What Will Windows Mobile 6 Bring for the Highly Mobile People

By: Shuaib Shaikh

The next step in Windows Mobile is Windows Mobile 6, also commonly referred to as Crossbow. We had the privelege to work with it and see what it brings to you, the professional roadwarrior. With this major update there is a huge focus on the mobile professional: the knowledgeworker that uses this device during his work on the road. In this review we aim to show what these improvements are and how they affect you.

We do not do product announcements, but we do feel compelled to share our experiences with the new version of Windows Mobile: it is a major change in the OS and it can affect the landscape of the mobile device market as we all know it. The question remains if this change is in fact an improvement for you in your daily life. To help you make up your mind, we have written down the experiences we have with this OS. This is a rather lengthy review, so we have added a table of contents to it, to help you find your way easily.

Our experiences are based on months of working and testing Windows Mobile 6. We used the new OS during our own work and business situation intensly. We personally focussed on the overall usability of the device for business users. In this review mainly focusses on the value of the new OS for business users, not on the esthetic value of the new appearance nor on the new possibilities for developers. We want to focus on what business users would gain from switching from Windows Mobile 5 to Windows Mobile 6. In our opinion there is a lot gained by this transition, although there are some critical notes as well.

Overall appearance
Traditionally, the even updates are more focussed on visual appearance and the odd versions are more focussed on newly added functionality and integration of a new CE kernel. THis is no exception: the whole user interface has gotten a major overhaul. Although looks certainy aren't everything, it is pleasant if the looks of the user interface are esthetically pleasing. The user interface is more aligned with the glass look of Windows Vista and the icons are aso more in line with the current Windows appearance of icons.

Primairy PIM functions
Besides good looks the functionality of the Personal Information Management (PIM) applications also have been updated. Inour opinion they are not major changes and we hessitate to call them improvements of your daily life. In fact some could be considered the introduction of a problem.

Calendar
The most visual change in the calendar is rather subtle: you can now set your own personal view. This allows you to force the view you see when you open the calendar to be the agenda, day, week or year view.

The other subtle change is that there now is a timebar representing the free/busy period in your calendar. This ribbon is above the calendar view. Personally I do not see the use of this since it is duplication of information on the same screen, wasting screensize and reducing overview. However it looks nice and some people might think it is an attractive feature.

A major improvement is the handling of meeting requests. You can now see who is invited and what their role in the meeting is. You can also invite others by forwarding the meeting request. This comes in very handy when you want to dodge a meeting or want to move it. Modifying or deletion of a meeting now also triggers a dialog f you want to notify the meeting organizer.

Contacts
Contacts have undergone a small improvement that can save a lot of people a lot of time in the field. When entering contacts, you used to get a default order in which they appear in list. THis might not be the way you want that person to appear. However, the only way you could change this was by editting the contact on the desktop. With Windows Mobile 6, you can edit this information on your device.

Tasks
Although from the first glance the task view has not changed, the functionality behind it has changed. Small change is that you can now use the left softkeys to mark a task complete, instead of creating a new one (which was the normal behaviour of the old operating system).

The list-view will now show all future tasks as well, which is more consistent with the desktop version of Outlook. Huge disadvantage is that time management methods like Getting Things Done are hindered by this view, without any possibility of correcting it. Most time-management methods, like Getting things done, depend on irrelevant (future) tasks to be invisible. If you show future tasks you easily get sidetracked or overloaded with signals, making you lose focus on what is important now.

This sounds a bit overrated, but companies working with Microsoft Project Server, that propogate the project tasks through Microsoft Outlook into the task-lists of individual team-members, could easily introduce a flood of tasks for the team members. Most of these tasks are in the future and in effect you then reduced the possibilities to overview for the user.

This is also cause for some inconsistency in the user interface. The today-plugin will still hide future tasks for you, while the takslist can still show you a huge list of future tasks. In our experience this way of working with tasks will only work if you keep your complete task list short. Although this sounds simple and is the goal of any person, practice indicates it rarely is.

Communication
The most important updates for business users are related to the communications functionality, which got a several updates. Most of the changes are not fundamental: they are small updates polishing the OS further for use while on the run. But details do matter and actually do improve the usabilityand effectiveness of the OS a lot more in business situations.

