Bill Gates has introduced the latest Microsoft Operating System (OS) for mobile devices like Pocket PC and Smartphones, during his keynote speech at the Mobile and Embedded Developers Conference 2005 (scroll down for screenshots).
The new OS is named Windows Mobile 2005, brings a more polished user interface, unifies the Pocket PC and Smartphone platforms, and enhances mobile office applications.
The main difference between Pocket PC and Smartphone platforms is the touch screen interface on Pocket PC devices and the keypad-oriented, single-handed operation on Smartphones. The new OS integrates the experience of both platforms, introducing the capability to run any application, regardless of original device the application was originally intended for. Users of Pocket PC will notice two new "soft keys" at the bottom of the screen, where usually the Input Method is shown (this is now moved to the center of that bar). These soft keys are similar to those found in Smartphones, but can be activated with taps on the screen, when used on a Pocket PC.
The application menu on Smartphone is now modified to show the application icons on a 3x3 matrix. Users can scroll through the icons using the navigation pad, or simply press the equivalent numeric key on the keypad to start a program.
The pocket versions of Microsoft Office applications are now friendlier than ever and add new features. The applications were renamed to Word Mobile, Excel Mobile and a PowerPoint Mobile Viewer is being introduced.
New features on this mobile versions include the ability to add charts to Excel Mobile spreadsheets, either as a new sheet on a file or embedded on an existing sheet. Word Mobile now offers better support for tables and can even show embedded pictures. It is not possible to actually add images while editing the file on a Pocket PC, but at least users will see existing images - and formatting will not be lost like in previous versions.
Pocket Internet Explorer offers a new user interface, with a progress bar in the bottom of the screen when loading a web page, and the Full Screen option, that allows users to use the small screen in a better, more efficient way.
The Messaging application now offers an easier to read e-mail window, and users will be happy to know that POP3 and SMTP authentication/login parameters are now separate, making it easier to use Windows Mobile devices on different networks with separate username/passwords.
Windows Mobile 5, until now known as "Magneto", the name internally used by Microsoft during the development stages, will require the new Microsoft ActiveSync 4.0, which now provides more information than ever. Users are able to see the synchronisation status of each computer and change settings while connected to any of the computers. One thing users must note is that Microsoft has not enabled in this version the ability for remote ActiveSync. One of the new features is the ability to determine which source - the mobile device or computer - takes priority when a conflict occurs during synchronisation. This is useful when users update multiple records in both locations.
Users will also notice that the ActiveSync now produces more meaningful error messages when reporting faults.
For media lovers, the new OS version comes with Windows Media Player 10 Mobile, providing support for album art, play lists and synchronisation with Windows Media Player 10 on the desktop.
Microsoft has worked on its Bluetooth software for the platform, with a more consistent and easier way to configure it to work with ActiveSync over Bluetooth - multiple computers can be configured for Bluetooth ActiveSync, with a dialog to select which one to use for connections. This differ from the current implementation on Microsoft Bluetooth stack where only one computer can be configured for Bluetooth ActiveSync at a time.
Most users will not notice this, but as part of the integration of platforms, a more secure model is being implemented. Like the current Windows Mobile 2003 OS for Smartphone, the new Windows Mobile 5 may require signed applications in both Pocket PC and Smartphone platforms. If the O&M (the company manufacturing a device) or mobile operator (the company selling a Pocket PC Phone Edition or Smartphone connected to their cellular network) want they can make it a requirement to allow only signed applications to be installed. This can make it harder for malware to be installed on these devices - but can potentially create a nightmare if the user does not have the proper installation file.
The new OS also introduces an error trap and reporting tool that can be used to send fault information to Microsoft, pretty much like the current desktop versions of the OS.
The platform is FIPS-140-2-certified, meaning it meets the stringent U.S. government security requirements for IT products.
For developers, Microsoft is releasing the Windows Mobile 5 SDK, which requires Visual Studio .Net 2005 for installation, but non-developers are in for a treat: Microsoft will make available stand-alone emulators that will allow users to run a Windows Mobile 5 virtual machine on their own computers, without the need of any other software. The emulator supports Pocket PC (standard QVGA resolution, high resolution (DPI), square screen) and Smartphone (including a new QVGA high resolution version), so users can have a good feel of how a software will work on their devices - even if no device is available.
The announcement is just the first step on the public life cycle of the product, being initially targeted at developers. There is no information yet on new devices, neither information on possible upgrades, which are not expected.
Windows Mobile 2005 screenshots (click to enlarge in a new window):