Saturday, March 10, 2012

How Microsoft won me back

The i-mate JAM is my first true smartphone. Announced in 2004, the i-mate JAM was a highly anticipated mobile device being the first Windows Mobile smartphone that comes in a portable package. Also known as the HTC Magician, the i-mate JAM was a beauty. I remember paying £400 to Expansys to ensure I got it on day one and boy was worth it.

As it runs on a modified version of Pocket PC, the compact i-mate JAM was a familiar device to use. I've already owned quite a few none-cellular Pocket PC devices. With a 2.8" (problematic) touchscreen LCD display with 240x320 resolution, an Intel XScale PXA272 processor clocked at a screaming 416 MHz (overclockable to 520 MHz!), 64MB RAM and 1.3MP back camera. It was cutting edge hardware. Best thing about it? It ran on a Windows Mobile 2003 SE for Pocket PC, the mobile OS you want if you were a self respecting smartphone geek in 2004.
My then awesome i-mate JAM next to my still awesome Palm Tungsten T3

I actually owned the i-mate JAM for up to a year, which is probably the longest I have owned a touchscreen smartphone ever, such is my impatience to getting the latest and greatest. Looking back Microsoft's Pocket PC was the most exciting thing ever to happen in the industry, pushing PalmOne/Palm.Inc out of their comfortable rut. Obliterated by the iPhone and then Android, the OS is now unusable, and yet it is clear where both modern OS borrows much of their inspiration from.

My only experience with Windows Mobile these days is with WinMob 6.x on my partner's work phone, the HTC Touch Pro 2. The grid based UI is still relevant today but you can clearly spot its root as a stylus based OS. Navigation is a chore and the phone regularly crashes, no thanks to the large amount of customisation HTC has done to the core system via the bloatware that is TouchFlo 3D. Having said that every time I am forced to use it, I can't help feeling a bit nostalgic about it. I had plenty of fun time with the Pocket PC/Windows Mobile platform, tweaking and tinkering more than I care to remember.

So it is sad to read that Microsoft is finally discontinuing support of their ill fated Windows Mobile Marketplace. Whilst this does not mean that the OS is completely dead (there is still a significant community of WinMob enthusiasts on XDA-Dev), it does signify that Microsoft's willingness to let go (I wish the same can be said about Nokia and Symbian - kill it already!). WinMob may have once been a favourite among enterprise users, but with Android and iPhone making a killing in these sector, there is little point in supporting what is now a dead OS.
The Omnia 7, my first foray into the square world of Windows Phone 7
These days, after a couple of years flirting with Symbian and Android, I am firmly back in Microsoft's mobile camp. Having been using a Windows Phone 7 device as my daily driver for more than four months (replacing my Samsung Galaxy S II with the Nokia Lumia 800), I am convinced that Microsoft made the right decision to start all over again by putting Windows Mobile out to pasture and deciding not to copy iOS, Android etc. With Android, Symbian, iOS and even Meego, you can trace their UI lineage back to old 1990s favourites like PalmOS, Apple Newton and Psion EPOC. Not with Windows Phone 7.

The best thing to happen to smartphone platforms is Apple and Google entering the market, giving mobile veterans Microsoft and Palm a real kick up their rear end. Sadly, where Palm failed to capitalise on their revolutionary WebOS, only Microsoft has the cash advantage to see theirs through. With Windows Phone 7's unique Metro UI, what you get is a fresh take on mobile user interface that offers a user experience that is quite unlike anything before. One can only hope that Microsoft does not return to their previous complacent self and instead keep innovating beyond the obvious vision that the next generation Windows Phone Apollo will bring.

Still with Nokia now on board as a manufacturer partner, and up and coming Chinese manufacturer ZTE throwing their backing the OS, things are slowly looking up for Windows Phone. The future is square. The future is Metro.

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