Bang On: I love Windows Mobile

It's still pretty cool to hate Microsoft's Windows Mobile operating system. With the iPhone and Android getting so much attention and feeling so new, the aging mobile OS from Redmond can tend to feel dated and unintuitive. Sometimes it's enough to make you question what you did so wrong to be deserving of such frustration. Here's the catch, though: I love Windows Mobile.

Windows Mobile is just like most other software products that Microsoft produces. The out of box experience is anything less than extraordinary. If the iPhone "just works", then a standard Windows Mobile installation just makes you want to put your head through a wall. Maybe it's not that horrible, but its close enough to make anyone realize, pretty quickly, that work is needed. If you put in that work to tweak the experience, though, what you'll get is what I love: A mobile phone that works with me instead of forcing me to change my ways.

One of the most critiqued areas of Windows Mobile is the user interface. It usually requires too many clicks. Even worse, for touch screen devices, most of the OS isn't very finger friendly, requiring either a stylus to reach those tiny touch points or a knife to stab yourself in the chest and end your misery. The great thing about Windows Mobile's interface, though, is that it's not like the iPhone's or Android's. They have one unified interface and while that may be applauded by some, you're out of luck if you don't actually like that interface.

With Windows Mobile, you have the ability to choose an interface that suits your needs. One of the largest manufacturers of Windows Mobile devices, HTC, implants its own highly praised TouchFlo 3D interface on most of its products. It's a hundred times more finger friendly and lets you do a lot more, at the home screen level, than most other interfaces allow. If you don't own an HTC device, you have options like SPB Mobile Shell or PointUI's Home 2. Both interface replacements let you tweak and bend Windows Mobile around you until it fits like a glove. Try that on your iPhone.

If the interface of Windows Mobile is "critiqued", then Pocket Internet Explorer is usually greeted by an angry mob complete with torches and pitchforks. It's an outright terrible browser that does more to help competing operating systems than it does Windows Mobile. Thank goodness Microsoft lets you install whatever browser you want. Seriously, if you've never used Pocket Internet Explorer, thank goodness.

If you have a Windows Mobile device, you can install any one of a plethora of highly functional browsers including Opera Mobile, Opera Mini, Skyfire, Netfront, and Iris. Mozilla is also working on a browser that should be out for more WM devices in the near future. What about on those other operating systems? Well, besides for Opera Mini also being available on Blackberries, you're pretty much stuck with what you get. Sure, the iPhone and Android have good browsers, but can they do full on flash like Skyfire can? Can the Blackberry give you an "iPhone like" web experience without resorting to a Java application? Sure, Windows Mobile has such great third party browsing options because the first party option reaches new levels of terrible, but the end result is freedom of choice and, for me, that's a beautiful thing.

It's not all roses and puppies and rainbows in the world of Windows Mobile. In fact, the world of greys and unimpressive default experiences really wind up making Windows Mobile so amazing. It doesn't have to be the way Microsoft says it has to be. You can do with Windows Mobile whatever you want. You don't need to jail break your device or burn a sacrificial lamb to get an experience that meets your expectations. All you have to do is turn to those third party developers who are there to pick up where Microsoft so obviously left off. There's no "our way or the high way" attitude here. Rather, Windows Mobile takes a cue from Burger King and lets you "have it your way". I like things my way and, for that, I love Windows Mobile.

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WinMo allows me to customize my phone to my liking and usage patterns. I had a iphone and I felt like it was trying to adjust me to its operating patterns. It is unfortunate that the learning curve is there, but once you've passed it, you have a device that does what you want it to do. No one else offers that.

I think windows mobile will really kick off. They'll probably have to make it a lot more open source thou to get more and more dev's working on it, there are some problems, but hey it wouldnt be microsoft without them. I really love the windows live messenger mobile feature, and its great that you can mess around and change the interface. Will be interesting to play with android when it lands over here.

Windows Mobile sure seems to be an under-appreciated/mis-understood OS.

I personally love it.
Maybe if Microsoft would start to do some targeted advertising like it's competitor's, the OS could get even more market penetration. ???

Every night I see ad's for Blackberry's and iPhone's, why not WinMo?

Same here.. I can never understand the hype behind the iPhone and BlackBerry. a PocketPC is all you need and can do much more than an iPhone or a BlackBerry!

It's still pretty cool to hate Microsoft's Windows Mobile operating system.

