Windows Mobile 6.5 Professional

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INTRODUCTION

    Back in April of 2008,
Microsoft released Windows Mobile 6.1. It was a minor
release that mainly delt with changes to the Standard
Edition and its sliding panel home screen.  This
time it's the Professional Edition's turn as you'll
see plenty of changes in Windows Mobile 6.5
Professional Edition and not too many in the Standard
Edition.  While we have been covering many
different builds of Windows Mobile 6.5 on Pocketnow,
what you'll see here is the production version that is
available today on many new phones. 

WINDOWS
MOBILE PROFESSIONAL

    Also known as the
touchscreen version of Windows Mobile, the
Professional edition has been around for a long
time. With the advent of Windows Mobile 5.0,
Microsoft brought hardware keyboard navigation to
the once touch-screen only platform. These days
touch screen user interfaces are all the rage. To
accommodate, Windows Mobile 6.5 has gone back to its
roots a bit, lost some keyboard functionality, and
added some features for the finger-friendly fad.



This video takes you through some of the new
features.

 

    The first new thing in Windows Mobile 6.5 that we'll
look at is the lock screen.  Click to see what the old lock screen looked like. You can manually
lock the screen by going to Start>Lock (bottom left
soft key) or you can set it to appear after a
certain amount of time and require a password. You
can choose simple numeric passwords or alphanumeric
passwords. If you have notifications waiting for
you, you can see how many are listed by looking at
the number on the lock slider icon. If you tap the
icon, it will show more icons representing each type
of notification that you may have missed. If you
don't have a password set, sliding one of the
notification icons to the left or right will take
you directly to more information about that
notification.  (If you have password protection
on, you'll have to enter the password after sliding
the icon.)  So for example, if you have a text
message icon in the lock screen, sliding that will
take you directly to the text messaging application. 
Sliding the voice mail icon will take you to the
phone dialer, but will not automatically start
dialing your voicemail.

    Another great thing about the lock screen is that it
shows your current or upcoming appointment at the
bottom along with a large clock and the date.
Unfortunately there's no way to quickly unlock
directly to details about that appointment in order
to see/edit more information or add notes. Sliding
the primary lock icon to unlock the device naturally
brings you to the Today/Home screen.

    The Windows Mobile 6.5 Today screen features a
completely new interface. It's implemented as its
own Today Screen item, so if you go into
Start>Settings>Today>Items, you'll see it listed as
the only one turned on "Windows Default."  Of
course, you can shut it off from here and use any
other Today screen plug-ins you'd like just as with
any other Windows Mobile Professional device.

    There are four ways to control this interface. You
can see in the center a highlighted area that shows
you details on the selected section, you can tap
this highlight rectangle and move it up or down in
order to select a different item. After you release,
the interface will center itself on the selected
section and show you more information. 
Optionally, you can drag your finger accross any
area outside of the selection area in order to move
the background list.  Whichever item falls into
the center selection area will then load details
about that item. The third way is to use a
directional pad in order to change the selection.
The fourth way is to simply tap the item that you
want selected.

 

If you see little triangles to the left and right of
the selection rectangle on the Today screen, that
means you can swipe the selection area horizontally
in order to see more options.  In the case of
Pictures and Music, this will let you scroll through
items in your library.  Also note that when the
primary selection changes, the soft-key menu command
at the bottom right will also change based on what
you have selected.

There are a number of advantages and disadvantages
to the new Today screen.  On the plus side, it
looks really nice!  The designer themes are
gorgeous, and the large type lists go nicely with
the Windows Media Center and Zune interface designs.

The old default Today screen gives you instant
access to much more pertinent information. 

