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.