Microsoft Windows Mobile 2003 Software for Pocket PC 2003

by Todd Ogasawara

Microsoft launched Windows Mobile 2003 Software for Pocket PC on June 23, 2003. The shift from Pocket PC 2000 to 2002 was visually noticeable, even to the casual user. The icons looked different. The introduction of Today screen themes let people personalize the look and feel of the initial window and Start menu. New applications like MSN Messenger and Terminal Service Client joined other major applications burned into ROM.

A casual glance at Windows Mobile software for Pocket PC 2003 creates the impression that little has changed between the 2002 and 2003 release. This impression, however, would be incorrect. There are significant improvements that will be most noticeable to power users, enterprise users, and developers. One aspect that all types of Pocket PC users will notice, though, is that the Pocket PC 2003 is significantly faster than its predecessors for many tasks.

HP iPAQ 2215
The HP iPAQ 2215 was the first Microsoft Windows Mobile 2003 Pocket PC widely available in the U.S.

Here's an overview of changes and new features for end users and developers alike.

Upgrade Pocket PC 2002 to 2003?

The availability of Pocket PC 2003 upgrades for Pocket PC 2002 devices is determined and managed by the hardware manufacturers and not by Microsoft. There are differences even within a single vendor's product line. HP and Toshiba, for example, are providing upgrade paths for some but not all of their Pocket PC 2002 product models.

What About Application and Peripheral Compatibility?

Most applications developed for the Pocket PC 2002 platform should run on the Pocket PC 2003. The major initial exceptions are applications developed using eMbedded Visual Basic (see the What is New for Developers section near the end of this article for details). Hardware peripheral compatibility depends on the complexity of the product involved. For example, the HP iPAQ 2215 data connector is physically identical to the data connector on the older Compaq iPAQ 3800 series, 3900 series, and 5400 series products. Simple sync/charger cables should work without any modification or drivers. On the other hand, more complex products like wireless LAN cards will most likely need updated drivers to work with Pocket PC 2003.

Pocket PC Programs
Most applications developed for Pocket PC 2002 install and run as expected on Pocket PC 2003.

What is New for End Users?

The Pocket PC 2003 changes and additions can be grouped in five categories:

  1. Pocket Outlook features.
  2. Enhanced features and new applications.
  3. Communications features.
  4. Phone Edition features.
  5. Hardware keyboard support.

Pocket Outlook Features

Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) started out as electronic versions of the paper organizer. The Calendar, Contacts (address book), Tasks, Notes, and Inbox applications are still probably among the most used applications.

Calendar The visible changes here are cosmetic. Sunday is shown in red while Saturday is shown in light blue in various summary views. The important change is the introduction of support for the vCalendar. This allows easy inclusion of single events sent from Microsoft Outlook.

Contacts The most noticeable change is seen during a string search. As with the Pocket PC 2002, the displayed search list changes as you type each character. However, the partial search string is now highlighted in blue, making it easy to see the current string match. For example, after typing "jo" you will see first names like John, Joan, Jon, and Joseph, as well as surnames like Johnson and Jones, with the "jo" substring in bold blue. The introduction of support for vCards should help manage new contacts. Another set of enhancements to Contacts is specific to the Pocket PC Phone Edition. These enhancements are discussed in the section focusing on the Phone Edition later in this article.

Inbox The Pocket PC 2003 Inbox gains a few much-requested features. The Auto-suggest feature draws email address information from the Contacts database as you type into the email address field. The spelling dictionary now works with Inbox and helps you Auto-correct spelling errors. Finally, Inbox now supports Auto-signatures that can be automatically appended to outgoing email.

Enhanced and New Applications

The Pocket PC 2003 versions of Pocket Internet Explorer (pIE) and Windows Media Player have dramatically changed from the previous versions. There are also two new applications introduced: Pictures and Jawbreaker.

