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Wrap-up: Windows Mobile 6.5, Windows phone and where we go from here

Windows Mobile 6.5 is out the door. Windows Marketplace for Mobile is open for business. New phones — "Windows phones" — are here, or on the way.

Now that the dust has settled, let's take a look back at the past week and evaluate what exactly we got from Microsoft, whether it met expectations, or if it's too little too late.

Join us after the break.

Windows Mobile 6.5

Any new release of a mobile operating system is a time to celebrate, and Microsoft certainly did that. We were at the Open House event in New York City, and it largely didn't disappoint. And it should not go without mention that the launch of Windows Mobile 6.5 was a global event, with the OS available not just in a country or two, but worldwide. Upgrades aren't yet available on every carrier just yet, but don't let that fool you — this is much improved from the relative dribble of excitement previous updates have received.

We'll have to wait an see how long it takes manufacturers and carriers to push out updates to Windows Mobile 6.5. Microsoft's keeping a list, (opens in new tab) and we're getting the feeling that updates will come sooner rather than later.

Now, onto the OS itself. The Windows Mobile 6.5 that we're seeing, at least initially, basically is the same build we've been seeing since it was announced way back in February — that's more than half a year ago — at Mobile World Congress. We won't say that's flat-out unacceptable, but it's certainly disappointing given that we know there are newer (and better) builds being worked on.

The bottom line

This is the best Windows Mobile iteration so far. Is that damning with faint praise? Absolutely. But we've all grown very cynical and have come to expect a revolutionary release anytime a software company or manufacturer announces a new product. Microsoft delivered (for better or worse) pretty much exactly what it showed us at Mobile World Congress. We expect the newer builds of Windows Mobile 6.5 to see an official release at some point.

But, really, how much more work do we want Microsoft pouring into this operating system? We need to see a radical departure, and it needs to happen with Windows Mobile 7.

The phones

Along with the launch of Windows Mobile 6.5, we've seen the launch of a number of new phones — again, worldwide. The Windows Mobile ecosystem is unlike any other mobile platform (BlackBerry is the closest) in that it runs on so many different devices.

New in the U.S. at launch were the AT&T Pure (Touch Diamond 2) and Tilt 2 (Touch Pro 2). The Sprint Intrepid (Samsung Epix follow-up) was announced. The Verizon Imagio's on the way. (Hands-on wrap-up here.) These are all solid phones, but they're evolutionary. Same ol' Qualcomm processors (we're not taking for granted the higher clock speeds), for the most part. The Samsung Omnia II brings an 800MHz processor and AMOLED screen to the table, but it's launching with Windows Mobile 6.1 (though you can hardly tell, it's been so heavily skinned).

Now it gets weird. (And we'll refer you to the Engadget Podcast for more great discussion on this, and we'll certainly have our own on the WMExperts Podcast).

HTC, easily Microsoft's top partner these days when it comes to Windows Mobile, announces the HD2 in Europe. It's got a 1GHz Snapdragon processor. A capacitive touchscreen. And it's getting HTC Sense instead of TouchFLO 3D. This is a next-generation Windows phone.

And Microsoft had no part in its announcement.

And no sooner than we finish our usual "It's coming to Europe, not the U.S." post, then HTC CEO Peter Chou says, "Oh, it'll be in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2010." On a carrier? Unlocked? We don't know. Doesn't exactly make you want to run out and buy an AT&T Pure or Verizon Imagio right now, does it?

Oh, and remember that these are all "Windows phones." We're behind the branding. But with such little mind share, it feels a little forced. (See Exhibit A: RadioShack becomes "The Shack," though "Windows phone" isn't anywhere near as lame a rebranding.)

The bottom line

We've got some solid Windows phones available now. Chances are if you're reading this you're well aware that bigger and better things are on the way. But you're in the minority when it comes to mobile consumers, and there are plenty of sexy phones to be had today.

Windows Marketplace for Mobile

Finally, the thousands and thousands and thousands of Windows Mobile applications have a place to call home, easily accessible directly from Windows Mobile 6.5 (and eventually 6.0/6.1 — or now, if you don't mind a little trickery). Thing is, there still are other app stores (for want of a better term) that do the exact thing. Mobihand's been around for a long time and is now available on devices (as well is within Kinoma Play, which was an interesting move). There's Handango. Hell, even carriers and manufacturers are opening their own app stores. Plus, you still can sideload apps (as in, just copy a CAB file onto your phone and install it) without any problem.

So we're not exactly talking one store to rule them all here. We've said it before: The Windows Mobile ecosystem is so large and diverse it'd be almost impossible to bring it together under one roof. But Microsoft should be commended for at least attempting to do so.

That said ... this feels like a launch that's only partly off the ground.