Phone
A great improvement in the overall usability of the device is the introduction of voicecontrol as a integral part of the OS. It wil read the name of the caller out load and you can select the caller byvoice as well. This works rather well while driving a car.

The phone physical interface has changed as well, it now comes with a smartdialer developed by Microsoft by default. This is a rather complex beast that shows the last 10 calls in your call-history, your speed-dial numbers and then your complete adressbook. By using the D-Pad you can scroll down, but there are no tricks like the normal contactlist (that starts to scroll down the alphabet instead of individual contacts after 2 seconds).

The smartdialer uses the keys to find a contact. By entering the letters through the numeric keys (press the 4 once for an "i" etc.) you can select a telephone number or name. This might not work as well in northern European countries where there is a high overlap between the given name and the- family name, resulting in huge lists if you look for people called Erik, Jan or Piet. We have investigated the use of the smartdialer in some northern European communities. 50% of the people did not want to use a smartdialer because of usability problems. Our estimate is that some people will learn to use it anyway, and others will hate the solution forever.

Unfortunatly this also removed the quick access to the contacts. The button for the contacts has been replaced with a button for hiding the keypad. Keypad hiding allows you to see more contacts (partially solving the problem of the many similar names), but it does remove the "contacts" button. Especially when you normally search for contacts by company a lot, this might be a problem. So it might not be an improvement for people with many contacts in a business situation.

An improvement is that the quick dial-list is always visible when you open the interface. The first three persons in this list are always visible when you start the user interface. Since evidence suggest that many people call around 80% of the same 2-3 people anyway, this can be quite a good improvement.

A major improvement is that the history belonging to a number can be retrieved. By pressing the number in the call-log you can get an overview of all calls to that number. THis is a great way to identify when you called a certain person. This information is also partially included in the contact: you will see when you last called a certain person. Unfortunatly there is no way of finding all calls to a specific contact, so you do have to remember which number you used to contact a specific person.

Another practical and much wanted improvement is the possibility to save a number to an existing contact. This reduces the hassle when somebody calls you from an unknown number and you you want to save it to an already known contact: with older versions of the OS you could only creat a new contact from a number, but could not add it to someone alreay known to you. My best guess is that updates to existing contacts are more frequent than additions of contacts.

Another practical improvement is the removal of the lock during phonecalls. It is quite annoying that during a long phonecall you can be faced with the challenge of keep talking and unlocking your device to read some e-mail. Although this sounds like a small change, in practice this removes a real pain in the neck.

E-mail
One of the most important aspects of a Windows Mobile device is the possibility to check e-mail. Mobile e-mail is an important part of business life: around 37% of mobile users use their mobile phone to retrieve e-mail and around 76% of the executives uses mobile e-mail. So improving this e-mail client makes a lot of (business) users happy. There are some major improvements in that area. They range from support for HTML e-mail to optimizing the capabilities for effective e-mail management.

Support for HTML e-mail
Windows Mobile 6 has a big improvement for the average e-mail user: it now supports HTML e-mail. Many, many people had that on their wish-list and it was the one of the major reasons why alternatve e-mail clients were so popular: many people wanted to see e-mail like the sender intended. So were in the past you needed an alternative e-mail client, now it works out-of-the-box.

One of the best improvements is that by doing so, you can also read handwritten e-mail sent to you by people that use a TabletPC. This used to pose a problem since there is no alternative plain text associated with the handwritten content.

Integrating into your own back-office
Routinely people past links from the internal sharepoint server into their mails indicating you can find a certain document there. Which is great if you are on a laptop connected to your own network. On a Windows Mobile device it would save you the download of a (possibly enormous) attachment, but it also effectively cut you off from that document. Now you can simply go to the server and pick it up: it is all integrated into the mail client.

Flagging support
Another boost for you effectiveness is the possibility to flag e-mails, just like you do on your desktop. For many people this is their favourite way of triaging e-mail, so it can mean a lot for the effectiveness of people on the road. According to the documentation the flags should synchronize back to the server, allowing you to keep the flags identical to wherever you are (we have not tested this).

Improvements for the real roadwarriors
On of the most important improvements for road warriors is the automated blocking of the unattended download of e-mail when you are roaming abroad. This can save a lot of people a lot of surprises after a long businesstrip. Although most of us are aware of the huge price for GPRS/UMTS roaming, forgetting to turn off e-mail checking happends often, resulting in tremendous bills.

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