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5 years ago

The Windows Mobile Interface

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The Windows Mobile Interface

So this entry started as a simple post about how Laptop Mag [via Ciccone] has scored an interview with HTC CEO Peter Chou about HTC's plans for 2008. It's turned into an analysis of why I think the Windows Mobile interface works (and doesn't work) the way that it does and ends with 5 suggestions for Microsoft to improve it. Sometimes these things just sneak up on you.

First, let's get that interview out the way. Quite a bit of it is Android-centric (since that's due later this year), but there's plenty of crunchy Windows Mobile goodness to, er, crunch:

The Windows Mobile platform has a lot of good stuff inside, but the user interface has not been easy. It is very techy and not intuitive. HTC decided to innovate on the user experience, so we launched the HTC Touch and it was a great success. [emphasis mine]

Here's one other tidbit that Chou drops:

This year, we are coming out with even more exciting new product innovations, and we are more focused on the mobile Internet experience. Mobile Internet is going to be key in terms of making the experience more successful.

Will HTC fix our browser problem before Microsoft does? Ponder that for a second, then read on for my thoughts (and rants) about the Windows Mobile interface!

Lizard Brain Intuition

Ok, with regard to that first part of Chou's quote, that the interface is “very techy and not intuitive.” Seems like the time to mount a full throated defense of the WM interface. But no: Chou is right. Although there are some intuitive elements to Windows Mobile (i.e. “Just start typing” to find stuff in contacts, email), they're the kind of “intuitive” that aren't immediately discoverable. Which is the opposite of what “intuitive” is supposed to mean. A contradiction, right? Right.

“Intuitive” is different for different contexts. Here's what intuitive usually means: The ideal interface would somehow get into our lizard brains and we would “get” it like we “get” how to pick up a rock. That's an intuitive interface: a freaking rock. Pick it up, throw it, break stuff. Advanced users: skip it across the water. The iPhone and TouchFLO are much closer to that “lizard brain” intuition than Windows Mobile by dint of their “just touch/move parts around” interface. Microsoft needs to catch up in this field in the worst way. Chou is exactly right, WM is not intuitive in that sense.

“System Intuition”

But there are other kinds of “intuitive interfaces” that we learn very early and though they might not be based on our instinctual lizard brain, they are learned deeply enough that they may as well be “intuitive.” The mouse on your computer is a good example. Sure, there's a “move stuff” metaphor there, but clicking for selecting is the sort of thing you have to learn, but once you do you can apply it in all sorts of scenarios. Same thing for the “right click” on the desktop. A little weird, but once you get that you can generally click the right mouse button for “other options” it can become second nature.

I'll call it “system intuition” even though there's almost surely an actual term for this kind of learned, quasi-intuitive interface knowledge. I just don't know it. If you do - please educate me via the comments!

Driving a manual transmission car, operating various faucets via knobs and levers, dialing a telephone. All learned interfaces that aren't immediately intuitive but become learned so deeply that they may as well be.

Windows Mobile can have this kind of System Intuition for “Pro” users. It often can't for most others. This is a problem.

Windows Mobile is not Windows

The fundamental problem with the interface on Windows Mobile is that Microsoft attempted to leverage our desktop “system intuition” for the smartphone. In theory, this isn't all that bad of an idea. There's a comfort level to mapping an already-known interface to another context. It also can bring along certain associations that can be helpful to the new context. So, for example, a smartphone that you interact with “like Windows” might feel inherently more “like a computer” and “more powerful.”

Here's the thing, though, the desktop is a crappy interface for a mobile device. Here's another thing: people don't feel all that fuzzy about Windows anymore. Here's the last and most important thing: the Windows Mobile interface is hardly like Windows desktop at all and suffers where it actually is like the Windows Desktop.