This may surprise the author wildly, but I'm not disliking WM because it's "cool". *sigh*

Major minus points for assuming such things in a trollish/downputting fashion like that.
"Oh, others who dislike WM only does it because it's cool!"

I dislike it for performance and usability reasons.

You miss the general attitude and sarcasm I bring to my articles. I never insinuate that everyone hates it because it's the cool thing to do.

With all respect, I don't see why that line was even needed. You used it for getting attention but it just hangs there - you don't expand on it at all. It's the same argument with iPods - people lambast it because everyone has one, "therefore, I hate the iPod!"

I tried liking WinMo with two BlackJacks and an HTC Touch. I had an iPaq as well. While the plethora of available apps was great, and the iPaq pretty much got me through nursing school with the drug guides and clinical applications, it was like pulling teeth for any type of stability. Maybe it's changed since then - but at least I can say I dislike it because I've used it.

I'm at a loss as to where to go next, I currently have a HTC Hermes 300 running WM6.1.. To be honest i'm pretty much jealous of the ease of use of the iPhone interface. I was planning a holiday over to the Android camp until WinMo7 as my contract is up but i'm hanging on for the G2 (HTC Magic) on vodafone here in the UK. Problem is, I have no idea whether android is a contender for my new phone... i've just presumed that it must be. What do you other winmo users think of Android? can it run 2 apps at once unlike the iphone, can it copy/paste etc?

I love Windows Mobile. It does everything I need. That being said, the Touch-FLO interface from HTC leaves little to be desired on my HTC Touch Diamond. It is slow, doesn't always update. The keyboard ends up persisting when I've closed down programs (ok, that ones got to be the OS), its unresponsive. It's a shame really, the Touch Diamon boasts its own GPU.

In the end, I disabled the Touch-FLO add-on and stuck with the classic WinMo 6.1 theme, and am loving it. I love the fact I can get a mini-SQL server on it. I love the fact I can design and build WinMo net connected apps, in Visual Studio. +1 for the Microsoft platform.

If only the introduced the usability features of iPhone (and its clones), it could be the best mobile platform available. Windows Mobile wasn't introduced for the consumer though, it was for enterprise, and I think thats where the problems start, because adopting an enterprise-centric software application into the consumer market has got to require some sort of rethink.

Still, all that said and done, I love Windows Mobile.

I don't know jack about Iphones I have been a WinMo user for ages now but a group of friends and I chat on IRC all the time. One of them has an iphone and if he wants to do anything else (follow a link, google something) he has to completely close his IRC app, then log back in when he is done. I dunno maybe he is doing it wrong but I can't imagine having to live like that.

He gets a little upset at times though. He'll say "look bro I just bought this app that does X can your Touch Pro do that" and then I'll say "um the phone I had two years ago did that."

In the end, iphones are great for some people but for my needs I like the windows mobile interface and my slide out keyboard.

If I wanted a phone that just works then i'd get a iphone, yes i'd have to change the way I work but it would work. But since I want a phone that works the way I want it to to, I chose a winmo.

I've used all of the WinMo shells before, but i always find myself going back to the normal Windows Mobile interface. Some reason, i find it to be more productive. Sure it's not as inviting, but it gets the job done, fast.

Nice article, I agree with most of what you said and whilst 3rd party developers and the flexible nature of Windows Mobile are nice, it shouldnt excuse microsoft from a general failure to keep the platform up to date.

After over 7 years of the platform, it shouldnt be up to hardware vendors to have to design their own shell to virtually cover up Windows (TouchFlo, Xperia panels et al) and make it more user/finger friendly, after this long I shouldnt have to purchase third party solutions to get adequate PIM software, ah I could go on but its all been said before.

Microsofts greatest success in this area was building a platform ahead of its time, when the hardware use to be VERY expensive and they were aiming for the business market. Their greatest failures have been not to recognise the drop in price of these devices (esp. as more and more are subsidized by carriers) and to take the direction in a consumer orientated manner, or even for that matter, refreshing it for business. Myphone will be nice and all but a consumer or even business user out of the box experience is required - although if you wait long enough microsoft perhaps HTC will do that for you?

Been using Windows Mobile for a few years now. I like how I can customize the homescreen with free apps and plugins.

I am really frustrated that Microsoft allows some handset makers to release such crippled phones. The T-Mobile Dash is my current device and it drives me crazy with the pitiful amount of app memory it has. And what the hell was that re-release of the phone for without any upgrades? New colors on the case is not an upgrade!

