Microsoft has just formally announced Windows Mobile 6.5, the next version of its operating system for high-end phones. This includes significant changes to its appearance, and is the first step in a new focus for this platform.
Windows Mobile has generally appealed most to business users. Microsoft is clearly hoping to bring more consumers on board by changing the look of and design of the user interface.
At the same time, Microsoft is following a trend toward finger-friendly designs. Previous versions of Windows Mobile were built with the assumption users would control them with a stylus, and therefore items are often small and close together. With 6.5, that has changed.
Both of these can be seen in the new Today Screen. This is a modified version of the old Today Screen that has been redesigned with larger elements. And while many of the items from the previous design will still be there -- the clock, the number of unread messages, and upcoming appointments -- new consumer-oriented items have been added. This includes ties to the music player, picture viewer, and web browser.
Still a Ways Away
Before anyone gets too excited about Windows Mobile 6.5's new design, it's important to note that this new version's release is still more than half a year away. This upgrade is still only an alpha, not yet even a beta, and Microsoft says the first models based on 6.5 won't hit the market until October at the earliest.
Nevertheless, a number of companies are announcing smartphones this week at the Mobile World Congress tradeshow that are expected to eventually run the new version of this operating system. But many of them won't have to wait until next fall; they are doing to be introduced earlier with Windows Mobile 6.1, and upgrades will be released later.
The list of newly-announced models includes:
Note: Check back for an updated list of newly announced models.
More about Windows Mobile 6.5's Design Changes
The redesign of the Today Screen is only the beginning of the changes in Windows Mobile 6.5. Another significant modification is the merging of the Start Menu and the Programs screen.
Previously, the Start Menu was a drop-down list of the user's favorite applications, while the Programs screen listed had all the software installed on the device. In the new version of 6.5, tapping on the Start icon opens up a screen listing all the apps. Each title is displayed in a large hexagonal tile, making it easier to select with a finger. And the user will be able to re-order the items on this screen.
Another major change is the re-design of the Unlock Screen, which has been made far more useful. In addition to a simple system for unlocking the device, this screen has been enhanced to give the user an update of what's happening with their smartphone without fully activating it.
As always, users are able to change the theme of the OS, which allows them to choose a background picture for many screens, and also alter the general coloring.
Although one of the major goals of Windows Mobile 6.5 is to make it more finger friendly, Microsoft isn't including a redesigned on-screen keyboard with this upgrade. Instead, it will depend on the licensees for this important feature.
This OS upgrade will include Internet Explorer Mobile 6 -- a newer version of this web browser. This offers a greatly improved rendering engine and support for new types of embedded streaming video, including Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight. It will also allow users to easily zoom in and out on web pages.
There may well be other non-cosmetic changes in this new version, but Microsoft has not yet revealed details on these.
Video of the Announcement
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