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Divergence & Death

I love writing for MobilitySite, and I especially like reading what others’ have to say.  But day after day I read the same thing in every blog.  It goes like this, “The new XYZ phone from ABC has this and that feature.”  It’s grown old.  And boring.  I’m thinking of kicking my excitement level up by taking up Bocce Ball or Bowling.  All the devices are the same.  They are no better than what we had four years ago.  They’re just getting bloated with compromised add-ons. 

Phones

Windows Mobile is Dead.  Read on to find out why your next device will not have a Windows Mobile OS.

What’s new in Windows Mobile devices?  Here’s a sampling of some of the latest devices with their processor and display specs:

Palm Treo Pro – Qualcomm MSM 7201 400 mHz, 320 x 320 display

HTC S740 – Qualcomm® MSM7225™, 528MHz, 2.4″ QVGA display

Sony Xperia – Qualcomm MSM7200 528MHz processor, 800 x 480 pixels, 3.0 inch display

HTC Touch Diamond – Qualcomm MSM7201A 528 Mhz processor, 480 x 640 pixels 2.2.8 inch display

HTC Advantage – Intel XScale PXA270, 640 x 480 VGA display

AT&T Tilt – QUALCOMM 400 MHzMSM7200, 320 x 240 QVGA display 2.8″

HP Ipaq 212 – Marvell PXA310 Processor 624 MHz, 640 x 480 4″ VGA display

 

Here are a couple four year old models:

HP iPaq HX4705 – Intel® PXA270 Processor 624 MHz, 640 x 480 4″ VGA display

Dell Axim X51V – Intel 624 MHzXscale, 640 x 480 3.7″ VGA display

 

As you can see, not much has changed.  To be sure, the newer models have the latest OS, but you can certainly upgrade the older models to the same OS.  The newer ones have some snazzy new features, including TouchFlo, cameras, keyboards, built-in GPS, accelerometers and more.  That stuff is really cool.  But in my view, they are just adding extra features to the same old same old.  This reminds me of the automobile business.  Automakers used to introduce new models every year.  But in the early 80’s they started tightening their belts and extending the models through the next year.  In fact, now models change every 4-7 years.  To sell these old in the tooth versions, the manufacturers just add new features to the same platform, such as better stereos, a few more horsepower, or a different style cloth for the seats.  Here’s a perfect example.  The latest Pontiac Grand Prix model was introduced in 2004.  For the 2007 Pontiac Grand Prix, a tire-pressure monitoring system became standard and a couple of new wheel designs debuted.  Wow!  Would you trade your 2004 for a 2007? 

I thought I was trading up when I upgraded to the HTC Advantage.  Certainly it’s a nice device.  5″ of screen real estate, 8GB hard drive, a camera, keyboard, built-in gps, and a few other features made it alluring.  But after awhile, I realized I had a heavy brick that really didn’t do more than my old x50v, and it wasn’t pocketable.  The keyboard was worthless, and with the price of flash memory, the 8GB hard drive was no big deal.  I thought about moving to a UMPC, but they’re worse.  I travel quite a bit, and want something pocketable yet capable.  The Advantage was weighing me down.  But I didn’t want to switch to an older device and give up gps and the camera.

In June my wife celebrated a birthday.  Being a romantic husband, I bought her a gps.  It was the TomTom One 3rd Edition:

TomTom-OneGPS3rdEdition-mac

That gps scored me big husband points!  Anyway, I hooked it up for her, which took less than a minute.  I turned it on, and expected to wait 5-7 minutes for the gps to connect to satellites just as in my Advantage.  But in seconds I had a connection.  I was blown away.  That got me thinking, “Do I really need the gps in my Advantage?  Do I need gps in a mobile device?”  The TomTom One was only $115 at Tiger Direct (seriously, I threw my wife a huge party with all our friends; the gps was icing on the cake), and it was faster and better than the TomTom on my Advantage.

I really started thinking, can I diverge?  Can I buck the trend?  Everyone is flocking to converge their devices.  Why am I running counter to conventional thought?  Shouldn’t I just be a good sheep?  After some research and lots of thought I decided to sell my beloved Advantage and buy separate devices including a standalone gps, a camera and a pocket pc.  The Advantage held much of its value, and sold quickly on EBay.  So I bought the TomTom One 3rd Edition, a Canon Powershot SD850 IS and the HP iPaq HX 4705 and had more than half my money left over.

I outfitted the 4705 with Windows Mobile 6.1, an 16GB CF card and a 2GB SD card.  Even though it has a smaller screen, the resolution is the same as the Advantage.  My camera is superior to the Advantage’s built-in camera.  The gps is faster.  And all three items weigh less than the Advantage.  But now I have to carry three items around with me instead of one.

sd850is_3q-001 4705

Is it worth carrying three items instead of one?  Absolutely.  At least to me.  The individual items are far better and they’re tiny.  Each is pocketable.  Really, I keep the gps in my car, so I only have to carry two items.  And if one goes down it’s easily replaced.  If the gps on the Advantage goes down, that’s a bigger problem.  Even though I’m only using a pocket pc, the same is true for SmartPhones. 

What will it take to make Windows Mobile relevant again?  How do they bring the excitement back?  How do they become the “it” company that others compare themselves too?  In other words, how do they best Apple’s iPhone?  In my opinion convergence is not working.  It’s not enough.  You can only add so many additions to a home before it looks like a hodge podge.  It’s time for a new home.  Or is it too late?

