iPhone optimize

10 things Windows Mobile and the iPhone OS could learn from each other

If you could merge the best features of Windows Mobile and the iPhone operating system, what would your hybrid OS look like? Here's one tech's vision.

If you could merge the best features of Windows Mobile and the iPhone operating system, what would your hybrid OS look like? Here's one tech's vision.


Even though I have made a career out of writing about Microsoft products, I have to admit that there are some areas in which the iPhone's operating system is far superior to Windows Mobile. Having said that though, the iPhone isn't perfect either (in spite of what Apple's rabid fan base will tell you). Since both the iPhone's OS and Windows Mobile have things I like and don't like, I thought that it would be fun to write a list of the things that the two operating systems could learn from each other.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: File Explorer

The first time I connected an iPhone to one of my computers, I decided to try copying a few files to the iPhone to see which file formats it would support. Having grown up with Windows, I expected the iPhone to have a feature similar to File Explorer (the Windows Mobile version of Windows Explorer) that would allow me to browse the device's file system. Much to my surprise, there is no such feature included with the iPhone. While you can definitely get by without this capability, not being able to browse the file system made me feel like a fish out of water.

2: Task Manager

Windows Mobile handles running applications a little bit differently than desktop versions of Windows do. When you close an application in Windows Mobile, you aren't really terminating the application. The next time you open the application, you pick back up where you left off. The only way to really terminate an application is by using the Task Manager.

The first time I used an iPhone, it felt really strange not to have a Task Manager (or an Apple equivalent). The iPhone has a single button you can press to return to the list of available applications. Some applications terminate when you press this button, but others do not. It would be nice to have a Task Manager-like utility built in that would display a list of open applications and that would allow you to close them.

3: iTunes interface

The primary utility for copying data to and from the iPhone is iTunes. I have to tell you that I am not exactly an iTunes fan. I would much prefer it if Windows treated the iPhone as an external storage device and allowed you to drag and drop files as you can with Windows Mobile devices.

4: Safari Web Browser

One great iPhone feature is its Web browser. The Safari Web browser that comes with the iPhone is far superior to the mobile version of Internet Explorer that is included with Windows Mobile. Granted, Microsoft made some much needed improvements to Internet Explorer in Windows Mobile 6.5, but it still doesn't render Web pages as well as the iPhone browser.

5: One-touch access to everything

Another thing I like about the iPhone is that you can launch applications with a single touch. This design feature goes a long way toward making the iPhone easy to use.

6: The App Store

The biggest thing that has contributed to the iPhone's success is arguably the number of applications that are available for it. Numerous applications are available for Windows Mobile too, but there are way more iPhone applications. With Windows Mobile having been around for as long as it has, I really wish that there were more applications for it.

7: The interface

Earlier, I said that I like the iPhone's single-touch access to applications. While I do like being able to launch applications so easily, the list of applications can become really cluttered as you start to accumulate a lot of them. It would be nice to at least have the option of grouping applications into folders without the aid of third-party software.

8: The operating system itself

In addition to the features I have already named, there are some other characteristics of the operating systems that I like. I like that Windows Mobile looks and feels like Windows. On the other hand, the iPhone's graphics engine is far superior to the one used by Windows Mobile. I have a friend, for example, who routinely plays first person shooters on his iPhone.

9: ActiveSync

For those who are not familiar with ActiveSync, it's a Microsoft feature designed to keep a Windows Mobile device connected to an Exchange Server mailbox. Although ActiveSync is a Microsoft feature, Apple has built its own version into the iPhone. As embarrassed as I am to say it, I have found it easier to connect an iPhone to an Exchange mailbox than to connect a Windows Mobile device.

10: The onscreen keyboard

Finally, I love the iPhone's onscreen keyboard. Although my Windows Mobile device has a touch screen, the onscreen keyboard is so small that I can't type on it without using a stylus. The iPhone's onscreen keyboard is much more practical.

Your turn

Do you agree with this assessment of the relative merits of these operating systems? What other features would you like to see included in your OS of choice?


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About

Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.

