iPhones are for Girls, Diamonds are for Men
This post started out as a bit of a grumble about the complete lack of support here in Australia for Windows Mobile devices. I recall about a months or so ago being pleasantly surprised when I saw the HTC Touch Dual on that back of buses. It got me thinking that Microsoft Australia actually cared what devices we bought and were trying to make a difference.
Unfortunately, last week my trusty device (the Touch Dual) packed it in. For some reason the screen is completely dysfunctional – whilst you can still do quite a few things with the device with no touch screen, it’s almost impossible to dismiss alarms/reminders and send SMS messages. This is because the hardware manufacturers have decided to move away from providing hardware alternatives to the on-screen soft-keys.
Over last weekend I went looking for a new Windows Mobile device. Being familiar with the HTC Diamond I thought I’d at least start with that. I know that the Touch Pro (essentially the Diamond with a keyboard) has been released but I doubted that anyone in Australia would stock it. What I wasn’t prepared for was the complete lack of nearly any Windows Mobile based devices in any of the stores we went into. I think we went into close to 10 shops covering 3, Telstra, Vodafone, Optus and a couple of other less carried dependent stores. Of these stores perhaps 1 or 2 of them had the Touch II or the Touch Dual. Surprisingly the Telstra store had a Diamond on display but that was the only Windows Mobile device out of around 30 phones on display. Nearly all the stores had the usual suspects of Blackberry, Nokia, Samsung etc on display. Oh, and yes, of course there was the mandatory iPhone propaganda.
In summary I don’t know what the Windows Mobile group is doing in Australia, but it’s definitely not working. The message is not getting out, the devices are not a viable alternative as the plans are not competitive and they are not accessible!
Ok, so now for some good news. I happen to be waiting to get my hair cut and was flicking through a copy of Men’s Style and came across a one page comparison between the iPhone and the HTC Diamond. I immediately thought “here we go, more Go Buy an iPhone rubbish,” but no, this was actually a fair comparison of the good and bad points of the devices. In fact, after reading it you’d want to go and buy the HTC Diamond.
To wrap this post up, I’m going to conclude that since this was in a Men’s article that (HTC) Diamonds are clearly designed for men, whilst iPhones are only suitable for girls.
iTouch/iPhone UI: Appointment Date/Time
When the iPhone first came out and everyone was raving about its user interface I had to agree with them, despite being a long-term Windows Mobile user. Of course, like all new user interfaces there are always going to be some learning points but on the whole there is a lot to be said for an interface that was solely developed for the use with a finger.
Take the following screenshot, which is actually of an iTouch but could easily be an iPhone, you can see that at the bottom of the screen shot is a set of rollers. These are used to set the date and time that an appointment is to start. By flicking your finger across the rollers you can wind the date/time forward/backward at different speeds depending on how quickly you move your finger.
The clear advantage of this interface over the traditional date/time pickers used by the new appointment dialog on Windows Mobile (see below). In fact the Windows Mobile interface is so bad (actually perhaps old is a better term of it) that you can’t reasonably use it with a finger, you really do need to either use a stylus or if you’ve worked out how, the d-pad.
The current guidance from Microsoft for new Windows Mobile applications is to build for the smartphone (ie no-touch) with the assumption that this is the canonical set of the controls available for both platforms. Unfortunately this is probably the worst thing you can do for a usable touch interface. In my opinion if you want to build an awesome application for the Pocket PC (ie Windows Mobile 6 Classic or Professional – urge why do we still have such silly sku names!) you should be focused on a “touch first design”.
Side note: My apologies for the rather poor photo of the iTouch. Of course Pocket PC Controller (used for the Windows Mobile screenshots) doesn’t work with the iTouch and my HTC Touch Dual has a barely competent camera under low light conditions 😉
Windows Mobile v’s iPhone
A recently conducted survey by Markitecture discussed here at Mobility Today provided some interesting insight into the smartphone wars that are about to begin (or in some cases are already at large). In actual fact the results that 6% of those surveyed would buy an iPhone was imho not a surprise and I’m not sure that this necessarily directly correlates to market share. If you follow the link through to the source at MacWorld there is an arrogant quote by Steve Ballmer about iPhone not getting market share – given how widely Microsoft missed the web boat, can they really afford to be this arrogant in another emerging market.
What I find interesting is that there is an assumption that these phones all play in the same market. There has never been any secret that Windows Mobile devices are focused on the enterprise market where synchronisation of email, calendar and contacts are essential. Further they have a well established set of developer tools and apis that can be used to build rich applications, that can be deployed within an organisation to better equip their mobile staff.
The question remains as to where the other players fit. In the case of Blackberry it is again easy as it is almost entirely enterprise customers. Nokia and Motorola have for the most part been focused on the consumer space but increasingly we are seeing devices, such as those running Symbian S60 or Windows Mobile, that are capable of being used in the enterprise. Lastly the iPhone – well given the distinct lack of developer apis or programming model it can hardly be considered a true smartphone but it does have the standard POOM feature set for managing contacts, calendar and email so it could be used within the enterprise. It appears from the marketing campaigns by Apple that they are going for consumer buy-in which they are hoping will put pressure on the enterprise market for adoption.
Going back to the post at Mobility Today the first comment struck me as it is basically flaming Microsoft for poor product quality. Windows Mobile is similar in a number of ways to any other version of Windows – Microsoft creates the operating system, then hardware manufacturers have to build appropriate drivers/customisations to suit their hardware. In the case of Windows Mobile this often leads to the introduction of bugs (such as this issue with the notification broker on the JasJar) which unfortunately reflects poorly on the entire platform.
Further Microsoft have had their own set of ongoing issues relating to synchronisation with/through the desktop – you would have though after years of negative feedback on ActiveSync they would think to invest the time/resources to getting it right. Unfortunately they don’t seem to have acknowledged that there is still an issue, and to make matters worse they keep removing features! First they removed synchronisation via ethernet as it was a security risk (why not just fix the issue!) and now with the Windows Mobile Device Center they seem to have removed even more features. Being a developer using Vista I am yet to be able to get the emulator to consistently connect via WMDC so that I can debug my application without using a real device.
Having said all this, the Windows Mobile platform rocks in terms of being a developer platform. The extent of the managed apis, the .NET Compact Framework, Sql Server Compact Edition (and synchronisation via RDA or Merge Replication) and other developer frameworks (the Mobile Client Software Factory and the Smart Device Framework) make it an awesome platform for building occasionally connected rich applications!
You can’t park that iPhone here!
With all the hype around the iPhone I think everyone has forgotten what really matters. Apple are using their ability to create a rich and effective user experience which in my opinion is why the iPhone is getting so much attention. It’s not that they are doing anything that “can’t” be done on an existing device, it’s the fact that they are pushing the bounds of accepted user interface design. Perhaps Gabriel from Small Surfaces is right in saying that a “consistent UI … is hampering … innovation” but I think Alex might disagree.
This, believe it or not, is a .NET Compact Framework v2 application that really demonstrates the ability to build a rich user experience on the Windows Mobile platform.