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Windows Mobile 6.5 takes a beating and keeps on tickin'

The dust has quickly settled from Microsoft's launch of Windows Mobile 6.5 and the introduction of the Windows phone.  The launch drew mixed reactions ranging from the positive to the down right hostile.  Having seen cooked versions of Windows Mobile 6.5 as well as the numerous screen shots and reports the actually release of WM 6.5 wasn't earth shattering.

Did Microsoft accomplish what they set out to do with Windows Mobile 6.5?  One article described the Windows Mobile 6.5 launch week as "Microsoft Mobile's worst week ever".  Ease on past the break to see why I think most of these naysayers may be missing the boat.

First, I don't work for Microsoft, own stock in the company or have access to the company jet.  I'm an end user just like the rest of you guys and gals.  My first Windows Mobile was an old Windows CE unit and the only connectivity was through a dial-up modem.  In many aspects, as we've shared with you, Windows Mobile is an evolutionary process.

I didn't expect major renovations with WM 6.5 and was a little surprised at how large a target Microsoft became.  Reviews of the Windows Mobile version are fill with quotes such as:

"I am a fan of Windows Mobile, but find very little added value in this Windows Mobile 6.5 release and would never recommend anyone actually purchase a new device just to get this update on their smartphone." - ZDNet

or my favorite:

"Take a Buick Lasabre. No, no, not a cool one from the late 1950s. Take one from the early 90s, like the ones they use on cop shows. Now, strap a spoiler on it. The Lasabre is Windows Mobile. The Spoiler is all of the stuff 6.5 brings." - TechCrunch

But are the critics of Windows Mobile 6.5 missing the boat? Are they ignoring the big picture that Windows Mobile 6.5 is a part of?

I have no issue with those that felt WM 6.5 was lacking but it was never intended to be a silver bullet or the end all of updates.  It's a stepping stone for Microsoft on a path leading to Windows Mobile 7.

From what we have seen of Windows Mobile 6.5 Standard, it appears the two 6.5 versions might be pulling Standard and Professional a little closer with similar Today Screens, Widgets and bringing Standard's power management skills to the Professional phones.  Could it be that one day the only difference in a Professional and Standard Windows phone will be the screen type (touch or non-touch)?

I think the more important aspect of the Windows Mobile launch may very well be the phones that are coming into play. Not so much that they are running WM 6.5 but because they are more responsive, capable, efficient phones.  Considering just the HTC devices, the Pure is an improvement over the Touch Diamond as the Touch Pro 2 is an improvement over the Touch Pro.

We're seeing larger displays, more responsive engines and screens, and power management is improving. The improvements these phones offer compliments Windows Mobile 6.5; which is what helps define them as a Windows phone.

Slashgear commented that, "Faster, more stable and more capable it may be, but Windows Mobile 6.5 still leaves us hungry for Windows Mobile 7". Shouldn't the last chapter of a book be more impactful than the first?  Windows Mobile 6.5 is a start in the right direction but there is still work left to be done and I don't think anyone at Microsoft thinks otherwise. 

I leave you with this, what would you have liked to see included in Windows Mobile 6.5? If you're one who sees Windows Mobile 6.5 as a disappointment, what feature would have turned the tide for you?

For me, I'd like to see ActiveSync handle more than one Exchange Server relationship.  And if you're going to allow for customization on the Start Screen, why not go beyond simply moving selected icons to the top of the screen. 

How about you?

George is the Reviews Editor at Windows Central, concentrating on Windows 10 PC and Mobile apps. He's been a supporter of the platform since the days of Windows CE and uses his current Windows 10 Mobile phone daily to keep up with life and enjoy a game during down time.