Pocket Internet Explorer (pIE) The first thing you notice about pIE on the Pocket PC 2003 is speed! My main complaint about previous pIE versions was their slow web rendering. Simple text-only web pages took forever to build and render on the screen with previous versions. This is not the case now. The other thing you notice is that pages look more correct than in previous versions. This is because pIE now supports HTML 4.01, XHTML, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), JScript 5.5, and WML 2.0.

Windows Media Player 9
Windows Media Player 9 for the Pocket PC 2003.

Windows Media Player 9 The new Media Player is the other major application that received a major upgrade. The Pause control now works as expected. Its Volume control is now independent of the system volume. It works with the Microsoft Plus! Digital Media Edition Plus! Photo Story and Plus! Sync & Go applications that produce animated slide shows and downloads video content for store-and-go use. The most important changes, though, are in the updates to the audio and video decoders. Video, in particular, provides smooth video playback at bit rates that looked a bit jerky (missed frames) in the previous version.

Pictures This new application is a simple image viewer that can be used to view simple slideshows or used as a screen saver when the Pocket PC is docked (and is using A/C power instead of battery power). It is interesting to note that HP chose to supplement its iPAQ 2210 Series products with the Westtek iPAQ Image Viewer, which provides more features than the Microsoft-provided Pictures application.

Jawbreaker The other new application addition is the game formerly known as Bubblets, now renamed Jawbreaker. It joins the venerable Solitaire in ROM space as a easy-to-learn and addictive game.

Communications Features

The new communications features are aimed mostly at the increasingly important area of wireless networking.

Connection Manager The Pocket PC 2002 version of Connection Manager caused no small amount of confusion when it was first released. The new Connection Manager has been completely redesigned for easier configuration. It can now configure multiple VPNs, 802.1x, IPSec L2PT VPN, 128-bit SSL, and 128-bit CAPI encryption.

WiFi Zero Configuration This feature aims to reduce the complexity of configuring an 802.11b wireless LAN connection (I do not know of any 802.11a or 802.11g CF cards for the Pocket PC). That said, some manufacturers are still working on their WiFi card support for Pocket PC 2003, so you should make an effort to contact your WiFi card's manufacturer to ensure that you have the most current drivers. Some Pocket PC 2003 devices have integrated WiFi capability.

Bluetooth Microsoft now provides its own Bluetooth stack for Pocket PC 2003. The Bluetooth Manager applet can create, configure, delete, and rename Bluetooth bonds. Some Pocket PC 2003 devices have integrated Bluetooth capability.

New Pocket PC Phone Edition 2003 Features

Pocket PC Phone Edition 2003 is a digital wireless telephone in a Pocket PC form factor (wider than the usual cell phone). It was introduced in 2002 with products for the GSM/GPRS voice/data networks. 2003 saw the introduction of Phone Edition models that work on the CDMA/CDMA1xRTT voice/data networks. Pocket PC Phone Edition 2003 introduces a number of new features and enhancements.

Connectivity Notifications Tapping the signal strength indicator in the top status bar now shows the voice and data services and allows you to turn off the phone radio. It is interesting to note here that while the GPRS (and presumably CDMA1xRTT) data network can be turned on from this indicator screen bubble, you cannot turn it off using the same interface.

Constant Data Connections This feature provides a seamless transition between voice and data network use. Data sessions are resumed after a voice call interruption.

Pocket Outlook scheduled synchronizations with Exchange Server 2003 Pocket Outlook components like Calendar, Contacts, and Inbox can now wirelessly synchronize on a scheduled basis with Microsoft Exchange Server 2003. The once-separate Mobile Information Server (MIS) product is not an integrated part of Exchange Server 2003.

Short Message Service (SMS) SMS Caller ID information is now matched with the SMS number in a Contacts entry. A character counter is provided to help you keep track of a SMS message's size. Finally, SMS messages can now be accessed offline as SMS Inbox messages.

Separate system and phone volume controls The often-requested ability to separately adjust the system (Pocket-PC-specific) and phone volumes is delivered in the Pocket PC Phone Edition 2003.

