Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Microsoft is killing the handheld PC market

In my opinion, Microsoft is killing the handheld market. Ever since getting my (expensive, but thankfully a gift) pda/phone I can't believe how badly the OS is implemented. I am constantly frustrated with annoying features that can't be changed.

Until a better option is available for consumers, PDA's will continue to die. And so long as the PDA market is going down, there won't be a large uptake by users, and hence developers, who want to improve or add features.

Why isn't there a push by manufacturers for a better OS? (I know there is linux, but I haven't got to installing it on my PDA yet :)

You would think the specification for a "Windows" phone would be simple: take the most popular Nokia, Ericsson, etc. and copy their features. But this hasn't happened! Instead Microsoft have developed their own wheel, and it turned out square!

If you're still reading, I'm taking this chance to list some of the most annoying features:
  1. You can't turn it off!
    The handful of PDA's I've seen don't turn off. And by "turn off" I expect that when I hit the power button (or hold it down, or whatever), the mobile, wireless, bluetooth, screen, etc all switch off. Just like a normal phone. I didn't realise that the "on" button only blanked the display until I was in a meeting, and my phone rang!
    EDIT: Of course there's "flight mode" but this has it's own problems. Firstly why is it called flight mode? While in-flight isn't the only time you want to turn your phone off completely. What about sleep-mode, meeting-mode, etc? See the profiles section below.
  2. It's hard to actually disable incoming rings.
    Once my phone rang, I had to hit the hang up button. But it rang again! So I have to pull out the stylus, go to some tiny wireless symbol on the top, and select "flight mode". WTF is flight mode?! Perhaps you use this feature when your PDA is about to take flight out the window! Where's the big red off button?!
  3. There is no way to silently ignore incoming rings.
    With all mobile phones I've had, you can press a key when your phone rings, and it is instantly silenced, without actually answering / hanging up. This is handy when you're in eg. a library, and you want to answer the call but not until you've walked out of the area. Or if you want to let the phone ring as if you weren't around to answer it (handy if you don't want the caller to know you're screening them). I've just discovered that you can make the ring silent by pressing the down volume button. Perhaps this in "intuitive", but I've had my XDA for nearly a year, and I only just discovered this feature!
  4. No "profiles" exist.
    With Nokia, and others, pressing the "on" button shortly, displays a list of prifiles - silent, outdoor, car, etc. This changes all features on the phone from brightness, theme, ring tone, volume, vibrate, etc. To do this with my PDA/phone, I have to go to each setting individually and change them one by one, with the stylus. This takes time, and quickly becomes annoying. I should be able to change such a simple feature without even touching the stylus.
  5. Entering WAP keys is painful!
    When entering the key, there are a number of things that aren't right:
    1. The "new wireless" notification that brings up a small key entry area disappears after a few seconds - EVEN IF I'm still writing the key in it!!
    2. Key's are shown as **'s. Why? Is someone looking over my shoulder going to remember 26 hexadecimal digits? Text recognition is bad already, so the chances of making a mistake are high. There is no way to check that you've entered the right digits.
    3. Key's cannot be copied and pasted in to the text entry. Why? I have a key in a file that I bluetoothed to my PDA. I copied the key in pocket word, but the paste option was grayed out in the key entry box. EDIT: What if I have a 128 character WPA-PSK key?
    4. The no-screen keyboard shows numbers, or letters, but not both at the same time. This means I have to constantly change between keyboards when entering a long key - especially if it is composed of "number-letter-number" etc. EDIT: I have finally found out how to enable this feature! Go to Start > Settings. Select the Input icon, select Input method: Keyboard. Then Select "small keys" and not "large keys". This makes the keys slightly smaller, but adds the number keys to the top row.
    5. When I changed a key on one WLAN, the PDA forgot all the other key's I had entered!
  6. Every different PDA/phone running the SAME OS looks different. They all have different options, different programs, etc. This suggests to me that manufacturers recognise the problems with WM5, and try their own way to get around it.
  7. There is no easy way to "stop" programs.
    I opened a music file in windows media player. I then clicked the "x" to close media player. I then tried to delete the file. I was told I couldn't delete it because it was being used. The only way to get around it was to find the deeply hidden "running applications" option in the memory settings somewhere, and close media player.
  8. The PDA / phone can't be used without the stylus.
    I work in the R&D department for an engineering company. We develop our own touchscreen software for full-size panel PC's. It takes effort to make sure that the whole PC can be used with one finger. The PDA should be the same. To do simple things like make a call, bring up a contact, read an SMS, I shouldn't have to get out the stylus. (Even for PDA/phones without a real keyboard). But all the buttons on the LCD are too small. Why? Buttons should take up the entire real estate available, so you can use a finger. But instead, the whole display in some cases, is just two small buttons down the bottom, and one line of text. Why? there is nothing else to show, so use the space! EDIT: Whether or not you like Apple, the Ipod Touch and the Iphone are the best examples of how this is done right.
  9. Cell info isn't displayed.
    In Australia at least, the suburb of the tower you're connected to is shown on the display on mobiles. But not on my windows mobile!
  10. Working with contacts.
    Microsoft has made it hard to delete multiple contacts, or send multiple contacts. Perhaps this is because they want to force you to use outlook and activesync. There is an add-on called PPCContactsMgr v1.6 that I highly recommend if you want better contact handling features.
Well, thanks for listening! There are more, but you probably think I'm whinging by now. I would send this to Microsoft if I thought they would listen. Unfortunately, I now have an expensive phone that has less features and is harder to use than my first nokia I bought years ago.

Since writing this, Apple has released the new iphone. For the one-fingered use, it looks like they've done something right. Time will tell how good it is - it's not due in Australia until the end of 2008.

Also, Windows Mobile 6 has been released, which is really a small update to Windows Mobile 5. A small amount of these issues have apparently been addressed, so far as I can tell from online reviews.

I first wrote this post to the synce mailing list and since then I have discovered some third party applications that make some of these tasks easier. I've also edited this post from my original.

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