21 comments
timmyjay
timmyjay

if you get your iphone jailbroken it can do more like file browsing, minimizing applications and much more. I love the Iphone and Ipod touch. Mac rules

jaymen
jaymen

The iPhone's visual voicemail browser just absolutely rocks. I also like the slider lock, although there are some similar apps written for Windows Mobile. That said, I use the HTC Fuze and two of the features I like are the grouping of text messages into "conversations" (I'm unaware if the iPhone has this), and the ability to forward text messages directly to email. When you deal with IP addresses, license keys, etc. on a regular basis that feature really comes in handy. I also like the copy/cut/paste feature on Windows Mobile. Granted, iPhones have this, but it was added more recently and I still don't find it as easy to use as on Windows Mobile.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

I downloaded a free spp that gives you an X and a home icon. Tapping the home icon opens a list of all open apps, which you can actually close, and the X opens in every app''s top corner to properly shut down the app, no need to go into the task manager to end tasks. Now if I could only remember what it was called. "Magic Button" that's it...it's a free download if you want to Google it.

sar10538
sar10538

When you write, "As embarrassed as I am to say it", it does show your colours I wonder why you should feel embarrassed at all (do you work for them?).

dregeh
dregeh

Let's face it - Apple is great at making computer appliances. They are designed to operate exclusively in their controlled environment, and they do it reliably and with great panache. As a lifelong Microsoft guy, that used to be a turn off. But I've come to the conclusion that what I want in a smart phone isn't a computer as I used to believe. Instead, I want a portable information, entertainment and communication appliance. Someone mentioned that the Apple mantra of the "controlled environment" was too much to bear, and I agree when it comes to the computer (laptop/desktop/server). However, my opinion changed when after 2 disappointing years of "near-good" experiences with a HTC Windows mobile phone, I bought the iPhone. iPhone was the hands-down winner. That said, there are still areas for improvement. Things I would like to see on the iPhone: -true multitasking -better camera -USB plug for charging instead of proprietary -file system access instead of iTunes controlled access (you have to jailbreak the thing to truly get this!) -camera flash -external flash Things I wish my old winMo phone would have had: -better/faster internet browser -much better/smoother media player -better bluetooth connectivity -consolidated app store -UI that didn't require stylus -better memory capacity/management Does anyone really create powerpoint presentations from their phone? More than once?

Hazydave
Hazydave

I moved to the Motorola DROID last fall, and I got all that: multitasking, better camera, USB plug, camera Flash, Flash memory on card, etc. And a better browser (your choice of several, if you don't like the built-in, with Firefox on the way later this year), your choice of media players, any of which can play in the "background" (I like Pandora for net-radio, and Museek for an excellent random-music player experience), excellent Bluetooth, decent App Store (Apple's is still better, but the Android Market is probably #2), finger touch GUI, etc. I also have 2.6x the screen resolution of the iPhone, a physical keyboard, and everything syncs via the network... the only reason to tether to a PC is to load up music or video from that PC.

kirovs
kirovs

Yes, I have Mytouch- after my T-mbole dash (WinMo) horror this is such a great experience!

manasgiri
manasgiri

One important thing that the iPhone doesn't do great on is SMS. It doesn't have a way to add emoticons to text messages and also since it clubs all messages you exchange with a phone number, so there is no Sent folder. So, you never know at waht time you sent a particular message.

rousseau.jr
rousseau.jr

Just a short comment: if you want to drag an drop between your PC and Iphone, the magic solution is :filemagic extremely usefull brgds JR

wizard76
wizard76

While I agree with a lot of your points but with my Tilt 2/Touch Pro 2, between WM6.5, WXGA screens and HTC TouchFlo most of the Windows Mobile issues are addressed. My biggest issue is the WM resistive touchscreen versus the iPhone capacitive. The resistive screen requires just the right pressure for good finger friendly operation. If I don't press hard enough it doesn't work and if I press too hard it thinks I'm selecting when I want to scroll. Maybe there is a double click hack that would help. Of course if I had the capacitive touchscreen I would miss being able to use a stylus. Since I have big hands and am a little shaky I sometime miss with my finger. (Edited to clarify what I was trying to say)

