Windows Mobile 6 to Synchronize App Development

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In an interview with BetaNews, Microsoft product manager for Windows Mobile and embedded devices John Starkweather said that a key feature of the system developers' kit for Windows Mobile 6 will be a set of tools that expose the functionality of a new graphical desktop synchronization tool for Windows Vista called Windows Mobile Device Center. Windows Mobile 6 is expected to play a role in several manufacturers' product introductions on Monday.

Once a Windows Mobile 6-endowed handset is connected to a Vista-based PC either directly or wirelessly, Starkweather told us, Vista will recognize the device's brand and model, and then will launch Microsoft Update, which will automatically download and install the Mobile Device Center for the identified model (it does not ship with Vista). The handset then becomes represented on the Vista desktop by a high-res picture of the device itself.

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"The Device Center is quite simple," he explained. "A picture of your device shows up on one side, and then on the right, you have a couple of boxes that, as you just glide your mouse cursor over, pop up and give you more options. For example, one links to different services that are available for your phone, and there's a nifty key we use where a couple of operators that are actually building in services so that, when you glide over it, you can actually manage your phone, buy ringtones from your operator, update your contract, your service plan."

The new Windows Mobile 6 SDK, the final version of which is expected to be available very shortly, will give developers new tools for building PC-to-mobile transaction functions that aren't already built into the device. So new, independently developed WM6 applications can conceivably tie into new third-party Vista applications, and the Mobile Device Center can be amended to facilitate the connection between them. "Developers could tie in a service for that phone that could be managed on the PC," Starkweather said.

The synchronization scenario can work both ways, he described. The Mobile Device Center in Vista will first recognize when new photos reside on a cameraphone, and as consumers might expect, ask the user nicely whether she wants those photos transferred to the PC. But then the reverse also applies: "It also shows you that you have new pictures on your PC, or new music on your PC, [and asks,] do you want to synchronize that back to your Windows Mobile device? So it really changes that experience to be much easier to use.

"In the past, I'll admit that our synchronization experience was a little too much like a Windows Explorer file manager type of view," Starkweather conceded, referring to the drag-and-drop motif that Windows Mobile 5 and earlier versions applied. It seemed nice at the time, to people who live inside the Redmond campus...or for certain others. "For people that are reading BetaNews, it's probably just fine. They'd probably love that," he said. "But for my parents, and people that aren't as tech-savvy and want something that is very simple, with Vista, they get [Mobile Device Center]."

Carriers have been known to restrict the capabilities of handsets they sell to contracted customers; even when their manufacturers explicitly build functions such as picture and MP3 transfer into their devices, carriers will often set a switch in their firmware that turns those features off. If Windows Mobile 6 functionality is so open, we asked Microsoft's Starkweather, will carriers have easier access to disabling features for lower tiers of customers?

Starkweather told us, absolutely not. "We've never had an operator that has requested to do that, nor do I think that level of control is possible," he told BetaNews. "If the operator wants to do that, then they'll sell more feature phones that are built on Java or something else that's highly controlled. The whole purpose of a smart phone is to give the user a high level of control over what they're able to do. It far more resembles a PC-like flexibility than it does a Texas Instruments calculator type of experience."

Next: Assessing the new WM6 platform

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