This is why I cringe every time somebody tries to sell Windows Mobile by saying “It's just like Windows. It's very familiar.” It's not just like Windows, it has an entirely different interface that only partially maps to Windows. Again, where it does map, it stinks. Examples of how Windows Mobile is worse because it shares interface elements with Windows Desktop:

  1. The drop-down “Start Menu” on Windows Mobile Pro. Yes, many people like this, but the target area for the elements in this menu are too small. This is bad
  2. Right clicking by holding down the stylus or the 5-way pad. Seriously, this is a bad idea.
  3. The stylus, period. Again, some folks like it. I find the stylus a horrible stand-in for the mouse and will go to extreme lengths to avoid having to use it. Bad.
  4. The “x” to “close” but not “quit” (though sometimes it will) programs. First off, I shouldn't have to think about memory that often on my mobile device. Bad. Secondly, there's another area (the task manager) that's tangentially related (on many versions of Windows Mobile) Bad. Oh, and it's a really tiny area in the upper-right-hand corner that's difficult to tap with my finger. Really Bad.

...I could probably go on, but I want to point something out here: many of my gripes are based on Windows Mobile Pro, the touchscreen version. I've said here and in our forums that I prefer Smartphone edition lately but can't rightly explain why beyond a feeling that it handles memory better. Now I can explain it: Smartphone Edition has less of the Windows Desktop System Intuition built into its interface and feels better for it.

An Interface To Do List for Microsoft

Let's just end with a few ways Microsoft can fix this:

  1. Forget about the desktop. It doesn't exist. It never existed. Instead, think about how you interact with that rock I mentioned earlier. It's not a mistake that Jeff Hawkins invented the Palm Pilot by carrying around a block of wood. Whatever the present-day equivalent of carrying around a block of wood is, do that.
  2. Unify the platform (you said you would): It's bad enough that there's Desktop Windows interface elements in Windows Mobile. It's well-nigh unforgivable that Windows Mobile Pro and Windows Mobile standard don't share the same interface “System Intuition.”
  3. Keep your strengths (yes, you do have them). One example: that “just start typing” feature, it's really cool. It's a core strength. Let me “Just start typing” for everything. Contacts. Email. Apps. Appointments. Internet, even, if the bandwidth is there. (Update: see also "glanceable information" in the comments!)
  4. Maintain some backwards compatibility, but don't kill yourself to do it. You guys handled the PocketPC 2003 -> Windows Mobile transition really well, you can do it again with the next version.
  5. Work with your manufacturers to let them customize, but don't let them go crazy with it. Right now it's just a little too “Wild Wild West,” out there. We want innovations like TouchFLO, but we also want consistency.

A tall order, perhaps, but check out that there iPhone, it's pretty serious stuff, interface-wise.

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5 years ago

Microsoft Licenses Flash Lite for Windows Mobile

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Looks like, in addition to Silverlight, Flash Lite will be rolled directly into Windows Mobile by year's end, per MacWorld [via pocketnow]:

Microsoft has licensed Adobe Flash Lite, the Flash Player runtime for mobile devices, so that Windows Mobile phone users can view Flash content in the browser. Microsoft has also licensed the Adobe Reader LE software, so that Windows Mobile users will be able to view PDFs.

We've been pretty pro-Silverlight here at WMExperts, less so with Flash. You're much better off implementing an awesome Full YouTube on Windows Mobile Hack than mucking around with the anemic Flash Lite (although, yes, it will support video). Silverlight seems like it has much more potential as a platform for mobile devices than the resource-intensive Flash and it's weaker little brother, Flash Lite. Let's hope that:

  1. Flash Lite as implemented on Windows Mobile doesn't turn mobile browsing into a slow, punch-the-monkey-ad-filled, and generally painful experience.
  2. Flash Lite doesn't smuggle in the slightly troubling back-door cookie problem that Flash has brought to the desktop.

Yes, we want a better browser on Windows Mobile - but “a better browser” doesn't mean Flash, mmkay? At least Silverlight is coming first - as early as this Spring!

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5 years ago

Another Treo 800w sighting...this time for Verizon!

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Well, file this under "speculation" or course but we thinks the info is quite accurate although admittedly not earth shattering.

Treofficial in our forums informs us he had a meeting with some Palm sales people recently where he was able to actually handle the Verizon Treo 800w (see our past coverage). So far, he can confirm that it does indeed have

  • Wifi
  • EvDO Rev. A
  • Threaded SMS (w00t!)