 

    Next is the new Start Menu. When you press the
"Start" button in the upper right, a full-screen
layout of icons appears. Some advantages to this new
Start menu is its finger-friendliness.  The
icons for each program are much bigger and the
off-set layout grid allows the active area for each
program icon to be very large and finger-shaped. You
can also see there is more room for the text labels
beneath each icon allowing for a larger, more
readable font.  The offset layout also gives
the user a visual indication of a continuing list.
As you can see at the bottom, some icons are cut
off… this indicates that there is more to it and
the user must scroll to see the others.  This
was Microsoft's reasoning for not including a
scrollbar in this list, however the other function
that a scrollbar provides is completely missing… 
There are no visual cues for indicating the length
of this list.  You must simply scroll until it
reaches the end and stops.

    It would seem that OEM's are allowed to choose the
size of the icons that should appear in the Start
menu.  Here's a screen shot of the HTC Pure
with 4 columns of icons rather than 3. The ability
to scale these icons is good for accomodating
various sized touch screens. Naturally a larger
screen could accomodate smaller icons and maintain
finger-friendliness.

    You may remember older versions of Windows Mobile
included both "Recent Programs" and hardware
keyboard navigation capabilities in the Start menu.
For example, in Windows Mobile 6.1, I could press
the Start menu hardware key, then press the letter
"P" for programs, then press the letter "G" and it
would quickly select the first icon who's program
name began with the letter G.  This was a very
fast and efficient way of finding programs by name. 
That functionality has been removed.

    Previous versions of Windows Mobile also had very
easy access to "Recent Programs" since their icons
were always at the top of the Start Menu.  In 2
taps (or 2 keyboard button presses) you could switch
between recently used programs very very easily.
This was essential for easy and quick multi-tasking.
Unfortunately that capability has been removed from
Windows Mobile 6.5, and switching between active
programs has become much more difficult. 

 

    Microsoft's attempt at making up for the loss of a
recent programs listing is a very limited method of
customizing the order of the icons in the Start
Menu.  If you tap and hold on an icon in the
list, a command will appear that says "Move to Top."
Activating that will make the selected icon the
first one at the top of the Start menu.  This
makes it possible to move your favorite programs to
a more-accessible area of the Start menu, but it is
not remotely user-friendly and certainly can be very
tedious.

    Also note that the new Start menu now has an X
associated with it for closing the menu and a "Lock"
command at the bottom for manually locking the
screen. Another usability issue is the fact that the
Start menu button in the upper left corner has no
visual cue that it has been activated. 
Previous versions of Windows Mobile always made it
obvious that the Start menu was active. 
Furthermore, if you press the Start menu button and
then press it again, normally that's supposed to
close the Start menu.  That doesn't happen on
Windows Mobile 6.5.  If the Start Menu is open
and you press the Start menu button on the screen
again, nothing happens!  This is certain to
cause some confusion with new and existing users. 

    Annother annoyance with the new Start menu is that
even though it now looks and behaves like an
application window (with an X button in the upper
right even), it does not appear in the application
stack.  So if you open the Start menu, navigate
to a program you want to open, open it, then
minimize it, you are not returned to the Start menu.
That means if you want to open another program, you
have to go to the Start menu again, navigate its
long scrolling list or multiple folders again (it
doesn't remember what position you were at before),
then tap the next program icon.  It's extremely
tedious. 

Oddly, the Settings window, while it looks just like
the Start menu, does actually appear in the program
stacking order.  If you navigate to this
screen, open a settings dialog, then close the
dialog, you will actually get back to this Settings
screen.  If you close the settings listing
here, one would expect to go back to the Start menu,
but no… you go back to the Today screen.

On the next page we’ll go over the new custom designer themes in Windows Mobile 6.5!

THEMES

    Speaking of settings, all of the old settings
dialogs have become more theme-aware and include
newly designed tabs at the bottom. You'll also see a
new "OK" button in the upper right. What you won't
see, but it's still there, are new gestures for
switching between tabs. Swipe your finger
horizontally in these types of settings screens and
you'll switch to the next tab. There isn't an
animated transition, but the swapping of tabs is
very quick and responsive (unless the tab has to
load a lot of data.)  This works in 3rd party
settings dialogs too.

