Windows Mobile Weekly Roundup

by Todd Ogasawara

So, What About the Google Phone?
Like most people I read the Google Open Handset Alliance reports with great interest (here’s MSNBC’s report if you haven’t read any of the reports yet). At the end of the day (quite literally in the case of writing this blog item), what’s the deal?

First, no handsets will be available until the 2nd half of 2008. In Internet time, that is forever. The Symbian and maybe UIQ based phones will probably have some kind of response by then. Palm OS seems mired in development issues. And, Windows Mobile shows no signs of evolving much past where it was when the Pocket PC 2002 came out. Apple, of course, is the possible spoiler. But, um, Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt sits on Apple’s board. I wonder if…

(Second) this is the reason the Google based phones will not be available for essentially another year and they have not signed up AT&T Wireless (which has the exclusive to the Apple iPhone). US mobile service providers Sprint (#3 in the US) and T-Mobile (#4 in the US) signed up. But, Verizon Wireless (#2 in the US and with a history for turning off features such as Bluetooth file copy and Bluetooth shared modem) has not signed but is said to be in talks.

Third, Google’s strategy will probably assume an always connected model. Microsoft’s Windows Mobile has an excellent client software model. But, they too are focusing on model that assumes you are always connected (read my earlier rant on this topic at: Windows Mobile Focusing on Windows Live). Some of us (a lot of us? most of us?) spend part of the time either completely out of mobile carrier signal range or in poor data quality situations. For those of us in that situation, always connected is not part of our reality. Client resident software is a good thing.

Fourth, T-Mobile is limited to relatively slow (but cheap!) EDGE wireless data. Sprint PCS has the faster EVDO available and has, I guess, some kind of WiMax plan. Unfortunately, they appear to have customer retention and net income issues (see this RCR Wireless News article).

Fifth, it is very interesting that HTC signed on as a handset manufacturer. This was no secret of course. But, HTC has been (as far as I know) producing only Windows Mobile based phones up until now. And, IMHO, they are pretty much responsible for most of the innovation we have seen in the Windows Mobile space in the past few years. It will be interesting to see what the combination of their hardware design skills and Google’s software design skills creates. More importantly, will HTC’s top engineers be moved from Windows Mobile hardware projects to the Google phone project? This might mean a drop in innovation for the Windows Mobile space.

Sixth, the presumed low price (Google is providing their phone software for free) of the new phones combined with their presumed coolness factor should make life miserable for Microsoft, Nokia, and Sony-Ericsson in the consumer space. The enterprise space is if-fy if you assume that Google’s phone must tie into Microsoft Exchange Server and IBM’s Lotus Notes to make inroads to the enterprise space.

Seventh, and finally, although the Google phone does not appear to have the closed-system Apple iPhone issue (at least for now), it remains to be seen how much innovation we’ll see from third party developers. It’ll be interesting to see which developers get seeded with prototype phones.


Internet Explorer Mobile Browser Details Explained
I used to use Internet Explorer a lot on my Pocket PCs and Smartphones. But, the lack of suitably mobile format friendly sites (though that is improving every day) and the huge number of RSS feeds that are nicely reformatted by Ilium NewsBreak (or whatever feed reader you prefer) changed my reading habits on Windows Mobile devices. However, if you are developing mobile-friendly websites or just wonder what your IEM browser supports, the IE Mobile Team posted two very informative blog entries earlier this year (May and June 2007). Take a look at…

IE Mobile Standards Support

IE Mobile Support of ActiveX

The standards blog includes a section listing the elements new to Windows Mobile 6 that should prove especially helpful if you are focusing on that platform.


Opera Mini 4
Opera Mini 4
Since I ranted about Internet Explorer Mobile earlier, it seems fair to mention the other major mobile browser from Opera. They just released the Opera Mini 4 production (no more beta!) version this week. If you have a Java Midlet manager on your Windows Mobile device, you really should consider taking a look at this browser. It does a good job of rendering web pages of all formats (not just mobile friendly ones).

However, while Java allowed Opera to port this easier to multiple platforms, Java also prevents it from providing a great end-user experience. For example, while the Menu and Back buttons in the screenshot above look like they are soft buttons, pressing the left or right soft button on a Pocket PC (Professional Edition) does nothing. I had to tap those buttons with a stylus to get an action.

My gold standard for mobile device browsing these days is the Safari browser on the Apple iPhone and iPod touch. Nothing on a WiMo device comes close to providing that end user experience. However, if you plan to do a lot of web browsing on your WiMo Pocket PC or Smartphone, you probably want to learn more about Opera Mini 4 and, perhaps, give it a test drive. It will render those pages that will either break or simply look horrible on Microsoft’s IE Mobile.