On the Windows phone, the Marketplace experience is great. You browse the Marketplace, choose and app, and it installs (and uninstalls) seamlessly. There are a couple hundred applications currently available, ranging from free to $20, $30 or more, same as when we bought them outside the Marketplace. (And kudos to the established developers who haven't passed on Microsoft's 30 percent take to the consumer.)

But there have been hiccups. English-only apps haven't necessarily been available in traditionally non-English speaking countries, but that supposedly is changing. Of bigger note to us is that there's no desktop portal to the Marketplace. Browsing from the phone is fine, and Microsoft's done a fine job of it. But the experience feels incomplete. Web access to browse and purchase apps was promised, and Microsoft says it's coming. But it should have been available from the get-go.

The bottom line

The Marketplace is a long-awaited, long-overdue addition to Windows Mobile. The phone app feels a bit tired, and there's no Web access. We're getting a little tired of saying this, but we'll do it again anyway: It's not pretty, but it's functional. And we'll expect more come Windows Mobile 7.

Wrapping it up

Microsoft takes longer than others to learn lessons, and that's the way it is. Look ahead for the next 12 months or so: We're hoping for Windows Mobile 7 to be announced in the spring. We're hoping it will take Windows phones in a new direction, with next-generation hardware. In the meantime, we've got solid hardware, an upgraded operating system, and a consolidated app store with the weight and might of Microsoft behind it.

Will any of this lure consumers to the platform? Not by leaps and bounds. But it should keep things afloat in the meantime.

Now Microsoft must deliver on the future.

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!