24 Comments
  • I would have liked MS to have done a better job with the browser. Yes, it's an improvement but isn't close to Opera Mobile. Of course, we can get Opera Mobile anyway, so no big deal, I just think MS could have tried to one-up. Also, the start menu system could have been MUCH better, as you mentioned. Should have a favourites, often used and full list section (like Mobile Shell). Oh, DEFINITELY should be a better Facebook app. The MS version is just embarrassing. Overall, like yourself, I do like the changes but am looking forward to WM7.
  • I think if you look at what HTC does with TF3D and what SPB does with Mobile Shell 3.5 you will see why WM 6.5 is such a disappointment, especially after it seemed to take them forever to roll it out after it was announced. If those two companies can so vastly change and improve the Windows Mobile interface and experience, why can't Microsoft do the same (and do it better, it is their OS, right?)? I have a Touch Pro2 on Sprint and when 6.5 becomes available, I am not sure what compelling reason I might have to upgrade (save for perhaps the TellMe application). Will I need to wait for 6.5.1 to see something meaningful?
  • I'm with you on the Exchange thing. If that was available, I'd give the Google exchange sync a go (assuming that this facility also meant that I wouldn't lose all my existing on-device data by allowing sync). I heard that the Pre does it (I've never used one myself so don't know), which if true is a bit of a knock to MS for their own protocol.
  • Windows Mobile 6.5 Standard is a huge disappointment. I wished Microsoft had spent less time wanting to be an iPhone and actually made improvements to their non-touchscreen OS. 1. Clipboard - How come we still don't have a clipboard that works all across the board? Dammit, even the iPhone got a real clipboard way before WM Standard. 2. To go along with the clipboard, how about a consistent way to select text? Is implementing Shift+Down Arrow (or trackball down) really that hard??? 3. How about an Office suite that can actually create new documents, modify fonts and font sizes, and do all other things the touchscreen version can do and that were crippled on the non-touchscreen version. Not having a touchscreen (or mouse cursor) is not an excuse. If Documents To Go can release a usable office suite for non-touchscreen devices, there's no excuse for Microsoft for the joke they have released. 4. How about a Notes application and a Tasks application that is actually useful for something? 5. For both Standard and Professional devices: How about Microsoft making mobile versions of Narrator and Magnifier so users with visual disabilities aren't forced to pay for overpriced 3rd-party software that makes Windows phones much slower than they already are. Playing the "hide and seek" game with the iPhone's voiceover should not be the only alternative. So yes, Windows Mobile 6.5 has been a HUGE disappointment and I agree with the spoiler comparison.
  • Honestly, I would liked to have seen them go forward with releasing 6.5.1 instead of being content with 6.5. I think the new notification bar, and location of the start button are "toys" enough to make some people notice and forget that this is WinMo. Also, seriously MS, how much effort would it take to re-skin the settings in the phone? I don't need sliding on/off buttons, or fancy switches, but a little bit of color and 3D effort goes a long way in covering up the "old." Overall, I'm impressed with it. Better battery life and stability from what I have found, and of course it just simply looks better. To all the critics who thought it was horrible, I wonder how many of you even gave it a chance?
  • George, I love you brother but you're really reaching here with trying to find things that "aren't that bad". Microsoft is in serious trouble with their mobile strategy. by the time they release WinMo 7, I think Android and iphone are going to be 5 steps ahead. Microsoft has sat on their duff too long to catch up. I own Microsoft stock and I'm a former WinMo user who just couldn't take it any more. I thought Marketplace would bring me back but the truth is WinMo is an absolute dog after you pick up any competing op systems. It actually needs a 1ghz processor just to be on an equal speed playing field with Android and iPhone.
  • I come at this from a bit of a unique angle as I'm a WM user, but also work in the world of advertising - which has been ground zero for all things Apple long before they became popular in the mainstream again. I think as more and more smartphone platforms (outside the iPhone) generally start to resemble one another it's not as much about the X's and O's anymore. It's about creating PERCEIVED value and points of differentiation. And the best way to do that is through marketing. For well over a decade, Microsoft had largely sat on its laurels and enjoyed its fat (and highly profitable) desktop/office marketshare with minimal ad support for any of its non-business products. As a result, their brand value began to erode and they became a commodity. This was accelerated further when Apple continued to hammer away with their advertising and started to gain traction in the consumer space. Only within the last year or so, Microsoft has finally awoken to the fact that they need to be actively marketing in order to remain relevant. First was the various flavors of the 'I'm a PC' campaign and most recently with Windows Phone. You don't have to speak to specific phones or features too much. You just need to creatively tout your existence so as to not be looked at as a generic commodity. I still think from a business standpoint Microsoft needs to get in the hardware space (in the increasingly nebulous 'feature phone' space) with an Xbox-based device. It would give them a single, unique product to hang their hat on which would be much easier to market aggressively (it would also skew younger which is highly important in creating long-term brand loyalty - see Apple and the coming wave of Millenials who see Google Docs as a viable platform.) Staying in the 'feature phone' space would also minimize the overlap in competition with the smartphone OEM partners . . . who are increasingly flirting with Android anyway. Microsoft needs to be hedge its bets in this highly critical space while the market's still fertile and it has the resources to do it.