My experience with the Dash has made me consider a BlackBerry since they are sometimes more affordable than the higher end WinMo phones (depending on provider promos) and they, usually, have what they need to run smoothly plus some extra.

zeke009 said,
Been using Windows Mobile for a few years now. I like how I can customize the homescreen with free apps and plugins.

I am really frustrated that Microsoft allows some handset makers to release such crippled phones. The T-Mobile Dash is my current device and it drives me crazy with the pitiful amount of app memory it has. And what the hell was that re-release of the phone for without any upgrades? New colors on the case is not an upgrade!

My experience with the Dash has made me consider a BlackBerry since they are sometimes more affordable than the higher end WinMo phones (depending on provider promos) and they, usually, have what they need to run smoothly plus some extra.


That's not Microoft's fault, blame the handset maker.

It's like saying screw you microsoft for letting dell sell me a pentium 2 with windows xp. Sure it works...just.

Windows Mobile went a long time w/o any real competition. I think all the smartphone competition that exists today will push Microsoft to make WiMo a better and more competitive product. At the same time, the number of programs available for WiMo is awesome. It has a terrific development platform. You don't need to hack your phone in order to install a SNES emulator (for instance) or Opera Mobile (which is amazing). It is definitely the most customizable smartphone OS...but that isn't what sells phones. Most customers don't want to bother with customizing things, they just want it all to work and have decent eye candy.

I still own an old Pocket PC w/ Windows Mobile 2003 and there are still programs be written and released that run perfectly fine on the device (minus the new OS :mad:). But that alone gives me some incentive to buy a WiMo smartphone for my next phone...but i'm very tempted by the iPhone too....

Look, you got it wrong! Customizing WinMo shell doesn't help, because, when you run something out of the default application suite (like HTC's) you are back to the old, ugly, finger unfriendly UI. But on iPhone, everything is on it's place in every app.

The2 said,
Look, you got it wrong! Customizing WinMo shell doesn't help, because, when you run something out of the default application suite (like HTC's) you are back to the old, ugly, finger unfriendly UI. But on iPhone, everything is on it's place in every app.


Not really. You have to blame the application makers for that. Most of the new gen apps that are coming out these days (not counting very complex apps) are finger friendly (like the latest version of WVD). Then there are apps that allow you to use the Touch-scroll ability in older programs.

I could make an app on the iphone that would be impossible to use without a stylus. the iPhone doesn't dictate that the app has to be finger friendly - it's just because they didn't provide a stylus forces developers to make finger-friendly apps. I actually feel sorry for iPhone devs as they can't implement very screen-complex applications or apps that require precise touch controls. With Windows Mobile, the OEMs, the devs and the users have a choice. And it's that choice which makes this author, myself and many more like us root for WM.

I'm not saying that it's it's the best phone for every person, but it's certainly one of the most customizable platforms one can get, and if you like customizability/DIY/tweaks then WM is for you.

Nothing against the iPhone, but, I prefer to have my UI MY WAY, not the stock way, which, is why I chose a WM device over the iPhone...along with I'm not into MP3's or watching videos on a tiny screen. My device is for WORK,
and the WM device does that...mobile office, acrobat. Plus, I'm very comfortable editing the WM registry, which, if you've ever played with the PC windows registry, is very similar. My phone, no matter what the carriers say, is mine to do with as I PLEASE, something that is a P.I.T.A. with an iPhone.

Not to mention that, should you wish to watch videos, it's as easy as installing a freeware player (TCPMP), copying the avi file from that torrent you just downloaded to your sd card, and enjoying it. No conversion necessary, you can use srt/sub subtitle files. Plenty of great MP3 players too.

Great article, interesting points raised and I'd agree with all of them. With rising competition one needs to realize what WM still has to offer that no other OS does. I love WM too, its a great OS, it's got plethora of applications with a wide range of usability options.

Thank you for pointing out Home 2. I've been a huge fan of SPB Mobile Shell for a couple years and wasn't aware of PointUI's offering.

Skwerl said,
Thank you for pointing out Home 2. I've been a huge fan of SPB Mobile Shell for a couple years and wasn't aware of PointUI's offering.

+1

i've since removed spb ms2 and i've been running home2 for over 24hrs no without a single issue!

Agree with Tom here - Win Mob 6+ is just a waste of time to me. It just doesn't have the ease of use it should have, it still crashes, it isn't easy enough to sync etc. I'm really glad the iPhone came out, if it hadn't - we'd still be stuck with the dated handsets and OS's that had been lingering around for years.

