Today at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Microsoft unveiled Windows Mobile 6.5. This revision of the Windows Mobile operating system changes the user interface, particularly on Pro (touch screen) phones. While Windows Mobile Standard Edition (non-touch screen) saw a home screen makeover in Windows Mobile 6.1 in the form of the sliding panels home screens, little changed for 6.1 Pro phones. In Windows Mobile 6.5 the phone screen for Pro Edition looks like a cross between sliding panels on Standard Edition and Microsoft's Zune main menu.
Oddly non-graphical, there are words rather than icons or other prettiness for Favorites (IE), voicemail, the time with carrier info too, text messages, email messages with an account listing shown as a small envelop for each account you've configured, appointments, songs and photos. The voicemail, phone, text and email listings have a number count to show unread messages, missed calls and voicemails waiting. The right softkey menu changes based on which of these listings is highlighted. For example, it's "compose" when email is highlighted and "library" when songs is highlighted.
Standard Edition is getting a makeover but Microsoft hasn't revealed the details yet. It will not run the pictured new home screen nor will it have the honeycomb described further down.
Here's a biggie: the Start Menu is gone. Bye-bye, no more. Tap the Start icon at the upper left and Windows Mobile shows you what used to be the programs group. All installed programs are here along with the settings folder. Also new is the honeycomb look for the Windows Mobile Pro programs browser. The idea behind this is likely a usability concept that shows circular menus and interfaces require less finger movement and/or clicks. However, the honeycomb isn't exactly circular, and in the end doesn't make for better usability. It does separate icons more than the old view, and this does make it easier to select an icon with a finger rather than a stylus. Looks wise, it ain't pretty thought.
Microsoft has done an excellent job of adding gesture support for finger scrolling. You can scroll through the programs easily with the drag of a finger, and likewise scroll through contacts lists, files in File Explorer and etcetera. Menus have been enlarged everywhere to make them finger-friendly, even pop-up menus that appear when you tap and hold. The menus are attractive too, though the up/down arrows at top and bottom of a menu list might be a tad small to activate easily.
Internet Explorer has been improved with much better rendering, even in mobile mode. It runs in full screen and the simple icons for basic controls and menu access appear with a touch of the screen, very much like Opera Mobile. Office Mobile gets small tweaks while most other applications seem largely the same. Of course some things may change between now and when Microsoft releases the operating system to manufacturers likely in the second half of this year.
Messaging looks largely the same, as does contacts except that contact listings are enlarged to make them easier targets for fingers rather than a stylus.
The tiny "x" close box has been enlarged to make it finger-friendly as well.
Sadly, Microsoft has not updated their tiny on-screen keyboard. They're leaving it to manufacturers and 3rd party software developers to continue developing their own solutions. We'd really like to see a Microsoft solution so users could have a standardized and usable experience. Manufacturers and developers could still offer their own versions but we'd have something usable to fall back on if the manufacturer failed to provide a software keyboard optimized for touch.
The locked screen is now informative and useful-- no need to unlock the device to see the time, missed call, voicemail and message counts.
In some ways, Windows Mobile 6.5 is a face lift of the OS, not unlike what SPB Mobile Shell and other applications do. The really big changes will likely come in future operating system versions.
-------------------- Lisa Gade Editor in Chief, MobileTechReview