  • Great analysis.
  • Yup, great analysis so needless to say, I totally agree with you. My personal take is although Microsoft is two steps behind (maybe more at this point) they can still catch up because this IS Microsoft we are talking about here. But they certainly have their work cut out for them.
  • I challenge anyone who thinks the 6.5 isn't an improvement to use it for a month and then go back to 6.1. The improvements may not be obvious at first, but if you try to go back to 6.1 you will appreciate them.
  • I agree completely. They are not obvious but they are there.
  • a lot of great points raised already. 6.5 is a big disappointment because it did not provide a noticable and meaningful change to three big problems: - windows phone branding
    - easy to use common interface throughout the platform
    - simple access to an abundance of useful and fun applications it's as if each of these issues were touched on, but not enough to be a noticable advancement. the negative commentators are those who have experienced other platforms. in this race there is competiton from other players - not just ms's 6.1 past. windows phone is a powerful and capable platform, but for an increasing number of people, it is missing the boat. when you see windows phone sales growth increasing at a faster rate than sales growth for android and iphone, THEN we can say that windows phone has addressed its weaknesses. the marketplace provides the net sum verdict every day. it seems like the real problem is structural to microsoft's business. they don't seem to have a way to respond to the branding problem; the interface they will fix eventually, and the abundance of apps will come if they make the right moves and in sufficient quantity to partner with developers. it' sad.
  • Name me one thing - one core functionality of smartphones - that an Iphone can do that my WinMo phone cannot do.
    The Iphone zealots all love to say "It just works"..well, so does my WinMo 6.1 phone and I daresay that the customizable sliding panels organizes my apps in a far more logical way than Iphone's swipe till ya find it method.
    Frankly, the majority the complaints I am hearing basically boils down to how WinMo looks....that's it really...looks.
  • Amen! I also don't understand the poster who says the WinMo phones need the snapdragon to compete with the iPhone and Android performance... using all three side to side the new iPhone even isn't any "more" responsive. Android seems on par, and none I think are laggy. So he criticizes the 1ghz processor? Why not do the same with the iPhone's spped bump? Or the fact we aren't using 486 systems to post on here?
  • one capability iphones have that windows phones seemingly lack is popularity. also, people seem to know one when they see one. and perhaps most importantly, non-owners of iphones know a lot about them. conversely, name one feature missing from the iphone or android that is holding back their increasing volume of sales? see, it's not about individual capabilities, per se - one way or another. what's galvanizing the phone buying public is the gstalt of easy to use easy to understand functionality that average people are *ready for.* one-button push access to doing things. when apple releases its version of live mesh, it will seem like a revelation, right? why? because the'll make it simple to use, but lacking ms style flexibility. you know, as a windows phone user since my 2005 audiovox smt5500, i would like winmo to be a better solution (as another writer here suggested). that it takes ms 3 years to come out with an interface that matches the iphone's user experience is just a plain shame. maybe the iphone is the smartphone for the razr nation.
  • The most vocal critics of Windows Mobile are the users themselves, as they see so many features leaving the dock as they wait to board... "In many aspects, as we've shared with you, Windows Mobile is an evolutionary process." Well, actually no, for two reasons: First, as I've said many times before, Microsoft is still into infrequent kitchen sink-or-swim upgrades, when clearly the industry has moved beyond. WM 6.5.1 is a welcome surprise but what does it mean? Will those with devices running 6.5.0 have the option of having the update pushed to their phones? Which brings me to my second point ... fossilized phones. Most WM phones are obsolete on the date of purchase with no official upgrade and update path. XDA-Developers is great but largely irrelevant to the average consumer. "We're seeing larger displays, more responsive engines and screens, and power management is improving. The improvements these phones offer compliments Windows Mobile 6.5; which is what helps define them as a Windows phone." True, but it should be pointed out that this is largely due to the chipset and handset manufacturers, not Microsoft. Further, I would say that the driving force for most of the rapid technological change in the