In addition we learn that the Today Screen is pretty much unchanged (bad Palm) but they have added a new "search email" function which mirrors the search contact feature on the today screen e.g. you type a few letters and that filters through your presumably long collection of email messages, narrowing down the one you are trying to find (which at least confirms that the 800w runs Windows Mobile 6.0).

Of course, we are still not sure if the threaded SMS is the Palm version or the side effect of just having WM 6.1, which is an OS that would not be unexpected on this device.

Hopefully Treofficial will pop back in and continue to answer some questions so follow along in our thread!

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5 years ago

HTC Patent Shows New Kind of Slider

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HTC Patent Shows New Kind of Slider

Dig this new HTC patent [via via Unwired View, who also composited the image above from the patent] for a new smartphone design. The basic idea - get a dual slider without having to actually build two keyboards. Looks pretty slick, though I'm not personally a fan -- the whole point of a slider is to be able to completely hide the keyboard behind the screen. With this method, the keyboard is always exposed, you just get to pick the parts that are showing at any given time.

Still and all, it's been awhile since we've seen a genuinely new form factor on a smartphone -- this qualifies.

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5 years ago

SplashMoney Now on Windows Mobile

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SplashMoney Now on Windows Mobile

We know that a lot of folks over at our sister site, TreoCentral, are hanging on to PalmOS in large part because a lot of the apps that they depend on on a daily basis are PalmOS-only. That trend is changing, though, and now we can put another notch up for Windows Mobile: SplashMoney is now available for both WM Pro and WM Standard. Per the SplashData Blog, this means that the SplashWallet suite is now complete.

WinMo people: did you migrate from the PalmOS? Are there any other apps you're missing since coming on over? The Windows Mobile Software Ecosystem might not be as rockin' as it could be, but there are still apps for nearly every need. What's missing for ya?

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5 years ago

Trends! Software sales, who's Losing, who's Winning?

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Tam Hanna has taken the time to go over Handango's "Yardstick 2007" report (not my favorite company, but that's a different rant) which shows how the industry is changing in terms of platforms (PalmOS, WM Standard, WM Pro, Sybmian, BB) and category of applications e.g. games, productivity, etc.

With the added touch of some simple Excel graphs, Tam finds some very interesting results. For instance, in the number of new applications added for WM Professional, it actually dipped in 2007 compared to 2006--which is quite the surprise. However, WM Standard actually increased, suggesting non-touchscreen devices, which have become more prevalent and cheaper, are quickly growing and balancing out Standard's big bro's position.

Some other interesting findings:

  • PPC-6700 & 700wx are the top PPC devices adding software
  • Moto Q and Sammy BJ are the top Standard ones
  • Average application price has dropped in 2007
  • SPB has 7 out of 10 of the best selling PPC apps

But probably the biggest shock is how Windows Mobile (while increasing for Standard by a bit and decreasing for Professional) is being eclipsed by Symbian and BlackBerry who are rapidly growing. Yikes. Go over and take a look at all the perty numbers and graphs and drop a comment below on your thoughts.

Personally, I think the explosive growth of the WM freeware and home-coder community has taking some market from the professional developer community, things like PointUI, WeatherPanel, multiple free IM clients and all the happenings at XDA has resulted in what looks to me as an explosion in high quality free apps. Agree?

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5 years ago

The Danger Acquisition: All About the Services, Baby

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You know us. We can't pass up an opportunity to say “I told you so.” It's a weakness, really. So when Ina Fried reported on Steve Ballmer's comments during Mix '08 (the same place where Ballmer gave us Monkey Dance Redux), our beady, self-aggrandizing eyes lit up when we came to the section about the acquisition of Sidekick-maker Danger:

“The Danger acquisition is really about building up an application and service aspect on top of our Windows Mobile platform,” he said. “Danger is really a service application experience and we want to make sure we get that in market on a great set of phones.”

Sounds a bit like what we said immediately after the announcement:

What Microsoft is really interested in, it seems, is Danger's services - even though the Sidekick is the simplest of smart phones these days, it does a stellar job of storing its data “in the cloud” -- exactly where it belongs.

