Worst. Kept. Secret. Ever?
After, literally months, of leaks, more leaks and even an admission of existence from Steve Ballmer himself, Microsoft has today formerly announced Windows Mobile 6.5. Kinda.
You see, the keyword here is 'rebrand'. In a smart marketing move Microsoft has realised its Windows Mobile swastika is too far damned to be saved (for some reasons correctly, other reasons not so) and the new name of 'Windows Phone' marks the sea change. Or does it? Sorry, I know I keep doing this, but it's relevant. You see name-change aside Windows Phone/Mobile 6.5 isn't where the revolution occurs, it's firmly located in Evolutionsville and a pretty small conurbation it is at that.
Yes, the good stuff is good: you'll get a better lock screen with voicemail, missed call, reminder and conversation statuses (something the iPhone could learn from), the UI is now more finger friendly with the scrolling 'honeycomb' homescreen (if not the greatest use of space) and IE Mobile 6 supports Flash and web page rendering.
The bad stuff? Well, the problem is you've heard it all before and it's the same old failings: just like HTC TouchFlo, the new found finger friendliness is essentially a paper thin wallpaper which requires minimal drilling down to expose the aged Windows Mobile graphics. Like, say, hitting Email... I've also had a good 20 minutes with Windows Phone and let's just say I hope there's plenty of optimisation still to do, because on the powerful Touch Pro it ran jaw droppingly slowly with functions often taking more than 10 seconds to start.
Furthermore, there's no multi-touch and while the UI is more Zune-like there isn't the great iPhone/Walkman battering multimedia functionality widely predicted/hoped being pretty much the same as Windows Mobile 6.1. Lastly - and perhaps most importantly - Microsoft will take until Q4 to get Windows Phone onto the market and even then it will be up to individual manufacturers' discretion as to whether they provide it to users of their existing Windows Mobile handsets. This strategy isn't the greatest upgrade motivator. Ho+hum.
More positive however is the launch of 'My Phone' and 'Marketplace for Mobile'. Again these have been heavily leaked (what hasn't these days?) but in a trite and generalist sentence they are essentially Microsoft's answer to MobileMe and App Store.
Now beating the first of these isn't hard (MM remains awful on anything other than a Mac) and My Phone does a comprehensive job syncing calendars, contacts, tasks, text messages and documents, plus photos, music and videos. Lose your phone and they can simply be synchronised. Key limits however are a 200MB cap on free access (subscription details unannounced as yet) so you won't be getting much media on there and a restriction to Windows Mobile 6.1/6.5 handsets only (WM6.0/5.0 users are cut-off as usual). Availability? "Coming Soon..."
As for Marketplace for Mobile, this represents another step in the right direction with around 20,000 existing Windows Mobile apps added to it and a $100 developer charge with the familiar 70/30 cut. Given the wide variety of form factors, functionality and processing power on WM devices however it may be a little more challenging for designers to push performance boundaries and choose universally appropriate interfaces. At you might expect Windows Mobile 6.0 and 5.0 users are excluded and we're awaiting a formal release date.
All in all, not a bad effort. It's just a shame the core operating system hasn't seen the extensive changes and timeliness we all crave...