last couple of years has been Apple and the iPhone. The features you mention are simple not associated with WM phones by the average consumer. "I have no issue with those that felt WM 6.5 was lacking but it was never intended to be a silver bullet or the end all of updates. It's a stepping stone for Microsoft on a path leading to Windows Mobile 7." That's the problem. Reviews and consumers can only review and make buying choices on what's available today, and 6.5 or 6.5.1 simply don't stack up well with their competitors, even on phones running the OS when UI's like Sense are considered. Microsoft's tired strategy of infrequent upgrades is failing. What new features will the nimble Apple, Palm, RIM, and Google make available to their users while we wait for Microsoft to drop version 7 (forgetting for the moment the owners of older devices probably won't be able to upgrade to 7)? My current phone is a HTC Touch Diamond2. I've been using Microsoft powered mobile devices since my Zenith 181 and later a HP 95LX. I have a HD2 on pre-order. However, at this point, I'm ready to jump to a HTC Zoom 2.
  • Nokia phone not only offers a communication media intended for family, associates plus equals, but moreover a stand for information as well as amusement for the customer. http://nokiaphones.ws/
  • you know, this friday evening i've seen adds for the iphone demonstrating its user interface and simple one-button push access to 'cool' applications at least three times. that's something windows phones doesn't have.
  • so, are you wondering what is missing from widows mobile phone branding? then watch what verizon is doing with the droid line of phones. ok?
  • so, are you wondering what is missing from widows mobile phone branding? then watch what verizon is doing with the droid line of phones. ok?
  • Having gone back to 6.1 after numerous issues with 6.5, I tend to agree with most of the beating 6.5 has received, though for different reasons. The press seems to measure WM's progress by how much more eye candy it offers than previous iterations. I'm more concerned with WM's usability. 1. The Today screen is no longer a single-glance dashboard of the user's personal information. It's now an enlarged menu that extends beyond the bottom of the screen, requiring the user to scroll unnecessarily. I suspect that with registry hacks to change the font size, and Titanium plugins from XDA, the Today screen's utility can be restored, but I have yet to see a screenshot that demonstrates this. I've always been mystified by how MS has consistently ignored the option of putting, say, a half-dozen quick launch icons directly below the other Today screen plugins. The choice between personal information and a launcher on the Today screen has never been mutually exclusive. There has always been room for both. But MS chose the less discoverable option of using a menu because, after all, WM is meant to replicate the Windows desktop experience. 2. The Task Manager has been removed from the Today screen and is now three levels deep. The options to toggle between and close apps are slowly disappearing, for reasons that have never been fully explained. The best excuse that MS has given so far is that, when asked, users "didn't mind" if memory were managed in the background. Compare this with the Palm Pre, which makes viewing, selecting, rearranging, and closing running programs supremely simple and elegant. 3. The Start screen's staggered icon layout doesn't allow users with trackballs and d-pads to move focus in straight lines, making them inefficient for navigation and reinforcing their presumed obsolescence. Like the Today screen, UI elements continue past the bottom of the screen, creating an "unfinished" look. Gone with rows and columns is alphabetical order for app icons, so the keyboard can no longer jump focus to an icon by the app's first letter. My first order of business with any HTC phone has always been to turn off TouchFlo. Now I'll have to leave it on just to get a rectilinear launcher screen. 4. No attention whatsoever paid to improving ActiveSync, which is still limited to one Exchange account and two PCs, forcing many users to choose between migrating their personal data to their company servers or leaving one of their PCs out of the loop. Exchange and Outlook are good technologies, but ActiveSync is their Achilles' Heel. I finally gave up on AS and switched to GooSync, leaving Exchange and Outlook behind in the process. 5. The awkward "Windows Phone" branding. Let's face it, "I use Windows Phone" doesn't roll of the tongue like "I use Android" or "I use webOS." Admittedly, this is a minor issue, since I suspect people will just keep saying "Windows Mobile" to avoid the verbal kludge of "Windows Phone." 6. IE 6.x should at least be good enough to keep OEMs from licensing Opera just to avoid using IE as the default browsing experience. This may change with WM 7, which will probably sport the same or similar browser to the Zune HD's. I'm not fatalistic about any of this, since I'll happily continue to use 6.1 until WM 7 phones hit the streets.
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  • I believe the one thing that Windows Mobile is sorely lacking is a robust update initiative from Microsoft. There does not seem to be any parties in the Windows Mobile ecosystem that benefit from releasing updates on older devices versus making the user buy new generation hardware. I am glad that Microsoft is tolerating the ROM community and XDA-Developers, whithout them the enthusiasts would have left the platform a long time ago. Oh, and thanks to all the ROM chefs out there, your work is much appreciated!