If you ask most users what they think of Windows Mobile they either don’t know what it is (most non-techie consumers) or they shudder saying that slow, overly complex phone that I never use now I have…. Anyone would think that Windows Mobile smells. I’d like to put forward some points that at least explains why it looks and smells the way it is. You may even decide to give the current generation of Windows Mobile 6.5.3 devices a go.
Microsoft and the Enterprise
I think the first point I’d like to make is that I doubt at any stage Microsoft decided that the end user wasn’t the highest priority when designing and building Windows Mobile. The whole “end-user-first” message that’s coming from Microsoft is just another re-hash of the “Age of User Experience” message that we saw a couple of years ago. What I do buy is that Microsoft has changed focus on which end user they’re putting first, or at least, what end user activities should come first.
In the past the design of Windows Mobile was geared towards an end user who worked for an enterprise, was connected to Exchange server and the reason for having a device was to make phone calls, send sms, triage email, work with contacts, calendar and tasks to get their work done. Now we’re seeing a new era where Windows Phone 7 is about supporting end users in every facet of their lives – helping them stay in contact, entertain them, help them relax, get work done, oh and of course make a phone call. Actually the latter seems to have been almost an after thoughts as there is not even a hardware call and/or hang up button according to the specs released by Microsoft last week.
So I guess the question has to be asked as to why the focus was on the enterprise user? Microsoft’s entry into the mobile phone market came as an extension of their embedded operating system. In fact Windows Mobile is essentially Windows CE in a specified configuration, with additional modules, such as Office Mobile and of course a phone stack. As such it seemed logical for them to enter this space in order to support enterprise users.
Once in this space it appears that Microsoft saw RIM as one of the main competitors with their Blackberry devices. Those familiar with Microsoft codenames will know that Crossbow was one of the code names used internally for one of the previous versions of Windows Mobile – this happens (probably coincidentally) to be the name of a pesticide that can be used to get ride of the blackberry plant (ref Website). The Blackberry OS has traditionally been menu centric, so as long as Windows Mobile only had as single “Start” menu it was considered to be a safe bet. Also, since Blackberries didn’t have touch screens, supporting touch (rather than stylus, and definitely not multi-touch) input wasn’t really considered a core use case. Again the result was that Windows Mobile continued to evolve towards a dpad/keyboard driven interface – in the enterprise this resulted in some very effective office worker devices that could be used to rapidly triage email but they weren’t the nicest consumer devices.
More on this discussion in future posts….