BOUND4DOOM
BOUND4DOOM

Apple really doesn't seem to much in the way of a productive department. Really I see more people just playing games and music on it and not really anyone using it for anything productive. One of the nice things about Windows mobile is spreadsheets, word, even power point. Now I bought windows mobile 6.5 and they are trying to be "cool" and well a lot of the productive pieces either are gone or broken. The other thing is apple is way to controlling, to install things you must use the app store and people don't really have a choice. Apple is like the dictator of their phone. Oh and the last thing iPhone, get a removable battery, it this really this difficult. Flip side Microsoft, please put some storage space in the phone. Mobile 6.5 still has a limited small amount of storage you must buy additional SD card. Really the phone is just large enough to store the base operating system and apps. Everything else needs to be on a storage card. Microsoft again, put a freaking price tag on apps and music. Microsoft has a whole point system at least for zune and xbox where things cost points and you can purchase points in lot sizes, however nothing sells for the exact amount of points you can buy. This often leaves you wondering how much is a game, or song or what. It is like they created their own type of currency, I even seen cards in best buy where you can buy cards with points on them. Again the points don't match up to any thing exactly. I have a Zune hd and I absolutely love the thing. However I will never buy a single thing from the Microsoft store because it cost points. I just go to Amazon buy my music for a specific price and it is DRM free.

dilvo.piasentin
dilvo.piasentin

You state "Apple is like the dictator of their phone". Dude it's THEIR PHONE. Microsoft doesn't have a phone only an OS on someone else?s phone. Really the only truly BIG bug bear I have with the iPhone is having to use BLOODY iTunes. I'm an IT consultant and my phone is really my mobile office (exchange connectivity, Quickoffice for documents, Telnet Client, RDP client, you get the drift), couldn't live without it, but also accepting it for it?s limitations as all phone are to some extent. and as far as file syetem access there are any number or file apps out there or you can download iPhone explorer for windows for free( http://www.iphone-explorer.com/ ). It's really whatever floats you boat.

wizard76
wizard76

Apple may have designed and sold the phone but once the money is exchanged it is MY phone. This is the typical Apple of Steve Jobs. He has a fabulous sense of design, pushes to get great products made but then can't let go. I worked for a company that made Mac peripherals during the non-Jobs Apple period. Apple was difficult to work with then but when Jobs came back his actions sunk the company. I had already left by then but it made the life of many of my friends very difficult. This is one reason I will never own an Apple product. Steve and company are too unresponsive (how long have customers begged for removable batteries) and controlling for my taste. If Apple products suit your needs and make you happy, I encourage you to buy them. I will find solutions elsewhere.

Standard_Person
Standard_Person

For a total of $99 you can join the iPhone developers program, which includes the Apple Xcode development environment, the iPhone SDK and a rather nice iPhone emulator to test your code. Alternatively, for a total of $299 you can join the Apple Developer Enterprise Program. This allows you to deploy iPhone apps that you've written in-house to your employees, or a subset of your employees. (I don't know whether you can push apps.) If you had bothered to visit the Apple Development Connection (ADC) you would have known this and you wouldn't be making absurdly false claims about Apple "trying to dictate how a business can use their device." If you are going to make claims about how a company works, at least check your facts first. Surely that is not too much to ask!

BOUND4DOOM
BOUND4DOOM

One simple example of this the blackberry for business users. We can develop our own apps in house and push them out to our specific users. If I want to build and app that allows a sales guy to specifically look into our inventory system I do not need apples permission to create this app and distribute it to our users that we purchased the device for. Once again our leadership dictates how our business will run and not apple. If apple is trying to dictate how a business can use their device then we simply wont use it. Consumer toy, thanks that sums it up quite nicely.

Hazydave
Hazydave

... phone functionality isn't always a given. I agree that "Smartphone" is so much more than a phone, it's funny that we came to say "phone" rather than "networked PDA" or somesuch. And yet, many don't function well as phones. iPhones are terrible phones... they drop calls even when other GSM phones wouldn't (GSM over 2G is far more prone to dropped calls than CDMA or GSM over 3G, but the iPhone is worse yet). I had issues with my old Palm Treo and crashy phone use, things that just never switched properly (like music to phone use, etc). Many WinMo users complain about the phone app being too much like any other app and not taking proper precedence. With that said, I'm happier with my Android phone than any before. It's even a decent phone, for the 1% of its use actually devoted to phone calls.