Ring tones Windows Media and MIDI ring tones are now supported to provide for a wide variety of ring tone possibilities.

Call Barring This feature lets you block all incoming calls (while remaining able to dial out), as well as blocking calls only when roaming out of your carrier's area. You can also choose to block all outgoing calls, all international calls, or all international calls except to your home country.

Call Mute A small muting icon was added as the last item on the bottom command bar.

Hardware Keyboard Support

Some of the most commonly purchased hardware add-on products for the Pocket PC are the foldout keyboards and thumb keyboards. This is acknowledged by supporting features like keyboard shortcuts. For example, pressing Ctrl-B when a string is highlighted will not cause the string to switch between a normal and bold-faced font in Pocket Word.

What Did Not Change or is Still Missing?

There are also a number of important applications that did not change. Pocket Word and Pocket Excel are the most noticeable for their lack of feature additions. Pocket Excel, for example, still cannot generate or display graphs (though there is a third-party option that can perform this task). Also, Pocket Word still cannot create or display tables. I have not noticed any significant enhancements in Pocket Notes, Tasks, or Calculator. Some errors still persist, too. For example, if you turn on the Pocket Calendar Week Numbering option, the final week of December 2004 is reported as week 53.

What is New for Developers?

Microsoft provides a detailed document titled What's New for Developers in Windows Mobile 2003-based Pocket PC. I will summarize and highlight some of the key points here.

Windows CE .NET 4.2 The biggest change here is the change in the core operating system version from Windows CE 3.0 (used as the core OS for both Pocket PC 2000 and Pocket PC 2002) to Windows CE .NET 4.2.

In: Microsoft Windows .NET Compact Framework The .NET Compact Framework is embedded in the Pocket PC 2003 ROM. This means you can develop managed code C# and Visual Basic .NET applications using Visual Studio .NET and the Pocket PC 2003 SDK.

Out: Microsoft eMbedded Visual BASIC Microsoft's choice to migrate developers to managed code developed using C# or Visual Basic .NET led them to remove eMbedded Visual Basic from ROM. Developers and users of eMbedded Visual Basic applications will need to download and install the eMbedded Visual Basic Runtime for Pocket PC 2003. Microsoft also provides a document titled Moving from eMbedded Visual Basic to Visual Basic .NET to help Visual Basic developers migrate to the new environment.

Out: eMbedded Visual Tools support The entire eMbedded Visual Tools 3.0 development environment has also dropped from the support radar scope. Developers who want to develop native code applications can move to eMbedded Visual C++ 4.0 (available for download at the developers' download area linked at the end of this section).

The emulator from the Pocket PC 2003 SDK.

Improved: Emulator The Pocket PC 2003 SDK emulation environment is now a true virtual computer. It can emulate Pocket PC 2003, Pocket PC Phone Edition 2003 with external radios, and Pocket PC Phone Edition 2003 with Virtual Radio. The Virtual Radio emulator lets developers send SMS messages to the radio interface with the appearance of coming from an actual radio network.

Neil Enns (Lead Program Manager, Mobile Devices Product Group, Microsoft) presented an excellent MSDN webcast describing development issues for Pocket PC 2003 and Smartphone 2003 on June 23, 2003. You can see and hear the webcast at this link:
MSDN Webcast: Next Generation Pocket PC and Smartphone Development Platform

Other downloads for developers are found linked on the
Microsoft Mobile Software Developer Downloads page.


If you take a quick casual glance, Pocket PC 2003 does not look significantly different from its predecessor. However, upon closer investigation, the move to Windows CE .NET 4.2, the inclusion of .NET Compact Framework in ROM, the evolutionary jump in functionality and performance of Pocket Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player 9, and the large number of new features related to wireless communications of all kinds (wireless LAN, Bluetooth, and wireless phone) all point to a vastly improved ultra-portable platform.

Todd Ogasawara is the editor of He has been named a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) in the Mobile Devices category for the past several years. You can find his personal website focusing on Mobile Device Technology at

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