I’m not sure how many articles I’ve read over the years that not only say that Windows Mobile sucks, but detail the same reasons why: putting a tiny version of Windows on small screens is an idiotic idea, no matter how comfortable it’s supposed to make those zillions of Windows users; burying important commands behind layers of menus is similarly egregious on tiny devices.
Every click matters immensely (something I once dubbed the “Law of Convenience“).
My favorite of these articles is a November 2007 David Pogue piece in the NY Times reviewing the T-Mobile Shadow smartphone. Pogue spends half the article waxing about the beautiful hardware, then writes the priceless paragraph: “But then you turn the thing on.” Then he reams Windows Mobile 6 (um, isn’t Microsoft supposed to get things right after version 3?).
Pogue’s was far from the first article to pillory Windows Mobile or its predecessor, good old WinCE, which was born back in 1996.
This week BusinessWeek’s Olga Kharif writes another piece that says roughly the same thing, and ends with an overly optimistic kicker: “Users of Windows Mobile will share some of that delight before long, if Microsoft has anything to say about it.”
Some of her optimism probably comes from Microsoft’s recent acquisition of Danger, the makers of the Sidekick. Alas, that’s not the right move for Windows Mobile at all.
I was a loyal Sidekick II user for several years. When I first got this thing that looked like a Transformered bar of Lever 2000 soap, it was fabulous. The keyboard was better than anything on the market. The Web browser was beautifully implemented, flowing page contents pretty elegantly into a small screen and letting you roll from link to link with the (also elegantly implemented) roll and click interface buttons. The UI thought through your work flow wonderfully. It seemed the next thing you wanted to do was always under your thumb on the scroll wheel.
Then a couple of years of progress rolled by, and Danger stood still. At GPRS speeds, I never used the browser. Only in emergencies. Apps? I got a couple nice apps early in the process, then never really got more. There was no organic market for them, no open platform, no innovation. And Danger didn’t innovate a whit on their initial UI. I never upgraded to the III, because it was just as hefty as before and didn’t have any great new features.
A piece of Danger split off a few years ago to found Android, developing an open-source phone platform. Brilliant. That’s what Google bought and is now in the process of rolling out with hundreds of developers and multiple manufacturers. They’ve got buzz and energy.
I don’t see how what was left of Danger changes Microsoft’s Windows Mobile. Can’t see it. Two radically different phone UIs and user experiences, tuned to completely different markets (biz vs. bling), both closed to modification or improvement. Programmer culture clash. A UI camel. And I don’t see Microsoft abandoning such a long investment in a small-system OS.
Windows Mobile has staked out some market share, but that’s falling now as the iPhone zooms on by, and I don’t see a recovery path. The WIMP interface has been tired for a long time already on desktops, and was never suited to handhelds. Who sold Microsoft on that congenitally flawed dogma I don’t know, but they should be regretting that decision.
Meanwhile, I’ll happily use my iPhone, await the new iPhone apps under way, and wonder how I’m going to choose between an Android platform and what I have today.