Byron_Hinson said,
Agree with Tom here - Win Mob 6+ is just a waste of time to me. It just doesn't have the ease of use it should have, it still crashes, it isn't easy enough to sync etc. I'm really glad the iPhone came out, if it hadn't - we'd still be stuck with the dated handsets and OS's that had been lingering around for years.


Oh, crap. Yes, I have crashes somewhat often as well, but I have no clue who to blame. My particular device, the T-Mobile Wing, is underpowered, which makes it very frustrating. TomTom will suddenly quit on me because it's "out of memory" right before an important turn. I then need to completely reboot the device (which takes several minutes!) to reclaim some memory that went God knows where.

I think Windows Mobile sucks personally. 6.5 isn't any better really either, they need to re work the whole thing, it will never appeal to the masses. I know what you mean about the tweaking but I don't wanna do that every time I lose my phone, break it or it just screws up or something similar. My phone should "just work".

Tom W said,
I think Windows Mobile sucks personally. 6.5 isn't any better really either, they need to re work the whole thing, it will never appeal to the masses. I know what you mean about the tweaking but I don't wanna do that every time I lose my phone, break it or it just screws up or something similar. My phone should "just work".


It has never been Microsoft's intent to "appeal to the masses." This is a business tool and an operating system- not a GameBoy. Microsoft has seen that there is now apparently a market for a smartphone for the masses, and I presume they'll be targeting that audience with release 7.

I'd agree with you, if I was an average WM user. But theres alot more that people do these days than "just work" them!

Microsoft only intent is to appeal to OEM's Sure it has business tools however the device is pretty much left to the OEMS. OEM's tried pushing Windows Mobile phones to all users from consumer to business.

I have tried WM phones in the past both large screen pda style and candy bar and i had nothing but problems. Constant crashing when making, recieving calls and SMS. The main problem seemed to be the WM OS could only run so many processes before slowing down and crashing, memory management was also a problem even on WM 5 which was the last version of the OS i used. I haven't used WM 6.x so i can't comment on that.

I will agree with Tom. To me, my phone just needs to do what I tell it to, when I tell it to. I used to use and defend Windows Mobile for a long time, then I got an iPhone. I'm sure a Blackberry would be the same way for me, because the OS is designed around the device.

I used to be an advocate of Windows Mobile because of the .NET Compact Framework. Being I'm a software developer (.NET of course) I loved the fact I could make applications for my phone.

Everything you described here are fixes for the out of box experience. How is Windows Mobile so great if you have to fix it yourself? Then isn't it just a platform for fixing? It's aging and Microsoft is taking the wrong direction. Piling UIs, applications and the other crap on top of it is going to make it top heavy and very under performing. If you have to go out of your way by installing applications, then I have to ask -- what is the point?

I finally realized this one day when I was using my Motorola Q9c (I also own a HTC (Sprint) Mogul I regularly do ESN swaps with) and it was just lacking. I'm dropping my AMAZING (archived) unlimited-everything plan with Sprint which is $40/mo to go with the iPhone because the phone works for me, I don't have to work for it to get it to wofk for me.

Chad Moran said,
Everything you described here are fixes for the out of box experience. How is Windows Mobile so great if you have to fix it yourself? Then isn't it just a platform for fixing?

As I replied above, my contention is that because it's so flexible, that it's amazing. It's like a "fixer upper" house. You buy it knowing that you plan on molding it around your needs.

I think this is an incorrect assumption. A lot of phone manufacturers who are entering the PDA/Smartphone market this year are planning on using WM 6.5 on their devices. You think they want their customers thinking "Well, I'll just have to fix this right up!". You think HTC enjoys having to create TouchFlo?

Having such an inconsistency in experience between multiple devices on the same platform is a BAD thing.

To you it's a bad thing, but for some, choice is a good thing. I don't care for the default UI on any of the mobile OS's. I like being able to change it up and use something built around my needs instead of being forced to succumb to a unified interface.

@Chad

Actually that flexibility is exactly why so many OEMs are choosing Windows Mobile over competing platforms. It allows them to build devices they believe are best fit for their target customer. They don't have to take a one sized fits all approach which doesn't work in large scale market penetration (you need a variety of offers that appeal to different types of consumers).

The iPhone is too locked to be a large scale player long term. It will always be a nitch player (expecially as the smartphone marketshare increases), but that is what Apple targets. Apple prefers that nitch status as it is the type of consumer they target.