18 Comments
  • I am now off contract with VZW but will not purchase until the HD2 arrives. If VZW take a pass, then it is time to switch carriers for full feature phone.
  • Nice write-up, Phil. I agree with Bcreekski. VZW has the best cellular coverage for my needs but I could be convinced to change carriers for the HTC HD2. I think HTC and MicroSoft would both be wise to release this phone to all of the North American carriers, similar to what they did with the Touch Pro 2.
  • I have been on a CDMA carrier for quite some time now, as well as using windows mobile. I have seem the evolution of windows mobile and 6.5 is a definitive first step to a newer and better OS. As for the phones that may or may not be sporting the new OS, I think its a good idea to be selective about which phones get the upgrade. I mean, honestly, why should the HTC Diamond, HTC Vogue or the HTC Dual get the upgrades? Their technology is so out-dated as of this point! The HTC HD2 (The future dubbed iphone killer) is a long awaited phone for many. Lets just hope the Windows Mobile 7 (when released) won`t disappoint all the faithful Windows Mobile users out!
  • Oh and one last quick note. One the best Canadian carriers (Telus) is making the jump to the HSPA (GSM) network in very early 2010! Another good move on their part!
  • Anyone,
    Do you think that eventually Verizon will move to from WCDMA to GSM? While Verizon and Spring are still using CDMA the rest of the world almost 2 billion phones are GSM protocol/technology !! What about uniformity, didn't they ask for it at CTIA? Using the SIM card frees you phone. If something happens to my phone, I can just swich phones with any one and use it INSTANTLY with my own info. Isn't that real practical? Sorry I went off topic.
    WM 6.5 it's the first time Microsoft makes a huge step into the future. Not perfect but it hints of what's coming.
  • I don't think VZW or Sprint has any thoughts of going to the GSM standard. Verizon is sinking large sums of money and time in to LTE at this point, and Sprint is being rumored to be T-Mobile's next target... There's a big play for faster networks, but the biggest part going forward is going to be 'stable' networks. AT&T has a great network, but because of certain phones overloading it, it has some serious stability issues. Verizon on the other hand, has very few issues in reliability, but in almost every speed comparison finishes 3rd among the majors (Sprint #1, AT&T #2, Verizon #3 and T-Mo #4)...
    I think people are going back to the 'old ways' of Verizon where they would destroy hardware to lock customers into a data package and lower speeds. Now, almost every VZW smartphone has WiFi on board, cutting edge support for media (the TP2 is Rhapsody compatible and the Imagio has Vcast TV support!) VZW has heard their users loud and clear - we want the best hardware at the best possible prices. My plan ends up costing me $10 a month more than the Sprint $69 plan, and does everything I need it to... Combine that with the $200 I saved on the price of the phone - my TP2 on VZW is a great fit. Now, by next year, are we going to see Snapdragons everywhere? 1024x768 displays? AMOLED 4" displays on everything? WinMo 7 or will it be the Zune Phone? Will the HTC HD2 be obsolete by then? I love technology, but often times, by being in forums like this, we talk ourselves out of something that will do the job we need it to for a year or two in order to wait for a slightly bigger screen, faster processor or more memory... In the meantime, my TP2 will get it's Win 6.5 update soon (hopefully October rather than November, and it will serve me well!
  • TP2 is seriously a great phone and easily one of the best on the market today. But still you can't help but wonder how much more awesome it would have been with Snapdragon and capacitive...lol. It was like sooo close to making the cut. Not that it should deter anyone, but it's like they almost had an A+ phone instead of "just" an A ;-)
  • Every phone is no more than A- by that standard. There will always be something a phone lacks that was close to making the cut.
  • (Most of) the rest of the world is GSM because of govenrment enforced technology monopolies. The US system developed differently with the govenrment allowing open choice on AMPS/CDMA/GSM/TDMA etc. You may wish to consider that where governments allow open choice (EG outside of the EU) CDMA is growing. You mention Sprint and Verizon. Do you realize that together they are not most of the CDMA user base? That is the scale of the growth of CDMA outside the US. When it comes to sim cards, I don't know about you but I guess that >90% of WM users (and this is a WM forum) back up what would be on a sim via syncing on there their PC, the cloud, their servers etc. When I was on ATT I never used the sim to swap my contacts/calendar etc from handset to handset. Also having used ATT as well as GSM operators outside the US, there is no doubt in real world practical use situations that CDMA data services is faster, more robust, more widely available, and cheaper than GSM data.
  • The GSM jump is worldwide. Some phones will just be capable of handling both networks, but, GSM being the primary network source! No one ever thought Telus would be doing it and, of course, Telus is making the jump in a few months! So, to answer your question, it will more-than-likely happen, its just a question of when!
  • American CDMA carriers switching to GSM would definitely seem to make sense and I think it could be beneficial for the consumers. I wonder if that would help us get some of these new phones sooner instead of waiting 6 months to nearly a year after the rest of the world has already been enjoying them.
  • Quite the contrary, Sprint has been beating a lot of the competition to launch. They launched the TP2 just behind T-mobile but ahead of AT&T and we got a 3.5mm headset jack. Right now, it's a combo of the FCC and internal testing that is really the limiting factor, not so much the radio technology (though "unlocked" GSM always wins of course).
  • I am enjoying using my Touch Pro 2 at 2/3 to 1/2 the cost of anyone using it on GSM, in the states or elsewhere.
  • Lets not forget that CDMA and WiMax is very very popular in Europe, South America and Caribbean countries.
    South Korea and japan are wayyy ahead of us with their WiMax and even Russia has alot of coverage on WiMax.
    Sprint made WiMax to be compatible with LTE just in case LTE win the battle.
    I love any windows mobile device and ofcourse htc pro2 :)
  • windows phone seems to have underwhelmed the trade press. windows phone 7 will come out when the next iteration of the iphone arrives. amazing. it will take a lot of effort to beat back iphone momentum. will ms be able to do it?
  • What upset me during the recent introduction was not Windows Mobile 6.5 so much, we all new what we were getting for sometime now and we all knew it would be a yawner, but it was the business as usually attitude of Microsoft, epitomized by Steve Ballmer himself. For the foreseeable future WM is stuck with infrequent massive sink or swim updates that will be perpetually late and rapidly obsolete on models that can't be officially upgraded to the next version. No wonder HTC and Samsung, Microsoft's biggest WM partners, are busily burying WM under custom UI's. Does anyone really care that the latest offerings from these companies are running 6.5? In the meantime, it was very telling that at a recent demonstration of the HD2, HTC publicly stated it will be difficult for the average costumer to remove the Sense UI. The rumor mill is abuzz with the HTC Dragon, Andriod running on basically the same hardware as the HD2, to be officially announced either later this year or early next. It will be very interesting to see which device sells the most, especially as Andriod will shortly become the second biggest selling smartphone OS after the struggling Symbian OS. WM 6.5 is Microsoft's finger in the dike, a stopgap measure that took nearly a year to roll out. During that time, the leak has become a flood: multiple new Andriod versions and phones, the Palm Pre, the iPhone 3GS with multiple updates to the OS, etc., etc. etc. Does Microsoft really think the world will wait or care a year from now? Wrap-up indeed: wrapped-up and forgotten...
  • Windows Mobile is in focus now adays Mobile devices has updated their OS 6.0 to 6.5, the mobile VoIP app Vopium has released their client for Windows Mobile devices 6.0 and 6.5.
  • This is the best Windows Mobile iteration so far. The 5 harware that has impressed me the most are HTC's touch Diamond 2 and the Tilt 2 (Touch Pro 2). Samsung's Intrepid and Verizon's Imagio makes this phone available to the mass audience and Samsung's Omnia is a class apart featuring to the High-end users. All in all a gr8 launch!