The Product Lifecycle and Product Death

Introduction.  Growth.  Maturity.  Decline.  Guess what part of the product cycle Windows Mobile is in?  Microsoft has been leapfrogged in many areas.  Cloud Computing, and Google have kicked it in the rear.  Now it’s a bloated mess.  And Windows Mobile is dead.  The iPhone has stabbed it in the heart.  Then Blackberry walked by the corpse and kicked it.  Symbian just smirked.  Can a product/company turn from their decline and reintroduce themselves?  Not many have.  Former giants such as IBM and Xerox are now also-rans.  Palm is on its last legs.  Innovators such as Google are taking over.  What will it take for Windows Mobile to become innovative?  I’ll offer some suggestions.

Bluetooth

Bluetooth must be upgraded.  Bluetooth 2.0 came out in 2004.  The future Bluetooth needs to be ultrafast and consume far less power.  Stereo Bluetooth should be standard as well.  Give us easier pairing and the ability to pair to more devices at once.  How about automatic pairing?  And you must include AVRCP (remote control) support, but a newer version with more functionality.  Think 2012, not 2008, and certainly not 2004

Operating System

Windows Mobile really hasn’t changed much since WM2003se.  We need a revolutionary change.  It needs to be completely finger friendly and not require a stylus.  Imagine if you could navigate any software program like you can Safari on the iPhone.  For example, if you have a huge spreadsheet on your pda, you can scroll through it in any direction with your finger.  When you find the section you want you just pinch and it zooms. 

Give us more Windows-like screens.  Have the X actually close programs and the minus minimize them, then make it easy to switch between them.  I want to be able to cut or copy a section from one program, reopen a second, and paste.  All with my finger.  So along those lines we’ll need gesture support.  You may feel that the technology is already there for finger friendly apps, since Opera, iWindowsMobile and several other companies already make such software.  However, in my recent review of Winterface, I revealed that although the app is excellent and incorporates finger friendly features, the operating system has trouble understanding the commands.  That is because Windows Mobile is geared towards sensing the tip of the stylus, and a finger, being far wider, confuses it. 

There are many things to like about the iPhone OS, and perhaps many of the changes I suggest for Windows Mobile are similar.  But the iPhone doesn’t have spreadsheets, IM, flash card slots, memos, cut and paste and much of the functionality that we are used to in Windows Mobile, at least not yet.  But this isn’t about the iPhone.  And don’t think I wouldn’t want one just because it’s missing a few things I’m used to.  It’s still an excellent product.  But I’m more concerned with the future, at least the near term future.  Incremental upgrades to the Windows Mobile OS will not make me upgrade.  I want to be WOWED!  Give me what I ask for then surprise me with more stuff.  But make it easier to do what I do today.  Give me the power to use relational databases.  Where did that go?

Processor

As you can see from the beginning of this post, processors have not changed in the last four years.  Perhaps it’s a function of the staid OS.  I want dual core, no, make that quad core power.  I want speed.  Don’t make me wait for software to open.  And do that while consuming less power.  Moore’s Law has failed miserably in this arena.  We’re actually going backward.

Memory

I want slots for flash.  You don’t have to give me tons of onboard memory.  But give me slots.  I prefer SD right now because they’re relatively small, yet the memory is cheap.   And don’t just give me two.  Give me at least four!  As flash prices plunge I can upgrade.

Syncing

Let’s drop Active Sync.  It’s too limited.  Let’s broaden our thinking.  I want my desktop to think of my pda as another drive.  But I want more than that.  Don’t give me cryptic errors, just work.  And if there are conflicts, make it easier to fix them.  Give us more options.  For example, I may want to sync one program both ways, another from the pda to desktop, and a third from the desktop to the pda. 

Software and Internet

The software that is preloaded with Windows Mobile is fine with me.  As I said in my article, Is Windows Mobile Broken, or is it Alive and Well?, if you want to upgrade the software you have a multitude of choices.  I don’t want one company picking all my software.  What I am looking for is the structure underneath the software, the framework if you will, of the OS to improve.  That will allow for better software and a better user experience. 

Apple has shown us the new state of the art in mobile browsers with Safari.  Opera’s new offering is not ready for primetime.  Nothing on the Windows Mobile side really comes close.  Not because developers aren’t trying, but because the OS won’t support it.  To be successful again, and to survive, Windows Mobile must leapfrog Apple’s iPhone OS. 

Wow Me

So called dumbphones keep contacts and information, have memos, calendars, can go online.  Why is Windows Mobile better?  It may seem like an obvious answer, but it’s not.  Windows Mobile is going the way of the Palm.  It’s not far behind.  There is no excitement.  There is nothing new.  There is no Wow factor.  Microsoft should take a very small team of developers, lock them in a room, and tell them not to come out until they can wow the public.  Forget committees, drop the chain of command, eliminate beaurocracy, and get to work.  If a few guys from XDA Developers can rewrite OS’s, then perhaps paid professionals can offer something innovative?  Apple is not standing still.  And sometime soon a company you never heard of may sweep in and blow your mind with something new.

I want to have a device designed for 2012, not 2004.  I want to be Wowed.  Today.

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August 28, 2008 - Posted by | Opinions, Pocket PC, Windows Mobile

1 Comment »

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