Vito Technology SoundExplorer: Sound Test
Vito Technology SoundExplorer
I’ve been toying with the idea of recording short podcasts using just a Windows Mobile Pocket PC or Smartphone. How short is short? About the time it takes to brush your teeth or less :-)

I posted four previous tests to my Blogr account at OgasaWalrus.blogr.com. Thanks to Vito Technology, I was able to post a 5th test to that site tonight. I installed their SoundExplorer audio recorder on my HTC Advantage Pocket PC Phone Edition to make the test recording. Windows Mobile’s built-in recorder only records WAV audio files. These things can become large very quickly. And, some of the free web audio posting sites (like Tumblr) only accept MP3 files. Fortunately, SoundExplorer can record directly to an MP3 file and in various formats. I chose the higher quality 44KHz 16bit 96Kbps recording format to get the best quality sound.

The 30 second clip I recorded created a 358KB file. This is much much smaller than the file size required to contain a equivalent quality 30 second WAV sound recording.

One problem (to me anyway) is that I recorded the clip in a relatively quiet room this evening. And, wow, my voice sounds really boring. So, I’m going to make another test recording during the day outdoors to see if some real-world ambient noise makes it sound just a tiny bit more interesting and life-like :-)

You can listen to the 30-second audio clip I recorded using SoundExplorer at: MobileViews Mini-cast 5.


Apple iPod touch 1.1.2 Adds Calendar Event Creation: Watch Out Windows Mobile!
According to MacRumors.com, the Apple iPod touch 1.1.2 firmware upgrade adds the ability to add calendar events on the iPod touch (the iPhone already has this feature). My iPod touch is still at 1.1.1 and is apparently not on the schedule for upgrading today. So, I can’t confirm this first hand. But, I’m looking forward to getting the update sometime in the next couple of days.

Combine this news with the commentary over on PocketPCThoughts.com about well-known techie Chris Pirillo’s conversion from Windows Mobile to the iPhone (see Chris Pirillo on the iPhone vs. Windows Mobile for Business Use) and the many concurring comments on PocketPCThoughts’ forums. Now, things are getting interesting. The big problem with the iPhone is that many of us in the US are unwilling to switch from our current mobile phone service provider to AT&T Wireless. The iPod touch, however, doesn’t require anyone to make any kind of change to use it.

Since the calendar sync will probably be flawless like the contacts sync, iPod touch owners are not going to have the kind of love-hate relationship with ActiveSync and WMDC that Pocket PC and Smartphone owners have. In fact, iPod touch owners simply won’t even think about syncing much. It will just work.

The iPod touch’s Safari browser is already the gold standard for mobile browsing. The touch is a great music, video, and photo player. It lets you enter contacts and soon (if not now) lets you enter calendar events. Most people don’t add applications to their Pocket PC or Smartphone from what I’ve seen over the years. But, application development is underway via Jailbreak and iPod touch and iPhone development will be legitimized by Apple early in 2008. Add the perceived coolness factor that all iPods (and the iPhone) have and you have a killer mobile product.

While I doubt that anyone from the Microsoft Windows Mobile team reads this blog, I’ll add a note for them here anyway… Earth to Windows Mobile Team: Geeks like me (and probably the two or three people who read this blog now and then) will continue to buy and use Windows Mobile devices because we need/want apps like Word Mobile, Excel Mobile, eWallet, Newsbreak, SoundExplorer, and HanDBase. But, the vast majority of non-enterprise non-geeks (99.999+% of the world) just need contacts, calendar, and media playback (mobile browsing is not high on the list of non-geeks). And, since syncing an iPod with a Mac or PC is natural and easy for iPod users, syncing contacts and calendar will be just another automatic action that they don’t worry about.

I’ve already watched one of my favorite mobile tools, the good ol’ Windows CE Handheld PC, go the way of the dinosaur and disappear. The Pocket PC (Classic Edition - no phone radio) is probably not far behind. And, the Pocket PC Phone Edition (Professional Edition) and Smartphone (Standard Edition) may become niche enterprise tools. The iPhone and iPod touch are here now. The Google phones are on their way in 2008 (or more likely 2009 IMHO). If Windows Mobile doesn’t fix its broken basics such as the awful sync experience and awful Internet Explorer web browsing experience, it will not be a viable platform except in vertical markets by 2010.


Another Daylight Savings Time Bug?
Today (Nov. 10) was a friend’s wedding anniversary. So, it showed up on my calendar. But, um, it also shows up on Nov. 11! I suspect (but have no proof yet) that it is related to the recent shift back from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time. I saw this on other people’s Windows Mobile devices earlier in the year when the new shifted Daylight Savings Time began. So, check the various birthdays and anniversaries on your Pocket PC or Smartphone. Some of them may not be split across two days.