    Speaking of themes, here's the "Classic Blue" theme
included with Windows Mobile 6.5. The theming engine
has been greatly improved and expanded in this
release. Back in Pocket PC 2002 (released in 2001),
theme support was introduced and that allowed users
to select a theme in order to change the appearance
and colors of their Today screen and all underlying
applications.  It was very successful. 
Websites dedicated to Pocket PC Themes sprung up all
over the place.  A basic theme generator was
available from Microsoft and third party developers
created more advanced versions. 

    Unfortunately, the theme design craze eventually
died out probably because the theme support became
very fragmented. The Windows Media Player didn't use
the same theme engine, nor did the Phone dialer. 
That meant if you wanted your whole Windows Mobile
device experience to look consistent and cohesive
you had to either change all these other skins
(which was very difficult) or stick with the
default.  While this release still does not
make the phone dialer or media player skin part of
the theme engine, it does add support for
transparent PNG images and color customizations in
the menus and tabs.  See below for a few other
themes included in Windows Mobile 6.5. 
Microsoft has also mentioned that they intend to
release an updated Theme Generator to the public so
that you'll be able to create your own themes once
again.

Diane Von Furstenberg's Green Theme

Isaac Mizrahi Purple

Rock and Republic Black

Ron Arad Orange

Vera Wang Red

 

All menu designs are now theme controlled as well. 
The included themes offer very large finger-friendly
menus. As you can see in the above menu, not all
options can appear on the screen at once.  It
turns out, these menus are very easily panned by
dragging your finger up or down just like any other
list in Windows Mobile 6.5.  If you load an
older theme onto Windows Mobile 6.5, you'll actually
get the old style menus.

INTERNET

    Another thing that has seen some huge changes in
this release is Internet Explorer.  The first thing
you'll notice is the completely foreign and
unrecognizable interface. Remember how Internet Explorer used to look?  When I first saw this I
thought maybe Opera had designed it because there's
nothing about this that says Windows Mobile or
Internet Explorer.  There are five icons at the
bottom. None of them have tool-tips or text labels
identifying their functions. This means new users
will have trouble understanding them, however after
some experimentation you'll be able to figure them
out. The three lines button on the bottom right is
the menu button.  The Magnifying glass brings
up a zoom slider.  The 4 rows of dotted lines
brings up the software keyboard and makes all other
user interface elements disappear.  The star
goes to your favorites, and the left arrow goes back
a page.

    The new interface is practically impossible to use
without touching the screen. If you're used to the
efficiency and usability of hardware buttons, you'll
miss that here.  The tab key still toggles
focus between links, arrow keys will pan the view,
and the backspace key will go back a page, but
there's no way to quickly change the focus to the
Address/Search bar.  Luckily, keyboard
mnemonics are still available in the menus if your
device has a hardware keyboard. If your device still
has hardware buttons for the softkeys, pressing
those will show the interface and pressing the right
softkey again will show the menu. There is no way to
zoom or access the favorites using keyboard shortcut
combinations; you have to take one hand off of the
keyboard and touch the screen. Yes, that's really
bad for one-handed usability.

    The address bar now includes auto-completion of URLs
as well as search integration. Notice how when the
SIP keyboard is enabled all other functions of the
browser are inaccessible.  If you changed your
mind at this point and wanted to select a favorite
from the list, you would have no way of accessing
the favorites list. Fortunately, the Favorites are
also searchable from the address bar!  You'll
have to use your finger to get to the address/search
bar though because no part of the interface is
navigable with a hardware keyboard.

    Rendering of websites is fairly solid and desktop
like. About 5 seconds after the page loads, the
browser automatically switches to full-screen mode
with only a strange round button in the bottom
right.  I don't know what the 4 balls on a line
represents, but pressing that will bring back the
top and bottom user interface elements. There is no
way to shut off the automatic full screen mode and
this can be very annoying.

