Microsoft Announces Latest Version Of Windows Mobile
By Carlo Longino, Tue May 10 22:30:00 GMT 2005

The company confirmed many of the already-leaked details of version 5.0 of its mobile operating system, showing many incremental improvements as well as some significant changes.

In the keynote at a Microsoft developers' conference in Las Vegas, Bill Gates took the wraps off version 5.0 of Windows Mobile, previously known by its development name, "Magneto". The new OS, which is expected to appear on devices in September, has emphasized flexibility for customization by manufacturers and operators, and features a number of UI changes to make PDA-style devices easier to use as a phone.

Manufacturers will be able to more easily add features like push-to-talk and video calling, and 3G support has been added as well as Wi-Fi support for smartphones. Operators -- who have enjoyed Microsoft's openness to branding, as well as that of its ODM partners -- now have even more opportunities to tinker with the look and feel of the terminals they sell, too. Of course there's custom wallpaper and the like, but device makers will also be able to go so far as to customize the phone UI to meet carrier demands.

Multimedia was also on Microsoft's mind: Windows Mobile now supports hard drives, like in the 3-gig music phone Samsung showed off at CeBIT. Windows Media Player also got an update, supporting things like playlists, album art and song ratings that can be synced from a PC, and interestingly, additional DRM technology (seemingly apart from Microsoft's own) can be plugged into WMP to allow for compatibility with other services.

Another big development is the creation of a one-handed UI for Pocket PC phones. While these devices feature hard buttons, their functions can change, dependent on applications and phone state. While earlier rumors that the Smartphone and Pocket PC platforms would be converged -- allowing applications to run on both -- proved untrue, Microsoft has realized that there's room for some UI convergence between the two. While Pocket PC Phone Edition users have generally chosen a device for its PDA qualities, it still needs to "just work" like a phone. It's a lesson that UIQ, which has also merged one-hand and pen-based navigation in the latest version of its software, understands as well.

But perhaps the most noticeable change to end users will be that Pocket PCs can now feature persistent data storage, eliminating the eminently frustrating problem of losing all your data when the battery completely dies.

Some observers are still lamenting the fact that Windows Mobile doesn't support "real" push e-mail, rather a "fake" version where a server sends out a message to a device to initiate a pull session. Microsoft's e-mail solution is optimized to use as little data as possible, and the reasons for the obsession with "real" or "true" push e-mail is unclear. In any case, the naysayers have to keep on waiting. Guy Kewney speculates legal reasons could be holding things up, or the summer release of a new version of Exchange -- underlining the idea that Microsoft's main concern isn't the client, but rather the server and middleware.

For all the talk of how Microsoft was really going to step up the fight against RIM, perhaps today's announcement was a little underwhelming. RIM got in an early shot, though, announcing Monday it had hit 3 million subscribers, and Symbian got in on the act, too, preceding the MS announcement with the release of some strong first-quarter figures.