Crowing aside, Fried's post is also interesting because it addresses a concern that many had with both the Danger acquisition and the attempted Yahoo grab: these companies don't use Microsoft tech, while Microsoft almost exclusively uses Microsoft tech. Will Microsoft port everything over to their stuff? Well - eventually, but it sounds like they have their heads on straight when it comes to timelines. Microsoft is perfectly willing to run open source stuff for a time so they can focus their efforts on services that will be more immediately apparent to the end user. Good call.

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5 years ago

Tip of the Week: Customize SPB Mobile Shell? Yes!

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Well, if you recall from out double-team review of Mobile Shell 2, one of the "lacking" features was the ability to customize every single aspect of the new UI e.g. replacing icons, rearranging things, etc.

Swoop in the nerdy saints of XDA who have managed to figure out those pesky and encrypted .dat files. Needless to say, they have added some custom icons sets, moved things over and since this whole enterprise is just starting who knows where it'll go.

So far the majority of the config layouts are for those abundant 320x240 devices but there are a few 240x240 ones popping up.

jakkrith (with the assist) came out with a simple .cab file for portrait devices to simplify the job and bcchristian made one for square screens (seen above). Hop on over to follow the magic...

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5 years ago

HTC Advantage Going to Retailers…in the UK…

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5 years ago

Google Maps or Live Search

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Google Maps or Live Search

For the longest time Google Maps and Windows Live Search have been clashing for title of best map software. In my experience both have been very useful tools in my everyday life. The funny thing is that after I went through each of them extensively, I concluded that both are needed in order to be productive.

Windows Live excels in category search. With a simple address Live will recommend local bars, clubs, and restaurants in your vicinity. Then once you found your local restaurant or movie theater you can check reviews on it, get directions to it, or send that address to a friend to meet up for the date. Easy access to gas prices in the local area and movie info make it that much more useful. My favorite is showing up to the theaters and using Live Search to check info and ratings before we head in. Then again there are some features such as my location and faster maps that Windows Live Search lacks.

Google maps makes up where Windows Live Search misses. Need faster maps? Googles got it. Need the ability get an approximate location? Googles got it. For me it

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5 years ago

Review: Headphone Adapter by Palm

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5 years ago

Review: Moto Q Cradle by Motorola

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5 years ago

Motorola Announcing the Q10 at CTIA? They Need It.

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Unwired view points out that Motorola was pretty much a non-starter at this year's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, but that they might be planning a big splash at CTIA in Las Vegas, starting April 1st (Yes, WMExperts will be there, baby). One of the phones we've been waiting for, the “Mystery Q,” which many are hoping is the Q10. The Q10, like its lower-numbered bretheren, will be a QWERTY keyboard device, but it's also rumored to sport a touchscreen!

Oh, look, a youtube video is after the break, featuring this little tidbit I grabbed and threw at the top. Looks like a Q10 to me. Another couple of shots from the video after the break as well!

The Q10 would be good news. See: Motorola could really, really, REALLY use some good news right about now. We've avoided talking about much of the doom and gloom surrounding the company lately if only because we don't like kicking a dead horse when it's down (mixing metaphors, though, we're cool doing that). When we told you on February 4th that the “MotoCoaster was just getting started,” we didn't lie. Motorola decided to not spin off their handset division, but instead to find somebody to head it (New CEO Greg Brown said he'd do it himself, but apparently changed his mind). With all that fuss going on, it wasn't much of a surprise to to us to hear that president of Mobile devices Stu Reed quit (not to mention their chief marketing officer). And do you remember how investor Carl Icahn was trying to take over the board with people that, er, didn't act like the Keystone Kops? He's on his way towards that goal with a vengeance, moving from owning a 1.4% share last year to a 6.3% share earlier this month. So expect another round of hijinks as Icahn tries to oust some folks from the board (again).

So, yeah, bring on the Q10 and bring it on quick, Motorola. The Q9h (see our full Q9h Review) is too beautiful a device to be chained to such a screwed up company, we want more of that.

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5 years ago

SyncMate Graduates from Beta Version

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5 years ago

Ogg Sync for Windows Mobile

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