So Windows Mobile (WM) 7.0 is no longer just over the horizon and making us wait as long as 2010 before we finally see it released is now a reality. Whether you put your faith in v6.5 or not, Microsoft has clearly got troubles with the tiny OS and is taking its time to get the next version right.

I have a confession to make before I go on. Despite being a Microsoft Mobile bod first and foremost, I’m going to admit that my main phone the past 9 months has been the iPhone 3G. At first it was just too hard to ignore as a tech freak! but over time nothing has come close to it on an everyday level and my Touch Pro has been quietly relegated to USB 3G modem status!! In fact I’m so impressed with Apples dev offering too that I’m now a dev partner with Apple and just about to launch a suite of apps as well as bespoke offerings into the Apple market. Have I been swept up in the Apple wave too?

Anyway what this means is that I feel better qualified to write this article and you can bet your life there’ll be an Apple one soon!!!. So let’s get back to the original question of the main problems of WM and what Microsoft needs to get right in its next release.

1. Interface, Interface, Interface!

Microsoft has historically taken a business enterprise approach with its phones. Why wouldn’t it with its ready made army of server and desktop customers? However whilst WM has focused on things like Exchange integration and how similar it is to use as its big brother Windows operating system, the competition has seized the opportunity to make their phones usable in the way phone users use them. Have you seen the WM today screen? I couldn’t understand how WM6.1 made it better to be honest and lets face it, using WM is nowhere near as pleasurable, intuitive or easy as an iPhone, Nokia or Blackberry.

2. Make the right gesture!

Gestures and accelerometers have definitely been the thing the past 2 years and WM has completely ignored it! Manufacturers like HTC have valiantly tried with Touch-Flo but have simply not kept pace with the competition. Gestures don’t solve everything but they go a long way to making a phone easier to use and fit the way a phone user uses a device much better. WM definitely needs a way to engage the user more by using different kinds of user input techniques.

3. Daddy Cool!

This is always a touchy subject at best but Microsoft phones simply aren’t that cool! Just go to any social gathering and get your Qtek 8500 Star trek out or even your HTC MAX 4G as I proudly and often do and watch people just nod at you in a humouring manner!! Why is this? HTC makes some beautiful handsets and Samsung has really cracked into the high street with its Omnia products but why does WM remain uncool? The Blackberry Curve is anything but cool but every time I see a celebrity they’re using one which makes them cool (Doesn’t it!?). I think Microsoft needs to seriously spend some of their savings on re-positioning their WM brand. It can be done, just look at how the XBox team did it.

4. Get the hardware right.

Some WM phones run like a dream and some are so slow they really let the side down and despite WM solving a lot of issues for us .NET developers the implementation of it on different devices still differs. Add to this that it’s clear that the hardware requirements need to be tightened up and brought in-line with what the OS needs and you have a recipe for a mess! One great benefit of WM is that there are a plethora of applications out their ready to use but most of them still have inter device issues as well as lack of power problems because the device hardware is either under specified or implemented in a non standard manner.

5. Work with the operators

Having said the above, you can have a superb handset but if the operators cram too much of their own bloat ware into the OS then you’re dead in the water. Operators seem to fry ridiculous applications in to their device ROMS and insist on creating a bespoke the interface so that a device can almost look and feel like a completely different phone network to network?

Our friends on the XDA forums have proven time and time again how a clean ROM can make a huge difference to the performance of a WM phone. Maybe the operators need to learn a few lessons from them!

Give the user the choice or give them a ROM that will be useful and not impact the performance of the base OS.

6. Just Browsing!

With WAN becoming faster and cheaper every day more and more people use their phones for Internet browsing. I have to admit that Mobile Explorer just misses the point entirely when compared to Safari or Opera. Sure you can install Opera but the point here is that the common user that Microsoft desperately needs to sell into just isn’t going to install a separate browser.

Why not include some of the new features of IE8 into Mobile IE? Pasting portions of web pages into a feed like experience could be something new in the mobile market and could be the today screen answer? I don’t know, but what I do know is that they need to get IE right and fast.

7. The stylus is dead, long live the finger!

I’m not sure that this is totally true (I just thought of the title above and couldn’t resist using it!!). There is still a time and place for the stylus but again we have to stop thinking about the enterprise market and look to the every day bods on the street. Does a teenager really want to get her stylus out to text her friends and how does the 35 year old traveller Twitter away when his stylus has been lost somewhere in Laos!?

At Rugged and Mobile we face up to this problem every day. Van drivers, warehouse operatives and generally anyone who wears gloves either hates, can’t use or loses the stylus and it’s another example of how WM has been left behind by the competition and the consumer.

8. Standards

One thing that really got my goat this week was that HTC’s diamond and pro 2 have reverted back to the proprietary USB jack so I can no longer use my own headphones and other accessories (Again!!). It’s a real blow and did they not see how welcomed putting in a std jack in the iPhone 3G was at its launch event?

It’s the same with a whole host of other areas on WM phones (Think blue tooth for one) and its time that the device manufactures, operators and Microsoft pulled together.

9. Innovate not recreate

Microsoft needs to step back and stop applying its server mentality to its phone division. It has got to stop thinking about its phone as another device people use but as THE device people are using to connect and interact with. At Rugged and Mobile we always spend time with our customers so that when we write an application for them, it fits their users needs. It often means we do something we think is nuts but at the end of the day the user’s end up citing the very same thing as the best part of the solution. The lesson to learn? Listen to your users, listen to the market and deliver into them what they need in an innovative way. Stop thinking about mobile in a desktop manner.

10. Fortune favours the bold!

Any business understands that you do your research then you go for it. Microsoft needs to stop bumbling around and needs to really go for it. Get involved with cool events, build the brand into something to be envied and deliver on the promises by making WM devices robust, easy to use and packed with useful features of the moment that other phones don’t have or have even thought of!

I heard that Microsoft were playing with a speech interface for WM 7.0 and this is the sort of thing they need to be doing, assuming it works well. Something new and unique.

What ever happens WM 7.0 must deliver. I truly love the WM operating system and I really hope WM 7.0 ends up as something great and not a year old by the time it launches. It looks like Microsoft is taking its time to get it right so lets keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best.

In the meantime…….where did I put my iPhone….!

The Rugged and Mobile blog.