Hazydave
Hazydave

When I buy a piece of hardware, I own that hardware... not a license to use that hardware. This includes the right to run my software of choice, or even toss out the original software it came with. There's no law that says Apple must make this easy, but that is the truth of the situation. There's some saying about, if you build a system so simple idiots can use it, only idiots will use it... that may be apropos here. As for development, the idea that Apple developing HW and SW together makes a better product is a myth... there's really no effective synergy there you can't get on Android or even Windows. Microsoft's been fairly clueless about how to market WinMo to anyone but business people, but do understand... anyone building a WinMo phone is coding all of the necessary components specific to that phone's hardware. The whole point of ANY OS is to contain such pieces in a very small area. And on PCs... Apple's only selling you bog-standard PC hardware in a fancy case these days. Sure, they're unique in that iMacs use laptop components for the desktop... if you really want a PC in your monitor, you just have to pay more for less performance due to that factor (eg, laptop CPUs cost more per MIPS, plain and simple).

Hazydave
Hazydave

Yeah, Apple has no problem stepping on any that gets in their way. I started a company back in the mid-1990s, which started making Mac compatibles. It wasn't like this was a squirrelly business, we met with Apple in Cupertino and they really pushed the idea of increasing our involvement with the Mac. Particularly, I suppose, as we were based in Germany, and Apple did very little business there. Then, Jobs came back and "clones" were outlawed. Which is why the Mac is still around 5% of the PC base (and yeah, today, it is just a PC... the only one without a replaceable battery, but still just a PC), rather than 50%. The big problem with application lockdown on the iPhone is that this renders the iPhone unusable for most enterprise-style businesses. Large business develops their own applications, and sometimes site-licenses apps from other vendors. Neither of those are possible on the iPhone. I wouldn't recommend any platform, PC or smartphone, that's only available from a single vendor anyway -- it's bad enough dealing with single-vendor software in a professional environment. Apple is really just a consumer toy.

B3_Nick
B3_Nick

I've been reading reviews of the iPhone, the Nokia N900 and various Mobile Windows-based phones and have decided that, for the money and brute power (and the ability to write my own applications and is open-source), I'm going with the Nokia N900. An amazing device, the phone function is actually an afterthought - which is fine with me because a phone is a phone - you talk and listen to it. Having had Nokias since their first US model, I LOVE these phones!

gpullen
gpullen

Regardless of whether you purchase the product with your money, it's still their product. They own the intellectual property. You just purchased the rights to carry the product. All software/hardware updates are the company's responsibility - not yours. This is where Apple is genious! Why would you want a Microsoft *software* product on someone else's hardware? They are developed independently; whereas, all Apple products are developed and tested to work together. I've been a long-time Microsoft advocate until I got an iMac a little over a year ago. Since then, I purchased an iPhone and would never use anything else. The interface is seamless and is so easy to use. In response to someone else's post above regarding file explorer... Seriously? That's what sets Apple leagues ahead of Microsoft. Microsoft has people thinking their products are so easy to use that those same people think Apple products are difficult. In a nutshell... Apple's products are developed so toddlers can use them, but with the functionality of power users. Try giving an iPhone and a Windows mobile OS phone to someone who has never used either. Which do you think they'll prefer? The iPhone will win 9 times out of 10 simply because you don't have to remember anything. You just touch the screen and use the apps. The Windows mobile OS phone will just confuse the person because of all the clicks, clunky interface, etc. If you don't like the iPhone, don't buy it. There are far more apps available (most are FREE by the way) that allow far more productivity than any Windows mobile OS phone.

jimvpbiz
jimvpbiz

I too come from a Windows Mobile platform - but I agree iPhone has won this round overall, yet I also agree with each of your ten points. I had exactly the same frustrations with the iPhone OS when I first started to use it - and STILL have those frustrations. However - I don't see switching back to Windows mobile anytime soon. Though my previous training on mobile devices has me used to certain features, I really cannot complain too much about their absence in the iPhone/Touch.