If you tap and drag on the screen with your finger,
the web page pans around and a mini-map
represenation of your view of the site appears in
the bottom right.  This replaces the button
that let's you get out of full screen mode.

Internet Explorer supports embedded Flash just as it
has since last March. If you tap and hold on an
embedded Flash animation or movie, a menu will
appear that lets you play the animation full screen. 
This is great for watching Flash movies without
having to adjust your zoom and pan levels in order
to see it on your screen. 

The Favorites listing is finger scrollable and also
has a five icon interface at the bottom. The functions
of the icons are again, not instantly understandable
and certainly not intuitive.

You're no longer able to make straight text
selections in Internet Explorer. You have to enter a
selection mode first. This should be possible from
the menu above, but for some reason it is grayed
out.

    Another nice new feature in Windows Mobile 6.5 is
support for "Widgets." Widgets are very basic
HTML/CSS/Javascript based programs that appear in
the programs listing in the Start menu. Essentially,
they're just loading within a chrome-less version of
Internet Explorer. Developers have a number of
special API's that they can access within the Widget
framework which includes support for creating custom
menu items and caching data. This is very similar to
the way Web OS and iPhone Web Apps are created.

On the new page, we’ll cover the new app store for Windows Mobile!

MARKETPLACE APP STORE

    Next we have the new Windows Mobile Marketplace.
A link to this application will be included on all new Windows
Mobile 6.5 devices and it will be downloadable for
existing Windows Mobile 6.x devices in November. 
The Marketplace is a centralized on-device location
designed to make finding and purchasing applications
much easier. Unfortunately as you can see, many
of the UI element fonts are too large and cannot be
read; "My Applicati.."  "Facebo.."

Notice the status bar at the bottom indicating that
I am installing MySpace for Windows.

    Microsoft's MyPhone service is now included on every
Windows Mobile 6.5 device. The software on the phone
allows you to sync and backup all sorts of content
to the MyPhone service website using your Windows
Live ID. For those without Windows Mobile 6.5, this
is a free download as well.  The new version
available October 6th offers a newer user interface
design on the phone side, as well as some new
features on the website side. MyPhone will not sync
your Contacts, Calendar, and Tasks if you are
already syncing those with an Exchange Server. This
is obviously due to security reasons, but if you are
only syncing certain items (like email) with
Exchange, then you are allowed to sync the other
items with MyPhone.

On the desktop/website side, MyPhone now allows you
to locate your phone if lost.

 

Windows Live Messenger does NOT support multiple
sign-in as does the newest desktop versions. This is
very dissappointing. However, there are some slight
finger-friendly enhancements as seen by larger
spaces between the usernames in the listing.

There's also a new panel for Windows Live on the
Today screen if you enable it in the Windows Live
Options. Still no Windows Live Calendar syncing, but
you still get push email and contacts.

The Contacts has a nice addition of contact photos
in the listing.

The text messaging list has been enlarged. Now the
from line is practically unreadable with only about
4-6 characters showing. Also, the "Delete" button in
the lower left has been changed to "Reply" which
makes more sense.

There's now a "Select Messages" menu command in the
Messaging application.  This allows you to
select more than one email at a time for deletion or
moving.  This had always been possible on
Windows Mobile if you use the Shift or Ctrl keys on
a software or hardware keyboard (just like on
Windows.) 

Another extremely welcome addition to the messaging
application is support for Reply/Forward status
icons. It's a little thing, but has oddly been
missing from Windows Mobile for all this time. Now
you can finally tell which messages you replied to.
Unfortunately, the Reply status is not synced with
IMAP servers.  The status is only synced on
Exchange 2007 and higher.

While keyboard shortcuts and accessibility have been
removed from Internet Explorer and the Start menu, a
few have been added to the Calendar. As you can see
above, holding down the corresponding letter on the
keyboard will activate the associated command. These
are very similar to the keyboard shortcuts in the
messaging application. Holding down the letter H on
your keyboard will show this list of shortcuts.

