Bill Gates, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect, has just officially unveiled Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition at his company's Mobile Developer Conference. The Second Edition brings to this platform some significant enhancements, including support for VGA screens and the ability to switch the screen orientation between portrait and landscape.
For current Pocket PC owners, the biggest change is going to be the ability to easily switch the screen orientation. Until now, the operating system itself didn't include the ability to do this and the third-party solutions required the handheld to be reset for the change to go into effect.
This cumbersome work-around comes to an end with the Second Edition. Users will be able to go into Settings and change the screen orientation on the fly. It can be operated either be in portrait, landscape for right-handed users, or landscape for left-handed users.
All the standard applications now have both portrait and landscape versions. There will be a session at Mobile DevCon called "Developing Screen Orientation-Aware Applications for Windows Mobile-based Pocket PCs" that will explain to developers how to update their applications to they can take advantage of landscape mode. Microsoft has also released an updated Windows Mobile Developer Resource Kit with the information developers need.
Naturally, there is no way an operating system upgrade can make current 240-by-320-pixel screens into 480-by-640-pixel ones. However, there is one Pocket PC that already has a VGA screen, the Toshiba e805. The French web site PocketPCParadise was told by Toshiba to expect a free Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition upgrade for this model in May.
The e805 will soon be joined by New Handhelds coming on the market with VGA screens. ASUS has already said its upcoming MyPal A730 will include a display with this resolution. And while it's more vague, News.com reported last week that HP is planning to release New Handhelds that take advantage of the additional capabilities of Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition.
Update: The latest information on when HP and Dell will be releasing updates for current Pocket PC models is available in this article.
The upcoming Motorola MPx won't have a VGA screen, but it does use the new operating system version's screen switching capabilities.
Developers won't have to change their current applications to let them run at the new screen resolution. The new operating system version uses what is called "pixel doubling" to scale applications up. Perhaps a better name for this would be pixel quadrupling because each pixel of an application designed for a 240-by-320 screen will be replaced by four new ones, which will allow the app to be displayed twice as tall and twice as wide. Of course, there will be a session at Mobile DevCon on how to write applications that take full advantage of the new resolution.
Though the extra space on a VGA screen is a welcome change, no one wants this to come at the cost of unreadably small fonts. Microsoft has included in the Second Edition a Settings panel which will include a slider to that allows the user to control the size of the font.
Incidentally, VGA won't be the only new resolution supported in this new version of Windows Mobile 2003. It will also support square screens with 240-by-240-pixel or 480-by-480-pixel resolutions. This will allow licensees to more easily create handhelds with built-in thumboards below the screen. There are some models that include one of these now, such as the iPAQ h4355, but a tall screen combined with a keyboard makes for an unusually large handheld. Using a square screen would significantly reduce the overall size of the device.
And Pocket PCs won't be the only ones getting new features. Thanks to the Second Edition, the version of this operating system for smart phones will get support for QVGA (320 by 240 pixels), the resolution used by almost all Pocket PCs now. However, devices running Windows Mobile 2003 for Smartphone won't be able to switch their screen orientation.
Though VGA support and orientation switching are the two largest changes, Microsoft has also made a number of other improvements in Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition.
There is a new section in the Start Menu which will display the most frequently used applications. This is divided from the list of applications that appear because they are stored in the Start folder.
Transcriber will gain the ability to use shortcuts. These will let users write a short code phrase that will be replaced with a much longer piece of commonly used text. Shortcuts can also be used to launch applications.
The new version of Pocket Internet Explorer will also be able to force web pages into a single column, similar to the way NetFront 3.1 and Opera does. This will make reading web sites not formatted for handhelds easier.
The second edition will also get WPA (WiFi Protected Access), which was developed by the Wi-Fi Alliance in an attempt to make wireless networks more secure.
Though adding higher-resolution screens and dynamic switching of screen orientation are very significant improvements, Microsoft has not made the myriad of other changes to the operating system people have been hoping for, like the ability to easily shut down running applications or an improved version of Pocket Office.
Those hoping for these improvements will have to set their sights on the next versions of the operating system which is expected to be called Windows Mobile 2005.
Screen shots courtesy of PocketPCParadise.
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