@Chad
All Firefox addons are also fixes/additions to the out-of-box experience. WinMo, like everyone's favourite web browser, needs extra attention but the result is custom-tailored to you alone. And I think that's the appeal of WinMo that bangbang023 is trying to point out in the article.

Thank god I am in love with the iPhone OS. I sold my POS Windows Mobile 6.1 AT&T Tilt to some sucker. I don't care what anyone says, Windows Mobile 6.1 sucks compared to Android, Blackberry OS, iPhone OS, and Symbian. Maybe Windows Mobile 7 will be better than all of those, but for now it totally sucks. I also hate Resistive screens.

Lets see, you still can't copy and paste with your iphone. Too bad, try sending someone a passage from a webpage through a text, i guess you'll have to type it all out, and all of that on your tiny virtual keyboard.

Hey while your at that, could you send me a picture of you typing it all out so that i can laugh at you, oh wait, you can't even send picture messages. Here, let me just record a video (YEA, a VIDEO!!) of me laughing at you and then i'll send it to you.

iPhone = illusion of productivity
WinMo = True productivity.

(sigh)

Look, it's not a big deal these days to email a link to the webpage. Copy/paste is just one of those niche complaints that everybody loves to use. Eventually Apple will include it and you will move on to something else that you find 'necessary'.

Same thing goes for pictures. Give me your phone number and what service you use, I'll send you a picture message. Or I'll email it to you. Surely, in WinMo you can look at pictures attached to emails, right??

while i dont agree with everything, you do present vaild and supported points....I'm a diehard blackberry user (and I will admit the Storm is a terriable, terriable phone) and will die if I ever loose my phone....I wish BB would introduce a flashier UI to keep up with the Jones but at the end of the day it works, its extremely stable, and it feeds my addicton to email...

nice ( but brave) article!

+1 on the BlackBerry. Storm, no thanks, but I say that for touch screen phones in general. I'm a guy, with big hands, and big fingers and those things are made for people with daintier hands and more patience than I have. I use my phone for business, and as such I rely on it to do a few things very well. Key (other than the phone of course) being synchronization with my Exchange server. For that, BlackBerry Enterprise Server is rock solid. Sure, the built in web browser isn't great, but it does well enough 90% of the time, and for the other 10% Opera seems to fill the gap. For those rare occasions when it won't, I can use a bluetooth connection to my laptop and use my Berry as a 3G mobile broadband connection. I haven't had a WinMo device in many years, but the things I remember are lock-ups and reboots frequently to revive a hung device or app. Nice Bang On, but I'll be keeping my Berry.

Downloading other UIs for a WinMo device is very akin to jailbreaking an iPhone, which also gives alternate UIs. So yes, I can 'try it with my iPhone'.

The only way to fairly compare UIs is to compare the stock ones. So comparing the HTC UI is fair, because its out of the box, downloading the others isn't. It isn't exactly a painless experience to get programs onto a WinMo device either.

Most of your other points are actually ones against WinMo, so I won't touch on those.

Having the 'option' of downloading other programs to fix the ones that are crappy that come with it is hardly a plus. And again, with the other devices you mention, you can do the same thing if you're so inclined.

On the iPhone you can't replace the browser or Springboard, AFAIK. And my point, albeit a bit tongue in cheek, is that because Windows Mobile sucks so badly out of the Microsoft box, it's actually awesome because there are so many viable third party enhancements, many of them completely free.

episode said,
Downloading other UIs for a WinMo device is very akin to jailbreaking an iPhone, which also gives alternate UIs. So yes, I can 'try it with my iPhone'.

No, simply no, apple consider you to be an evil copyright pirate if you do that and there is a risk with that. The similarity would be using app store to provide those enhancements and as such there is no similar thing as WM you simply install the app and your done. Jailbreaking though breaks the warranty/agreement from apple and even then you can really change that much of the UI, not like a simple program on WM can. BTW I have a jailbroken iphone and winterboard so I do know what it can do...
Jailbreaking is similar to reflashing your WM device rather then an application.

there are a lot of good and bad points of WinMo... 6.1 is actually pretty good...

i own a HP iPaq 914c and an iPhone 3G
i must say that WinMo is a lot better and faster to use than iPhone, but using the stylus is a pain...

a rough fight! :P

"Rather, Windows Mobile takes a cue from Burger King and lets you "have it your way". I like things my way and, for what, I love Windows Mobile."

That's an amazing line