspect, this is good for winP 2) two os's released and available concurrently creates confusion, and competitors might make hay with that. 3) this situation makes 6.1 seem like xp, 6.5 like vista, and 7.0 seem lik, well... 7.0 - a lot of institutional purchases might skip 6.5 -- or ask for a better deal on the device. 4) the faster 7.0 arrives, the faster ms can move forward with a competitive platform. 5) and gather has written up, ms has sold 5% less phone Q over Q, while the overall smartphone market has grown 25%+. ms has every incentive to make this work. otherwise various predictions from analysts are ms may exit the smartphone market. i don't see that happening. bottom line: kiss - buy the phone you like when you like to get it. pricing on devices will continue to drop. it's not as if your next phone will be your last phone... :-)
  • Your bottom line makes the most sense of all the posts in here. Here's why: People can get caught up on pricing or the knowledge that something better is coming down the road. But waiting for price drops or that new phone (debut unknown) deprives one of the use of a device for months and even years. Back in 1999 I paid $10,000 for an NEC 42" flat panel monitor (was not even a TV). Now I can get a better one for $500. In 1999 should I have said "I will wait. The price of these will go down and it will be a better device." Well that is not for me because for seven years I was the only one in the neighborhood with a flat panel TV and I was able to get rid of the monster TV in my living room. I don't know about others, but I get a new phone every year and I usually sell my old ones on eBay, usually getting about 80% of my money back. So pricing on phones is not really an issue for me. And like others said, since I know I will be getting a new phone next year, I'll sell my new TP2 (that I just got), sell it next year and get something else. (Albeit right now I LOVE my new TP2, but I have only had it two days, so I would hope to feel this way at least for a few weeks. Based on all this, I don't see Win7 compatibility as an issue. I assume anyone posting in here feels the same since you too get a new phone every year or so. Sidenote: I agree with those posts that say the folks at XDA will come up with something if MS does not. Sidenote 2: I also agree that it will be some time before WinMo 7 is up and running on a device. With that in mind, I don't agree that MS will abandon TP2 owners, for example. Next year people will still be buying the TP2, for less money, for sure. But will those people be told "By the way, this won't run WinMo7. That seems the quickest way to kill sales. And with the power of the Net, can MS and handset manufacturers risk a decline in sales because "WinMo will not work with handsets being sold." Bonus Sidenote: I just got a call on my T-Mo TP2, used the HTC interface to answer it. Although two clicks anywhere gets one into the WinMo system, I like the HTC phone and shell (TouchFlo3D). When I went to bed at 12:30 am last night I played a 90 minute movie, with the large display, headphones and the display in tilt mode. I paid $329 for the phone, on a one year contract. Even after reading your very informative posts, I will not fall prey to the WinMo 7 issue. This is because I plan on using my TP2 for the next 11 months (I get a full upgrade discount at that time), sell the phone for at least $200 at that time, and then buy something else. In the end, the TP2 will have cost me about $150 to use for a year. Not bad when I recall phones costing $400 and the only feature I got back then for that price was that the phone was "the smallest in the world," e.g., the Motorola Vader series.
  • I will put a lot of money on WM7 not being on any devices at this time next year; that's way too soon. I think the best answer for those who, like me, have a Tilt or the like and just can't take it anymore (my keyboard is really starting to irritate me), is to sign a 1 year cell contract instead of a two. Sure, it's more expensive than signing a 2 year and then waiting it out, but it's cheaper than signing a 2 year contract and then having to buy a device at full price before you're eligible for an upgrade. I don't know if AT&T offers 1 year contracts, but I'm pretty sure Verizon and Sprint do.
  • That is what I did. I made the mistake of upgrading on our one line with a T-Mobile two year agreement on a G1. I was in the car and not thinking. But this time around, on the other line, I got the TP2 on a one year contract, that allows me to upgrade at a full discount in 11 months, July 12, 2010. As you say, the price difference between the one and two year deal was not enough to opt for a two year upgrade, simply to save around $50. (As an accomodation, T-Mobile gave me the "rumored pricing" that was floating around the Net before the TP2's launch date, $329 on a one year contract, $279 on a two year contract. I opted for the one-year contract price.) T-Mo's published price is now $350 on a two year, $400 for a one-year contract extension.
  • Do we know if programs we purchase *now* for Windows Mobile 6.1 and 6.5 will work on 7.0? One of the biggest attractions (for me) is that my purchased software will continue to run when I upgrade to future devices.
  • Hmmm. I think the best option might be to get a new Touch Pro 2 now, but with only a 1 year contract. Then eBay the pro2 when a decent WM7 phone comes out late next year (assuming that's the timing they're shooting for). It'll cost an extra $150 or so, but might be worth it to get WM7 without breaking contract.
  • Yes Phil, it would be a good thing to know. Especially, since Microsoft might be following its old bad habit of making it latest mobile OS incompatible with older phones, unlike its chief competitors Apple, Google, and presumably Palm. But what is incredible, incredible to me at least is neither your article or any of the comments that followed mentioned the ARM architecture, the single most important reason that makes the extraordinary feats of XDA-Developers possible. The standardization of the underlying hardware API means that any OS can be ported to any smart phone as long as the OS supports the ARM version of the phone's chipset. In may not be a comfortable fit, but as XDA proves time and time again, it's a heck of a starting point. The point central to your article is that the current Qualcomm MSM7200 chipset is ARM version 6, while Snapdragon will start out ARM version 7. (Presumably Samsung chipsets will follow a similar pattern.) So the question really is, is ARM 7 totally incompatible with ARM 6 or will the normal path of maintaining as much compatibility as possible be followed? My guess is the latter, after all, we're not talking a massive paradigm shift with SnapDragon, just improved existing features like better multimedia playback while using less power. Of course, Microsoft can choose to make WM 7 incompatible with older phones simple by having the OS check the ARM version. But in light of what XDA and Microsoft's competitors are doing, is it really a good idea?
  • Is it MS making their OS incompatible with older phones or the phone manufacturers just not being willing to provide upgrades? With WM 6.5 MS stated any device with a 400Mhz processor, 512MB ROM and 256MB RAM would run 6.5 but which devices is HTC choosing to release an upgrade for? If technically MS says the Touch HD can run it why doesnt HTC release an upgrade for it? Likewise other phone makers who have announced upgrades only announced them for their latest devices even if their previous gen could run the updated OS. How is this MS making their OS incompatible with older hardware?
  • I think this is being over-hyped. My S620 came with WM5. I got bored with it, then the screen broke. I upgraded to a Kaiser with WM6.1, and decided to try my hand at replacing the screen for the Excalibur. I'm now running 6.5 on both, and switch from phone to phone for a change. XDA has pretty much saved the WinMo platform IMO, and I have complete faith 7 will be successfully ported for older devices. I'll wait until unlocked TP2's come down to legacy pricing, and grab that. If it doesn't support 7 because of hardware issues, there will still be improvements for the 6.5 platform for a long time.
  • Hey guys. What about Samsung Omnia 2? it has 800Mhz i belive and it doesn't have that cpu from Qualcomm. I think it's gonna run WM7 just fine. I hope it does.
  • It is my understanding that WM 6.* will not be phased out with WM7 but rather will continue to be updated for use on future less expensive phones.