Analysts: Windows Mobile 6.5 offers no reason to upgrade, no value for enterprises

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"There is little benefit for end users (i.e., business) to upgrade to [Windows Mobile] 6.5," stated Adam Leach, London, UK-based principal consumer wireless analyst for Ovum, in an e-mail to Betanews this morning.

It's a sharp condemnation coming from the oft-cited telecom analyst and contributor to BBC Radio 4, and it's sounding more and more like Leach is not alone. Although there had been a buzz since last February around the upcoming revision to Microsoft Windows Mobile, it has noticeably died down. This even though Windows Mobile 6.5 was supposed to be launched on May 11, the first day of TechEd 2009. As it turned out, the system was only "announced," after having already been "announced" at Mobile World Congress back in February.

Marketing for the OS update, which by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's own admission is an incremental release -- a stopgap until Windows Mobile 7 -- seems to be out of the company's control. Company spokespersons had told Betanews and others there would be information literally pouring from the TechEd 2009 show earlier this month. Although there were several TechEd presentations related to Windows Mobile, their replay is still being restricted to attendees only, except for one single session related to the Windows Mobile Marketplace and Widget creation carried by Ars Technica.

Then this week, Windows Mobile 6.5 was quasi-officially "released to manufacturers." The development team simply Tweeted the news, which has since been confirmed by Microsoft spokesperson Josh Rhodes. So the big event went along with no big unveiling -- except for the marketplace developer program -- and then there was no official announcement that production of the OS has effectively begun? What's going on here?

Technical product manager Loke Uei said on Monday that we will begin seeing WM 6.5 phones "toward the fall of this year." But manufacturers whose phones would include the OS have not been even that vocal -- there's still not a whole lot of information about which phones will come with the OS, which new devices loaded with 6.1 that will be upgradeable, and which ones will be equipped with the "standard" version (non-touch) versus the "Professional" version (touch).

One thing is quite clear, though. Version 6.5 is a stepchild in Windows Mobile's product family. 6.1 devices that are already out will not be able to upgrade to 6.5, and the development team "has not announced any upgrade plans or even a new version after 6.5," according to a Tweet from Loke Uei.

"This is fairly typical, as few WM devices in the past have been upgradeable to a newer version of the OS," Jack Gold, President and Principal Analyst of J. Gold Associates said today.

Ovum's Adam Leach added, "As the release's main improvements are related to the user experience of the device (as opposed to new features), vendors (OEMs and ODMs) releasing consumer devices this year will consider 6.5 in the hope that it will be more attractive to new users than previous versions of Windows Mobile."

So with its new interface, new app marketplace and development of an environment around it, the main focus of 6.5 is not utility, but attractiveness. The enterprise sector, where Windows Mobile has proven highly integrable and useful, is being sidelined.

Gold said, "Yes, 6.5 is really a beauty treatment rather than a complete remake of the OS. Other than the cosmetics, I can't see any major reason to upgrade. And by the time that WM 7 ships, it may already be too little too late for Microsoft."

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