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Why No One Loves Windows Mobile

Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on August 11, 2008

Fans of Apple’s iPhone are famously rabid and don’t try to pry a BlackBerry away from a devoted user. Even struggling Palm has a hard core of devotees of its aging Palm OS. But despite its wide global use, Microsoft’s Windows Mobile seems to be at best tolerated by its users. My recent Italian adventures gave me some fresh insight into why.

Keeping data flowing to a U.S.-based phone in Europe ofter requires a lot of fiddling with manual network selection to find a carrier that works properly. Comparing how this task is done on an iPhone and my Windows Mobile 6-based Motorola Q9h was highly educational.

On the iPhone, you click the Settings icon on the home screen, then choose Network Selection. (U.S. users, don't try this at home; the Network Selection item does not appear when you are connected to AT&T service.) A list of available networks appears and you just click on the service you want to try.

Getting to the same point on the Q required the following steps: Press and hold the Home button to get the Quick List and choose Wireless Manager. Select phone and press the Menu button. Select Phone Settings, then More, then Network. Choose Setup, the only choice on the superfluous menu that appears next. Press Menu again and choose Available Networks from the menu that appears. (As on the iPhone, this choice disappears when connected to AT&T.) Go through this process three or four times a day and you really appreciate the iPhone. The BlackBerry, which I did not have with me in Europe, is about as easy as the iPhone: Choose Settings from the home screen, then click Options and choose Mobile Network.

Of course, the designers of user interfaces have to make choices about what features to bring forward and which to hide. It might make sense to bury manual network selection, something that most folks won't use very often. The problem is that while this is an extreme case, just about everything on Windows Mobile requires more clicks (or taps) than the equivalent function on competing systems. Add to that the fact that the Windows Mobile clicks often bring up an annoying "wait until I'm finished" rotating color wheel for at least a couple of seconds and the annoyance grows.

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Reader Comments

P Cause

August 11, 2008 04:23 PM

Microsoft has made so many bad usability/UI choices that it is easy to grow to hate Windows Mobile. The shame is that this has been known for years and despite lots of articles, board posts and the like, Microsoft has done almost nothing to address the issues. Why is almost not understandable because one can look at the Zune and see that they *can* do much better.


August 11, 2008 07:31 PM

There are more people who use WM than the iPhone or Blackberry, and likely more people that love it.

Just go to a site like (the 2000th biggest website on the internet) with 800 000 registered users and tell them no-one loves WM.


August 11, 2008 09:06 PM

I use an HTC Touch Cruise and travel all over the world. It works in every single country without me having to fiddle with anything. I just turn off flight mode when I land in the plane and I am connected. Maybe the problem is you Mr. Wildstrom?


August 11, 2008 10:06 PM

I've had traditional Palm OS smartphones, Blackberry, and Windows Mobile OS. The Windows Mobile BY FAR exceeds (in feature functionality) the Palm OS and Blackberry. I don't get why people like Blackberry so much, I mean it is the Idiots Smartphone that doesn't do too much.


August 11, 2008 10:29 PM

see, this article is not fair, you are comparing a non touch-screen phone to a iphone, try comparing the iphone to the htc diamond if you want a fair comparison.

Just may say

Maurice Vigil

August 12, 2008 12:35 PM

Based on the comments it seemt to me the title should read... Why real smartphone users love Windows Mobile! I've tried Palm OS and Iphone. Palm OS is just lame with little features. IPhone is cool, but who is apple kidding.. the keyboard is horrible. Windows mobile is truly feature rich with the simple use of a thumb. No touchscreen needed!


August 12, 2008 01:06 PM

I have to disagree with what above.

I've been recently in Italy carrying my Treo 750 (wm6 professional). Right off the plane I turned it on, it picked up the strongest signal (vodafone if I remember correctly), established 3G connection, and started exchange activesync messaging, calendaring, etc. updates like nothing happened since I boarded in SFO.

I actually had to fiddle around some to disable data connections to avoid getting charged an arm and a leg by AT&T once back in the States ;)


August 12, 2008 01:15 PM

That is a pretty broad generalization you make. Granted, Apple has done a tremendous marketing job while MS has given a half-hearted effort on the Pocket PC, but Windows Mobile fans are a-plenty, far and wide. The majority of WM device owners I interact with are quite pleased with their devices. Yes, some are frustrated, but I've already seen some frustrated/disappointed iPhone users too!

Adam Z Lein

August 12, 2008 05:11 PM

"The problem is that while this is an extreme case, just about everything on Windows Mobile requires more clicks (or taps) than the equivalent function on competing systems."

That isn't true at all! How many taps does it take to see the details of your upcoming appointments? On Windows Mobile, that's zero provided your today screen is showing the calendar item.

Also, take a look at these usability speed tests for the Treo 800w. Can you see how fast and easy it is to navigate that operating system? Look at how little finger movement is required. Many applications are 1 click away, and at most 4 clicks.

Can an iPhone switch between email, calendar, and contacts in 3 clicks?


August 15, 2008 12:29 PM

Just press settings>phone>network from the start menu.

It is really easy.

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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