Translating the World: Microsoft Translator

Translating the World: Microsoft Translator

Not being a true web developer, one of the announcements that I found most interesting from Mix09 was around the Microsoft Translator service.  In the lead up to Mix, nsquared solutions was integrally involved with the creation of getting started, documentation and sdk materials around this product.

Microsoft Translator Postcard Microsoft Translator Widget

Go to http://www.microsofttranslator.com to find out more about this service and how you can integrate language translation into your application.

So you want Silverlight on your Windows Mobile device?

So you want Silverlight on your Windows Mobile device?

At the last couple of Mix events Microsoft has been talking about having a version of Silverlight for mobile devices.  There were big announcements about it being available on not just Windows Mobile, and thus continuing the any device, any browser story they are trying to sell.  The reality is that there are more issues with doing this than you’d imagine, for example: a real device application should be able to access device features but running in the browser sandbox would prevent this….. and so the list of “exceptions” begins.

But why wait until Microsoft finally ships a version of Silverlight for Windows Mobile? If you go and try out the SkyFire mobile browser you will find that you can actually see and interact with Silverlight applications from your browser.

image image

On the left is the Silverlight widget that we have on the nsquared solutions website viewed through IE.  On the right is the same widget viewed via the SkyFire browser – note that an animation is in progress and visible on the device.

So how are they doing this? Well the idea is similar to the DeepFish concept in that it’s essentially a proxy browser.  The browsing is done on the server and just the UI is rendered out to the device – not too dissimilar to remote desktop.  Whilst this of course requires a little more bandwidth it does mean that you get the full capabilities of a desktop browser.  What would be interesting to look at is what the header information is that gets sent to the server – does it see a desktop or mobile browser?

It’s no iPhone UI but it’s a step up for Windows Mobile

It’s no iPhone UI but it’s a step up for Windows Mobile

Over the weekend, after a long flight back from the US, I got particularly frustrated by my HTC Touch Pro device – the Today screen basically crashed and required me to take the battery out in order to restart the device.

<Rant>

Before I go much further can I state publically that I think that the current HTC devices (namely the Diamond (from other’s feedback) and the Touch Pro) are some of the worst devices I’ve seen. Whilst the HTC customised UI is “nice” something doesn’t play nice on the device causing all sorts of issues.  This coupled with a complete lack of any support from either HTC or eXpansys Australia has left me very disfranchised about the device that I paid >$1000 for. I have purchased a number of devices from eXpansys UK but this was the first and only device I will ever by from the Australian subsidiary – the lack of any real support on the issues with this device means that I would discourage anyone from every purchasing from eXpansys Australia.

</Rant>

Ok, enough of me ranting.  What I did want to cover was the Point UI Home 2 interface. Like so many other interfaces this uses a series of icons and gestures to try to optimise the layout of the home screen.  I’ve included a number of the screens:

image image

image image

Unfortunately it seems that Pocket Controller-Pro doesn’t seem to be able to capture the higher resolution on this device so the images are a little grainy. In the second image you can see the transition between Date/Time/Weather view and the Task list view.  This is done by sweeping your finger across the top part of the display.

At the bottom you have a series of buttons that can be used to bring up Call history, Favourite applications (you can specify 9), Favourite contacts and Messaging.

All in all, I think this UI is much easier to use that the default Touch Pro interface and a significant improvement over the default Windows Mobile 6 UI.  In fact I’d almost say, based on the screenshot presented from WMC that it is more intuitive than what’s coming in Windows Mobile 6.5 with the Honeycomb start interface.

Customer perception of Windows Mobile

Customer perception of Windows Mobile

Since the announcement of Windows Mobile 6.5 at Mobile World Congress it has received some active criticism from the community.  Whilst the post from Engadget is quite disparaging, other posts, such as Long’s post on the honeycomb menu is slightly more encouraging.

Based on what was announced it would seem that Microsoft has invested into the home/today screen.  This is similar to what HTC, Samsung, Sony and other OEMs have been doing for sometime now.  Whilst it would be a welcome relief to see a different default home screen I’m not sure this is going to fix the market perception of the Windows Mobile platform. 

Taking a step back, lets look at why the OEMs are focusing on the home screen.  Well, in fact the question is a little broader; why are OEMs looking at reskinning or changing the look at feel of Wiindows Mobile?  The home screen is just the starting point for this change as it’s one of the most visible/used parts of Windows Mobile.  There are a couple of points to the answer that I can see:

  • If you look at the user interface of the Windows Mobile today screen over the last couple of years you will notice there hasn’t been much change.  This was in part to ensure the today plugin model continues to function but it was also because the team were focussed on building out other functionality.  Unfortunately this meant that the OEMs feel that they need to innovate and provide a better user experience, rather than wait for a new version of Windows Mobile.
  • OEMs need a way to differentiate.  In the past OEMs and Telcos have relied on pricing and plans to differentiate themselves.  Margins are being eroded and both parties are looking elsewhere to provide value to their customers. Building a better user experience, potentially tailored to specific market segments, it one way to do that.

Now let’s go back to the work Microsoft is doing on the today screen. Currently the honeycomb interface looks nice and modern but will it in 6 months+ time (don’t read anything into that date as I’m just guessing based on the announcements from MWC) when the devices hit the market? If not, OEMs will again have to come up with their own home screens in order to continue to compete.  Further, the new home screen, if adopted by the OEMs just means they have one fewer points to differentiate on.  Upshot is that OEMs will ignore this new home screen and continue to invest in their own home screen in order to differentiate and compete.

If we extrapolate this behaviour out to the rest of the Windows Mobile platform then it indicates that OEMs are going to continue to try to change the UI of anything that ships within Windows Mobile in order to deliver a better, richer user interface for their customers.  This leads to the question as to why is Microsoft bothering revamping their user interface?  Why not focus on extensibility, customizability and core platform functionality?  This is what Windows (in general, and not just Windows Mobile) is best at – the ability to be tailored, tweaked and extended to specific markets.