If you set up ActiveSync in Windows Mobile 6.5 to
sync with an Exchange 2010 Server, you're now able
to sync the Text Messages as well as Contacts,
Calendar, Email, and Tasks. Since Exchange 2010 has
not been released yet, we have not been able to test
this or see what happens to the text messages in
Outlook, but the feature is intriguing.

A "Getting Started" program gives you some good
tutorials if you're a beginner. 

Windows Media Player hasn't been updated at all. No
finger-friendly Library interface… not even a new
skin design!

The Phone Dialer seems to be the responsibility of
the manufacturer now. Here we see HTC's incoming
call screen on the HTC Diamond 2. 

WINDOWS
MOBILE STANDARD

    While we weren't able to
get access to an official release version of the
Standard non-touchscreen edition of Windows Mobile
6.5, that version has seen only a few minor updates.
For example, Widgets are now supported, as well as
the new Marketplace, Internet Explorer, and MyPhone
services.

PROS


  • New lock
    screen provides very useful access to notifications


  • "Windows Default"
    Zune-like home screen looks really good


  • Designer
    themes included


  • HTML based Widget programs
    supported


  • Finger
    friendly Start menu


  • New
    version of Internet Explorer supports more browser
    technologies including Flash


  • New theme
    support for greater personalization


  • Windows
    Marketplace available on all devices


  • MyPhone
    Service included for syncing/backup and lost phone
    retrieval


  • Exchange
    2010 support

CONS


  • New Start menu reduces keyboard accessibility to
    programs (no more shortcuts)


  • New Start menu removes
    access to recently used applications (reduces multi-tasking
    usability)


  • Internet Explorer UI is ugly
    and unintuitive; does not conform to user-selected themes


  • Internet
    Explorer is no longer keyboard accessible (requires
    touch screen for important functions)


  • Reply
    icons in Messaging are not synced with IMAP or
    Exchange 2003 servers (only Exchange 2007+)


  • Zune-like
    home screen has too many similar interaction
    methods; potentially confusing to new users


  • No change
    to Windows Media Player. Not even a new skin


  • Internet
    Explorer can still only open one URL at a time

Value
Ease
of Use
Features

Overall

OVERALL IMPRESSION

    As it turned out, Windows Mobile 6.1
didn't give us enough of an upgrade before getting
to the completely overhauled
Windows Mobile 7.  That's one reason we need
Windows Mobile 6.5 right now, in addition to the
Windows Mobile 6.5.x builds coming down the line. 
This iteration has some very significant changes
meant to satisfy all the fans screaming about the
finger-friendliness fad. Apparently some one decided
it was good to use a finger on a touch screen which
also requires full attention from your eyes even if
your eyes may be busing doing something else like
driving a car.

   
Regardless, the new lock screen is extremely useful,
as is the Windows Marketplace program and MyPhone
backup service.  The new Internet Explorer and
Start menu are less useful as they tend to
significantly impair productivity and usability on
devices with hardware keyboards. The usability speed
loss will not be as apparent on devices that only
include a touch screen though.

     I love the new theme
designs and expanded support of theme-able user
interface elements. Hopefully Microsoft will release
a new Theme Designer program that will let us create
our own designs soon.

     Overall, new devices
running Windows Mobile 6.5 should be very compelling
if you're into all-touch-screen devices and
especially if you want to run some of the new
applications being developed for the Windows Mobile
Marketplace.

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About The Author
Adam Z. Lein
Adam has had interests in combining technology with art since his first use of a Koala pad on an Apple computer. He currently has a day job as a graphic designer, photographer, systems administrator and web developer at a small design firm in Westchester, NY. His love of technology extends to software development companies who have often implemented his ideas for usability and feature enhancements. Mobile computing has become a necessity for Adam since his first Uniden UniPro PC100 in 1998. He has been reviewing and writing about smartphones for Pocketnow.com since they first appeared on the market in 2002.Read more about Adam Lein!