Microsoft aims for market share with Windows Mobile 6.5

Microsoft this week unveils Windows Mobile 6.5, with its new full-blown Web browser, IE Mobile 6, in a bid to stay competitive in the fast-changing mobile market

But it's under pressure from two opposite directions. One is from proprietary solutions: the success of Apple's iPhone, RIM's BlackBerry, and potentially Palm's brand new webOS announced with its recently unveiled Pre smartphone show they've been able to compete within the mobile space as no one has in the PC space.

On the other hand, open-source Linux platforms like Android are showing fast maturation, and growing marketshare, according to Schreck. "The current economic climate is forcing vendors to look for methods of cutting costs," he says. "Not only does Linux offer an OS free of licensing costs, but it also cuts down on [OS] development costs."

"Microsoft will be in a slightly more tenuous position, as it will be the only smartphone OS developer utilizing the traditional [software] licensing model with its customers after 2009," Schreck says. "It will be up to Microsoft's developers to continue to provide a product [that's] worth the licensing costs when compared to Android, LiMo, Symbian, etc."

Whether the changes made in 6.5 will energize the Windows market remains to be seen. But Microsoft has made extensive changes with this release, though many of them are subtle.

"Finger friendly" Windows

The UI in 6.5 includes larger menu items and icons, the goal being to create a larger 'target area' for a user's touch, according to Sullivan.

In the current 6.1 release, Windows Mobile uses a vertical scrolling action to find items, and a side-to-side movement to show additional layers of selections. The new version makes these actions much more fluid, for example being able to scroll in either direction by swiping a finger or thumb over the screen.

Users can now put browser favorites on their Windows Mobile start screen, and have the browser open up directly with that site, rather than going through multiple steps of calling up the browser, and entering or selecting a URL.

The entire start screen has a new look and feel. Instead of a block format, with program icons arranged in a linear 3 x 3 pattern, the screen subtly resembles a honeycomb: each icon is set in a hexagon and offset slightly from its neighbors. The screen is easily navigated with finger swipes. The intent is to give a larger touch target for each icon, and creates visual cues for the user that additional icons exist outside the viewable screen display.

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